Parents tuned in with 'touchpoints'
BY MAUREEN O'CONNELL
Advertiser Staff Writer
Most new parents are insecure and wonder whether they are doing as well as they can in that role.
They pore over reference guides and consult grandparents and pediatricians on matters ranging from feeding and sleeping, to temperament and emotional well-being. Sometimes, though, in the dash to figure out parenthood, they fail to notice that another person is eager for dialogue: their baby.
"If we watch closely and listen carefully, babies will tell you what they want and what they need," said Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, a child development expert who is often lauded as the most influential baby doctor since Dr. Benjamin Spock.
"Babies' and children's behavior is meaningful," said Dr. Joshua Sparrow, a child psychiatrist and co-author of several books on children's development with Brazelton.
Brazelton and Sparrow will be keynote speakers at Pacific Rim Congress — breakout meetings that are part of the International Conference on Disabilities in Honolulu next week.
The congress focuses on early childhood advocacy, as well as children with special needs.
"We'll be talking about babies and families, and how to make them work," said Brazelton, including discussion of "intervention with high-risk children, and how it works across cultural issues."
The doctors, both professors at Harvard Medical School and affiliated with Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Children's Hospital in Boston, will discuss "touchpoints" — developmental periods that have been mapped, in a sense, by researchers at Children's Hospital and other sites around the world.
Understanding touchpoints can help parents and other caregivers predict and navigate emotional and behavioral bumps in development.
"Just before each burst of development in the first few years, there's a time when the child falls apart and the family falls apart with him," Brazelton said. Bursts are often accompanied by temporary "regression" in other developmental areas, which can disrupt daily routines, such as feeding and sleeping.
"It can make parents very vulnerable because they think they've made a mistake and don't know what to do," Brazelton said. The touchpoints approach, he said, can "give parents back the feeling that they know what they're doing, and that what they've done has brought that child to the point of being able to regress and gather steam to make the next spurt."
'A DIFFERENT WORLD'
After Brazelton's "Touchpoints: Birth to Three," was first published in 1992, it became a popular addition to home bookshelves for a generation of new parents, including Momi Akana, founder and Executive Director of Keiki O Ka 'Āina Family Learning Centers, based in Kalihi Valley.
The last time Brazelton gave a talk in the Islands, Akana was in the audience. That was about 16 years ago, when the first-born of her four children was a year old.
"I knew that if anybody knew anything about early childhood, this is the man you come to," Akana said.
Cuddling up with her 3-year-old daughter, Poli, she added, "We're now in a different world than the one in which I raised my 17-year-old. This one is full of technology and speed — it's a faster world" with a new mix of blessings and worries.
Sparrow agrees. Four years ago, he and Brazelton issued a fully revised second edition of "Touchpoints," with updated information on subjects ranging from co-sleeping to obesity prevention.
Parenting topics that could use more attention now include insecurities tied to the economic downturn and distractions that come with swirling social media, Sparrow said. Both can impair a parent's ability to "tune in and be present for their children."
When Akana's attention turns to e-mails or floats into cyberspace during mother-daughter time, Poli cups her hands around her mother's face and turns her head until their eyes meet. Akana said the little girl's unspoken dialogue serves as a reminder that her mother should have "nowhere else to be but hooked into that moment with that child."
CONCEPT OF 'OHANA
The touchpoints concept also instructs pediatricians and other caregivers on how to forge supportive relationships with families.
"This is where I think we can learn so much from Hawai'i," Brazelton said. "There's a feeling that a community is needed to raise a child, not just the parents."
But Lelani Kupahu Marino, an organizer of the upcoming daylong child advocacy congress, fears that the Islands' 'ohana feeling is fading. Decades ago, she said, "everyone was auntie or uncle. Now we don't have that so much. Everyone's just trying to survive."
Marino, a longtime pediatrics nurse in neonatal intensive care units, hopes the congress will help revive Hawai'i's 'ohana tradition of supporting young children. "Every one of us has a responsibility to this stage of life," she said.
Members of the congress — representatives from state agencies, nonprofits, health organizations, parents and others — are expected to draft an "action plan," which will likely call for backing of an independent children's advocacy organization, now in the planning stages, called "One Voice for Children."
Marino envisions One Voice growing from a grassroots effort into a statewide commitment to hold up healthy early childhood development as a priority — complete with adequate funding for services and programs, and a spirit of unified cooperation among groups, agencies, caregivers and families.
Perhaps five years from now, Marino said, "There will be a voice one cannot turn away from, one cannot ignore — because all these voices together will be so resounding."