Elizabeth Gudrais, in an article for the Harvard Magazine (Jan-Feb 2012) on Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s work, speaks of how, when he founded the Touchpoints Center, Dr. Brazelton had been practicing paediatrics for five decades, and had seen enough patients to identify clear patterns. “He noticed that parents often became anxious just before a developmental milestone: when children were on the verge of taking a first step or beginning to speak, they would regress, seeming to lose some of the skills they had already developed. Subsequent research has found that these periods of cognitive disorganization occur at the same time across human cultures.
Beyond studying brain development, Dr. Brazelton was also interested in the science of human relations: what was happening between children and their parents at these times? He saw the regression periods as not just challenges but opportunities. When parents appeared in his office, there was a chance for learning and connection. And if they could be warned in advance about periods of transitions, then they could understand their children’s behavior, leading them to feel competent rather than concerned. He called these regression periods “touchpoints” because they often led parents to engage with medical or social-service professionals. He believed that connections with professionals in the early years impact families throughout a child’s development. “If parents are treated as partners rather than adversaries by a preschool teacher, he says, they may come to expect the same kind of relationship with teachers later, eventually effecting a broad change in school culture and parent-teacher dynamics. ‘When consumers have high expectations,’ he says, ‘they can influence the quality of the services they receive.’”
Gudrais points out that, “Touchpoints is structured like a set of Russian dolls, with the same motif repeated at each level: just as training participants learn to pay attention to how they convey information as well as what they are conveying, the training itself is just as remarkable for how it teaches as for what it teaches…participants learn the Touchpoints principles not by reading about them, but by experiencing them. The format encourages them to open up about professional insecurities, difficult situations they have faced, and what makes them angry about their jobs. It includes role playing, applied problem solving, and an invitation to honest criticism. When disagreements and conflicts arise, that’s part of the plan; processing reactions in the classroom prepares participants for similarly raw situations in the world outside…The average pediatrician or teacher confronted by an angry parent would go on the defensive. Touchpoints teaches considering the parent’s point of view and remaining calm. Anger often means that the parent cares about his or her child; apathy would be a far worse sign.”
Within Touchpoints training, a mistake is “not a blunder to be regretted, but a rather a welcome indication that one is venturing out of one’s comfort zone. Just as an infant appears to regress as he is learning something new, even highly educated, experienced professionals may look foolish when practicing a new skill.”
Relieving stress for parents may also assist in reducing abuse, which studies have found increases around some of the regression periods that precede developmental milestones. Touchpoints teaches that, to prevent abuse, providers need to understand the experience of parents who are at risk of abusing their children. “…too often, people who work with young children see parents as adversaries, and see their own mission as saving children from poor parenting. When a provider can understand that most parents don’t want to hurt their children, but are at risk of cracking under pressure and stress, then ‘you can partner with the parent around the challenge of being the parent of that child in that moment’… in most cases the best way to save a child from poor parenting is not to remove the child from the home – a drastic measure to be used only in cases where the child’s safety is in danger – but rather, to improve parenting by shoring up the parent’s skills.”