Best Lullabies for Kids

Sleep is important at every stage of life, but getting a full night’s rest is especially critical for young kids. In growing babies and children, sleep not only promotes overall physical health, it also plays a key role in brain development. However, up to 50% of children experience sleep issues at some point, making bedtime a challenge for many families.

Research shows a bedtime routine can improve your child’s sleep and positively impact development and family bonding. One bedtime routine element has been time-tested by parents over thousands of years: the lullaby. A lullaby is a soothing song intended to lull a child to sleep. Calming songs for children have ancient origins, but many of the most popular lullabies are relatively modern. Lullabies often use a 6/8 time signature, a gentle rhythm ideal for rocking, with simple and repetitive lyrics.

We share the most enduring and popular lullabies for kids. Additionally, we explore research on lullabies, looking at how bedtime songs impact sleep and how you can maximize the benefit of your lullaby songs.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

“Row, Row, Row, Your Boat” is a classic American nursery rhyme that dates back to the late 1800s. Eliphalet Oram Lyte, a teacher and writer, is often credited as the original composer.

This fun and easy children’s song contains a simple melody and a single, short verse. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” is not strictly a lullaby. However, the repetitive lyrics about floating down a gentle stream are ideal for lulling your little one to sleep. You can slow the tempo down as much as you like to keep the mood relaxing.

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is perhaps one of the most iconic English language lullabies. The lyrics are adapted from the British poet Jane Tayler. Originally published as “The Star” in 1806, the words of the song describe the wonders of a shining star in the night sky.

“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is usually paired with the simple melody of the classic French folk song “Ah! vous dirai-je, maman.” The song also shares the same melody as “The ABCs” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

Most people are familiar with the first verse of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The first verse alone can be a short and sweet way for you to send your child off to sleep. If you want to extend the lullaby, this classic song also has three more verses you can sing.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

When the blazing sun is gone,

When he nothing shines upon,

Then you show your little light,

Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Then the traveler in the dark,

Thanks you for your tiny spark,

He could not see which way to go,

If you did not twinkle so.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

In the dark blue sky you keep,

And often through my curtains peep,

For you never shut your eye,

‘Till the sun is in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

Rock-a-Bye Baby

“Rock-a-bye Baby” is an old nursery rhyme often used as a lullaby song. The lyrics date back to the 1700s. Scholars debate exactly when and where the first version of the song appeared. Early versions of the lyrics used the words “hush-a-bye baby.”

No matter the origin, “Rock-a-bye Baby” has become a classic lullaby for good reason. The popular first short verse is easy to remember and the melody is soft and soothing. There are two additional verses available for those wanting a longer song.

Rock-a-bye baby

In the treetops,

When the wind blows

The cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks

The cradle will fall,

And down will come baby

Cradle and all.

Baby is drowsing

Cozy and fair

Mother sits near

In her rocking chair

Forward and back

The cradle she swings

And though baby sleeps

He hears what she sings

From the high rooftops

Down to the sea

No one’s as dear

As baby to me

Wee little fingers

Eyes wide and bright

Now sound asleep

Until morning light

Hush, Little Baby

“Hush, Little Baby” is a classic American folk song turned lullaby. The original composer is unknown, but historians believe the song originated in Arkansas around 1939. The song has been performed and adapted by a wide range of popular artists from Joan Baez to Yo-Yo Ma.

“Hush, Little Baby” is made up of rhyming couplets. Each couplet details a different gift given to a small baby. The song’s lyrics manage to be playful while remaining gently soothing. And, the simple song structure also makes it possible to ad lib your own lyrics.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing,

Mama’s going to buy you a diamond ring.

And if that diamond ring turns brass,

Mama’s going to buy you a looking glass.

And if that looking glass gets broke,

Mama’s going to buy you a billy goat.

And if that billy goat won’t pull,

Mama’s going to buy you a cart and bull.

And if that cart and bull turn over,

Mama’s going to buy you a dog named Rover.

And if that dog named Rover won’t bark,

Mama’s going to buy you a horse and cart.

And if that horse and cart fall down,

You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

How Do Lullabies Aid in Sleep?

