T. Berry Brazelton - Influential Thinker, Beloved Presence
Pediatrician, professor of pediatrics emeritus at Harvard Medical School, founder of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, author, mentor, inspiration—these are just some of the many titles earned by Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, who passed away on March 13. To many of us at NAEYC and in the early childhood education field, he was an influential thinker and beloved presence who profoundly shaped how we understand young children’s development and learning. As my NAEYC colleague Gwen Simmons shared in a post on HELLO, “He was a tremendous influence in the care and support of babies, parents, and ECE educators. I remember watching movies (yes, not video clips) of Dr. Brazelton as he worked with babies and parents from his clinical practice. It changed the way I looked at, held, and spoke to every baby from a very early point in my career.”
His work lives on in so many ways. The Brazelton Touchpoints Center, collaborates with partners across the country to establish scalable low-cost interventions that propel children’s healthy development and and strengthen the collaborative relationships among families, parents, caregivers, providers, and communities. The influence of Brazelton’s theories can be seen in the recent understandings of young children’s brain development and the important concepts of serve and return. As Ellen Galinsky writes in her moving tribute, “I can also see that his force is so powerful that all of us whom he deeply touched will continue to go forth and share his wisdom of listening to and respecting the wisdom of children and parents, that we will lead with the science of child development, and we will try to see that the good he brought to world continues to double, triple and quadruple every day."
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), she is in fact developing and processing new information and is on the verge of demonstrating new abilities. As Dr. Brazelton introduced us to these touchpoints in young children's development, teachers, pediatricians and all who work with young children could in turn share this information about baby’s development and learning with families. Together, we could all better respond to the babies and young children in our care. As we continue to develop our responsiveness to young children through practice, research and understanding brain science, we can see the continued impact and future potential of his work.
NAEYC was lucky enough to have Dr. Brazelton as the keynote speaker at two conferences in 2010 where he shared his knowledge, wisdom, and encouragement. As one attendee shared “I am so glad that I had the honor of seeing T. Berry Brazelton speak at an NAEYC Conference several years ago. He engaged in conversation on stage and had such a calming presence. At the time, I was so excited to see him because I remembered him from videos that were shown in my college child development class. He was a pioneer that we studied intensely and to see him in person was a real treat. I hope that his memory will be a blessing for the early childhood community as well as his family and friends.”
I first met Dr. Brazelton and his longtime co-author and the current director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Dr. Joshua Sparrow, at the 2010 NAEYC Professional Learning Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. NAEYC was at the time planning to develop new web content for families and we were fortunate to be able to offer Dr. Brazelton’s and Dr. Sparrow’s responses to parents’ questions previously published in the New York Times and in the series of Touchpoint books they coauthored. We hope to be able to offer some of this perennial content about children's development and learning once again in the near future.
We are thankful that Dr. Sparrow and so many others are continuing Dr. Brazelton’s important work. Look for more about Dr. Brazelton’s work with infants and toddlers and its continued future impact in the July issue of Young Children, which will focus on caring for and about infants and toddlers.
We share the following from Dr. Sparrow about how to honor Dr. Brazelton and celebrate his life:
- Share tributes, stories, and memories of Dr. Brazelton’s impact on the Brazelton Touchpoints Center’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/BrazeltonTouchpointsCenter
- Send a note of condolence to the attention of firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Kayla, c/o Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Boston Children’s Hospital, 1295 Boylston Street, Suite 320, Boston, MA 02215
- Learn more about his extraordinary life and legacy: www.brazeltontouchpoints.org/about/our-founder
- Watch one of the many videos online that pay tribute to Dr. Brazelton’s life, work, and legacy: www.brazeltontouchpoints.org/media/online-video
- In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Brazelton Touchpoints Center to ensure that Dr. Brazelton’s work continues: www.brazeltontouchpoints.org/support-our-work/donate
NAEYC members can also share their thoughts on the thread Gwen Simmons started on Hello.
Susan Friedman is Senior Director, Publishing and Professional Learning at NAEYC.