Caring For and About Infants and Toddlers
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It might be difficult to imagine today, but in 1918, a journal offering the latest thinking on infants and toddlers would advise forms of caregiving that, by today’s standards, seem like emotional neglect. Most doctors believed that infants could not feel pain, and new parents were told to provide physical care on a set schedule while avoiding the cuddling, cooing, and nuzzling of emotional care.
Widespread change did not come about until two pediatricians had the courage to challenge their colleagues’ assumptions. The first of these pioneers was Benjamin Spock, a bestselling author who reassured new mothers that they should trust their instincts and nurture their babies physically and emotionally. The second was T. Berry Brazelton.
Building on Spock’s insights, Brazelton sought to understand infants and toddlers through medical and social lenses and was dedicated to supporting parents—and educators—in fostering healthy child development. Renowned for his ability to connect with infants, Brazelton was driven by his love for infants’ humanity, individuality, and complexity. He saw their behavior as a form of language—a language he wanted all of us to understand.
Berry Brazelton passed away on March 15, 2018, at the age of 99. This issue of Young Children is dedicated to him and to spreading his insights.
*These paintings came from Mila, the infant niece of an NAEYC staff member, diving into art play.
For educators, Brazelton’s call to action—in addition to understanding child development and using that knowledge to observe and be responsive to children’s needs—was to support families as warmly and intentionally as we support children. He explained in the March 2001 issue of
Teachers can try to build parents’ . . . confidence in their ability to know and guide the child. . . . They can be generous in their appreciation and support of parents and talk with them about how important it is for both parents and teachers to appreciate and support children. We need to nurture parents.
As you read this cluster, I hope you will consider how the ideas inform your work and how you might use them to nurture families.
The cluster begins with “Berry Brazelton’s Contributions to Research, Policy, and Practice: Improving Contexts and Conditions for Families with Infants,” by Joshua Sparrow, discussing Brazelton’s concept of Touchpoints. Touchpoints are times when infants and toddlers are making developmental advances, but the advances are preceded by behavioral regressions. By sharing these predictable developmental patterns with parents, educators can reduce families’ stress and improve their caregiving.
Understanding, as Brazelton did, that each infant is a complex individual in need of care and autonomy, Toni Christie describes unobtrusive ways to be nurturing in “Respect: The Heart of Serving Infants and Toddlers.” Then, Ellen Galinsky explains the importance of being responsive to babies’ attempts to communicate in “Helping Young Children Learn Language: Insights from Research.” (Galinsky had the honor of working with Brazelton for four decades. To read her remembrance of him, visit bit.ly/2qbFbor.)
In “Enhancing the Diapering Routine: Caring, Communication, and Development,” Deborah E. Laurin and Carla B. Goble reflect on how diapering can be a time to deepen relationships, increase independence, and develop language.
Also emphasizing language development, Julia Luckenbill recounts the challenges and benefits of bringing more mathematics into her curricula. In “Mathematizing with Toddlers and Coaching Undergraduates: Foundations for Intentional Math Development,” Luckenbill describes how essential techniques like parallel talk highlight the mathematical aspects of playful exploration.
The rest of this cluster addresses the challenges of meeting infants’ and toddlers’ relationship needs as they progress through center-based care. In “Building Empathy, Strengthening Relationships: The Benefits of Multiage Classrooms for Young Children and Their Caregivers,” Linda S. Anderson explores how the challenges of multiage classrooms can be overcome.
Another option is looping (in which teachers and a group of children stay together for two to three years), as explained by Mary Benson McMullen in “The Many Benefits of Continuity of Care for Infants, Toddlers, Families, and Caregiving Staff.” What’s critical is having consistent, warm, responsive caregivers throughout the first few years of life. The benefits include better behavior and easier transitions to preschool for children and more teacher knowledge of and responsiveness to children’s needs.
If continuity of care is not feasible, how can educators ease transitions? In “Moving from an Infant to a Toddler Child Care Classroom: Embracing Change and Respecting Individual Differences,” Susan L. Recchia and Kamila Dvorakova offer strategies to help children navigate changes in caregivers, peers, and environments.
Throughout this cluster, the articles emphasize respecting infants and toddlers and their families, which is central to Brazelton’s approach. As he wrote in these pages in September 1978,
I am convinced that only if parents feel good about themselves can they pass on a good self-image to the baby. . . . We must give new parents purposeful, positively supportive information . . . so that they in turn can provide an optimistic, warmly supportive environment for their infants to develop the solid assurance that they are loved and can love in return.
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Lisa Hansel, EdD, is the editor in chief of NAEYC's peer-reviewed journal, Young Children.