Lulling a child to sleep with a soothing melody is an ancient practice. Our ancestors may not have understood exactly why lullabies were effective. However, modern researchers are starting to uncover the science of how bedtime songs promote sleep in young children.

  • Creates a bedtime routine: The practice of singing a lullaby before falling asleep creates a good bedroom environment for sleep and helps establish a bedtime routine. Having a regular, repeated routine around bedtime can help put your child on the path to success and good health for the rest of their lives.
  • Reduces stress: Lullabies may reduce signs of stress and calm a baby by decreasing heart rate and breathing rate. Lullabies may help decrease parental stress levels as well.
  • Recreates the experience of the womb: Many modern lullabies use a 6/8 time signature. This rhythm feels similar to gentle swaying or rocking and recreates the motion felt by a baby in the womb.
  • Decreases infant cry time: Sleep issues and excessive crying are often linked in infants. Lullabies may be a solution for some babies. Some evidence shows that regular parental singing may reduce crying time in newborn babies.
  • Lowers physiological arousal: The gentle, swaying tempos of a lullaby create a sense of calmness and low arousal around your child’s bedtime.

Other Benefits of Lullabies

Interestingly, the benefits of lullabies are not just limited to sleep. Singing soothing songs to your baby or young child can help them thrive in a number of ways, from social bonding to language acquisition.

  • Promotes bonding: Singing to your child on a regular basis is a great way to deepen your bond. As part of a regular bedtime routine, lullabies create a close, one-on-one connection, improving parent-child attachment and family functioning as a whole.
  • Stimulates language development: Lullabies help expose your child to more language and new vocabulary. This may help improve their language development and literacy skills.
  • Improves emotional and behavioral regulation: Your child’s mood, ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors, and attachment to parents are closely linked. As a result, improving sleep and family bonding through singing lullabies also has the potential to improve your child’s emotional and behavioral regulation.

Lullabies Around the World

Lullabies, also known as cradle songs, are a nearly universal feature across cultures. Biologists believe that lullabies evolved as a way to perform hands-free child care. Singing allowed hunter-gatherer parents to keep their children calm while attending to other important tasks such as foraging for food or tending to a fire.

Lullabies across cultures share many similarities. The songs are typically melodic and rhythmic. Lyrics are simple and soothing, sung in a lulling manner to calm a young child. Every society has their own unique set of songs for infants and children:

  • Japan: The land of the rising sun is home to many traditional folk lullabies including the “Itsuki Lullaby” and “Takeda Lullaby.” One of the most popular Japanese bedtime songs is the “Edo Lullaby.” This song originated in Edo, the country’s former capital and the site of modern-day Tokyo.
  • Latin America: Known as “canciones de cuna,” Latin America has a rich musical tradition that includes lullabies. Popular cradle songs in Latin American culture include “Duérmete, Mi Niño” or “Go to Sleep My Child” and “El Muñeco Pin Pón,” a playful song about a doll made of cardboard.
  • France: France is home to the famous nursery rhyme lullaby “Frère Jacques.” The lyrics describe a tired monk who has overslept. This French lullaby is so popular that it was translated and exported to English-speaking countries where it is known as “Brother John.”
  • Germany: The birthplace of Johannes Brahms, Germany is home to many famous lullabies. Brahms is known for the classic “Wiegenlied” also known as “Guten Abend, gute Nacht” (“Good evening, good night”) or “Brahms’ Lullaby.” Other German lullabies include “Der Mond Ist Aufgegangen” (“The Moon Has Risen”) and “Weißt Du, Wie Viel Sternlein Stehen” (“Do You Know How Many Stars There Are?”).
  • New Zealand: “Hine e Hine” is a popular lullaby in the native Maori language. The song was written by the Maori singer and composer Princess Te Rangi Pai in 1907. The lyrics are words of comfort for a small, tired girl.
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Tips for Maximizing the Benefits of Lullabies

Lullabies are an excellent addition to your child’s bedtime routine. These tips can help you and your little one get the most out of your favorite lullabies:

