KIT Spotlight on T. Berry Brazelton

Every month we celebrate a different community and the contributions of one member to the work of creating a more inclusive world. August is Healthy Child Month. To celebrate, KIT Research, Evaluation, & Policy Director, Alissa Marotto, MS, shines the KIT Spotlight brightly on Thomas (T.) Berry Brazelton (5/10/1918 – 3/13/2018), prominent American pediatrician, author, speaker, TV host, and inventor of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), also known as the Brazelton Neonatal Assessment Scale (BNAS).

About Dr. Brazelton (excerpt from T. Berry Brazelton – Influential Thinker, Beloved Presence | NAEYC)

Dr. Brazelton was a pediatrician, professor of pediatrics emeritus at Harvard Medical School, and founder of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. He was an influential thinker and beloved presence who profoundly shaped how we understand young children’s development and learning.

One of Dr. Brazelton’s important contributions and influences—and there were many—was how he helped us understand how to best nurture babies’ development and learning as partners with families. He was a pioneer in understanding that development was fluid and not fixed—that there are “Touchpoints” in each baby’s development. These are special times when, although an infant may seem to regress (such as by becoming unusually fussy), they are in fact developing and processing new information and are on the verge of demonstrating new abilities.

“Attachment to a baby is a long-term process, not a single, magical moment. The opportunity for bonding at birth may be compared to falling in love – staying in love takes longer and demands more work.”  – T. Berry Brazelton, MD

Alissa’s Commentary:

In our work here at KIT, we often use the phrase “viewing drives doing” – the way we view children, and their behavior, affects how we think and feel and consequently our actions. Dr. T Berry Brazelton’s Touchpoints™ approach gave me a new way to view how a child’s development both impacts and is impacted by the family system.

When I was first introduced to Touchpoints™ through one of the KIT Head Start clients, my twins were 3 years old. I had a solid background of work and education in child and family development. However, I didn’t have the lens that Touchpoints™ offered. The disorganization that happens with sleeping and eating and behavior that feels so disruptive with young children really reflects the child being on the cusp of burst in their development.

As I learned about the approach and watched videos of Dr. Brazelton interacting with parents in his reverent and gentle way, it was like a switch was flipped on. Still to this day, when my twins are 9 years old and my youngest is 5 years old, I can see their challenges as a reflection of their development. I have a mantra that I use when I am particularly thrown off by new behaviors or disruptions to our family system: “What developmental task are they working on?” It guides me as a parent, and it guides me in my work alongside child and youth development professionals at KIT. I am forever grateful for Dr. Brazelton’s contributions to children’s health.

If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Brazelton, check out this great video of him receiving a lifetime achievement award from Zero to Three. You can also read a USA Today interview with him.