Early Childhood Education

Touchpoints

 

Touchpoints is a strength-based practical approach of working with families of young children and is based on Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s forty years of clinical and research experience as a pediatrician. The central notion around which this approach is organized is that of “Touchpoints,” or the predictable bursts, regressions, and pauses that occur over the course of a child’s development. Touchpoints typically precede a spurt in a particular line of development, and are often accompanied by parental frustration and self-doubt. For practitioners concerned with the health and well-being of the child and family, these Touchpoints can be seen as points of change for the child and the parent, as well as for the family as a whole. While the Touchpoints approach was initially implemented in health care settings, it was also originally intended, and has since been adapted, for use in a variety of settings including early intervention, social services, public health, and early child care and education organizations.

The Touchpoints program is designed to help family-serving professionals in such multidisciplinary settings build their knowledge about child development and develop collaborative strategies for working with families. A particular goal of the program is to help professionals use these strategies to foster a sense of competence in parents and empower them in their parenting abilities. Thus, the Touchpoints program operates from the framework that each and every parent is the expert on his or her child. Through this process, the approach seeks to optimize child development, support healthy families, and enhance professional development.

The Touchpoints framework has both developmental and clinical components. The program recognizes that early childhood is a time of great change for both children and families. The approach views development as a discontinuous process rather than a linear progression of attaining developmental milestones. However, while development is not viewed as a linear or continuous process, there are many periods of change that can be predicted. These predictable periods of change are often accompanied by disorganization as children may learn new skills in one area, but simultaneously regress in other areas of development. For example, when a child is learning to walk, he/she may not be able to remain on a regular sleep schedule. These times of change may affect not only the child’s behavior, but also the entire family system.

Because “Touchpoints” are predictable, the approach views such times of disorganization as valuable opportunities to help parents anticipate and plan for the challenges they face in raising young children). By providing such “anticipatory guidance” (Stadtler et al., 1995), family-serving professionals, including early childhood educators, can help parents recognize the strengths they already have and gain confidence in their own parenting abilities and instincts. The Touchpoints approach, then, operates from a clinical framework that assumes that, if parents can anticipate and better understand the periods of disorganization in their children’s development, then they will feel more empowered in their abilities to effectively respond to such challenging times.

The Brazelton Touchpoints Center offers a training specifically designed for early child care and education providers to help enhance their knowledge of child development and develop collaborative strategies for working with the families in their programs. The trainings are organized around a set of guiding principles, and assumptions about families and professionals, which serve as a framework for reflective practice for early child care and education providers. The training encourages providers to avoid advice-giving and prescriptive approaches to communication, and instead employ collaborative approaches to help parents gain confidence in their own decisions and parenting strategies. Ultimately, parents’ recognition of their own strengths should, ideally, have a positive effect on their children’s well-being and development.

The Touchpoints early child care and education training also focuses on the entire family system. Touchpoints in Early Child Care and Education represents a shift away from the idea of a child attending child care, and toward the goal of child care providers joining and supporting every family as a system of care around their child. Thus, the trainings provide strategies designed to not only improve parent-provider communication and relationships, but also to promote positive parent-child relationships. The Touchpoints approach recognizes that parents may often feel ambivalent about placing their children in out-of-home care, and that some may feel threatened by the relationships that their children are forming with their child care providers. Thus, while the Touchpoints approach values the parent-provider relationship, the ultimate goal of the program is to focus on and enhance relationships within the family.

By training teams of professionals from around the country, the Touchpoints approach has built a national network of training sites. Some of these sites focus primarily on training for early care and education professionals. Others are multidisciplinary and encourage the use of the Touchpoints approach in helping professionals who work with families communicate with each other, as they join families in systems of care. The approach has also been specifically adapted for use with families of children with special needs. Finally, an American Indian initiative (Mayo-Willis and Hornstein, 2003) has prompted further review and adaptation of the approach based upon cultural variation in child-rearing beliefs and practices.

The Touchpoints approach draws from Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (2001) ecological systems theory which views development as the product of interactions that take place between children and the multiple environments in which they live. According to this theory, stronger linkages between the various environments in which a child lives, such as between home and child care, and more specifically between parents and child care providers, should have a positive influence on children’s development and well-being. With the increasing numbers of families in the United States that are coming to rely on early child care and education services, Touchpoints provides a way to enhance provider-parent relationships, and ultimately promote the healthy development of young children and their families.

Further Readings: Brazelton, T. Berry (1994). Touchpoints: Your child’s emotional and behavior development. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. Brazelton Touchpoints Center (2005). Touchpoints in early care and education reference guide and participant training materials. Version 1.0. Boston, MA: Brazelton Touchpoints Center; Bronfenbrenner, Urie (2001). Ecological models of human development. In Mary Gauvain and Michael Cole, eds., Readings on the development of children. 3rd ed. New York: Worth Publishers, pp. 3-8; Mayo-Willis, L., and J. Hornstein (2003). Joining native American systems of care: The complexities of culturally appropriate practice. Zero-to-Three 23(5), 36-39; Stadtler, A., M. O’Brien, and J. Hornstein (1995). The touchpoints model: building supportive alliances between parents and professionals. Zero-to-Three (15)1, 24-28.

Mallory I. Swartz and John Hornstein