  • Be consistent: To be effective, a bedtime routine behavior must be regular and repetitive. Try to be consistent with your lullabies by using the same handful of favorite songs at the same time and setting each night.
  • Use a soothing and gentle voice: Lullabies are meant to be calming and soothing. While music can be a good tool for relaxation, it can just as easily create excitement. To keep the mood soothing, consider your volume and tone. For a lullaby to be truly lulling, keep your voice as calm and gentle as possible.
  • Get creative with lyrics: Many of the lyrics to popular lullabies were written over a century ago. As a result, toddlers and school-aged children may have a hard time relating to the songs. Consider coming up with new lyrics that spark your child’s interest and hold their attention.
  • Incorporate a furry friend: A bedtime song should be calming, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be boring. Keep your child engaged by incorporating a stuffed animal or your family pet. A stuffed animal is an especially good way to act out rhythmic rocking motions, yawning, growing tired, and falling asleep.
  • Sing out of tune: Many parents are self-conscious about their ability to carry a tune. As a result, they shy away from singing lullabies with their children. However, lullabies don’t need perfect pitch to be effective. The quality time you spend with your child while singing a lullaby is worth far more than singing in tune.

How to Create Your Own Lullaby

There are plenty of classic and contemporary lullabies in books and online. But parents should not feel limited to the most popular songs. Creating your own lullaby allows you and your child to bond and be creative. To get started, follow these tips for making your own unique and soothing lullaby:

  • Insert your own lyrics: If you’re not a composer, the easiest way to make your own lullaby is to come up with new words for old classics. Many popular lullabies have multiple versions of lyrics, so it should feel natural to swap in your own words.
  • Keep it simple: Most lullabies feature simple melodies and simple lyrics. If you’re creating a new song, try to keep the words and tune uncomplicated. Simple words are easier to rhyme. An uncomplicated tune and rhythm is easier to pair with gentle rocking, swaying, or patting motions.
  • Repeat the same rhythm pattern: When it comes to lullabies, repetition is key. The gently repeating rhythm and words help capture your child’s attention and lull them to sleep.
  • Make it personal: Incorporating personal touches into the lyrics of your new lullaby can help keep your child focused and engaged in the song. Try including your child’s name and lyrics about their favorite toy, game, food, or place.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lullabies and Sleep

What Is the Most Soothing Lullaby?

Every lullaby contains specific musical qualities designed to relax your child at bedtime. These include a pleasant melody, slow tempo, and repetitive words and rhythms. As a result, all lullabies can effectively soothe and prepare your child for sleep. However, every child is unique and may respond differently to different songs.

To find the best lullaby for your child, try singing a variety of classic lullabies. Likely, certain songs will engage and relax your child more than others. Take note and keep these lullabies in your repertoire of bedtime songs.

Do Lullabies Work on Adults?

Yes, lullabies can work on adults. Songs can have a profound impact on the brain and emotional state. Also, research shows that listening to your favorite music can improve emotional regulation.

The effects of music can also help you unwind and find tranquility before bed. Listening to calming music may help lower emotional arousal and promote relaxation.

What Is the Oldest Lullaby?

One of the oldest lullabies in recorded history comes from the ancient Babylonians. Found etched on a 5,000 year-old clay tablet artifact, the lullaby addresses a fussy baby whose loud cries frighten the gods.

Little baby in the dark house,

You have seen the sun rise.

Why are you crying?

Why are you screaming?

You have disturbed the house god.

Who has disturbed me? says the house god.

It is the baby who has disturbed you.

Who scared me? says the house god.

The baby has disturbed you, the baby has scared you.

Making noises like a drunkard who cannot sit still on his stool.

He has disturbed your sleep.

Call the baby now, says the house god.

Another one of the oldest lullabies is a Roman nursery rhyme. The simple lyrics “Lalla, lalla, lalla. Aut dormi, aut lacte” translate to “Lullaby, lullaby, lullaby. Either go to sleep or suckle.”

Resources for Parents

Lullabies are a time-tested method for helping your little ones relax and drift off to sleep. Resources are available to help you find new lullabies and better understand your child’s sleep needs.

  • Library of Children’s Songs: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences curates an online library of classic children’s songs. Each lullaby page includes lyrics, audio, and fun, child-friendly facts about sleep.
  • Explore Lullabies From Different Cultures: The Music Lab, a research group that explores how music affects the mind, has posted lullabies from around the world.
  • The Lullaby Project: Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder pair new mothers and fathers with professional musical artists to write and record personalized lullabies.

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