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Positive reinforcement works with parents, too

CMU learning lab connects with preschoolers and adults

Contact: Heather Smith

​Teaching young children goes beyond making meaningful connections with the 3- and 4-year-old students.

Interacting with the parents and guardians is just as important, and teachers in Central Michigan University's Child Development and Learning Laboratory have a new way to build these relationships.

The teachers trained last summer to use the Brazelton Touchpoints approach, developed through the works of pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. It concentrates on developing strong relationships with parents by understanding their backgrounds and perspectives and reinforcing the positives in the relationship they have with their children. This is the first academic year teachers in the learning laboratory have incorporated Touchpoints.

So much of the children's learning happens beyond the school setting, and lead teacher Lydia Goodman said Touchpoints helps the family and teacher work together for the child. Goodman received her undergraduate degree in early childhood development and learning in 2013 and her master's in human development and family studies in 2015, both from CMU.

"The principles and assumptions have reminded me to listen more and really seek the family opinions first," she said. "It is a reminder to think about what is behind a child's behavior and use their behavior as the way you communicate, reflecting what they are doing to determine what they need."

The Child Development and Learning Laboratory at CMU serves central and northern Michigan to meet the needs of young children in social, cognitive, emotional, physical and language development. It enrolls 68 preschool children per year— at least half of them in Head Start — and is accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It provides a laboratory for CMU students to observe, train and study children under the supervision of trained early childhood teachers.

Touchpoints has made such an impact that CMU is looking to take the training further and reach more people in the community, said Joellen Lewsader, faculty director at the laboratory. She said they are seeking grant funding to train teachers locally to use this approach when interacting with parents.

She explained that it's common for people to blame the parents when a child misbehaves. But Touchpoints calls for the teacher to first consider all factors that may lead to this type of behavior and then connect with the parents to celebrate what the parents are doing well, Lewsader said. This can open the door for conversations to improve other areas in the parent-child relationship.

"Rather than come in and make judgments, you can build on the relationships when you build on the positives," she said. "We want to keep this approach going and are looking for funding to train the trainers."

Goodman has seen how Touchpoints has helped the children she teaches and the ways she connects with children and parents.

"Touchpoints really changes how you view the parents and guardians of the children and allows you to gain a deeper understanding and connection," she said. "All this can then empower them to grow in their relationship with their child. It really is a dynamic approach to support the child."

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