Lessons for parents, pros and preschoolers

In Michigan, CMU stands alone in Brazelton Touchpoints training

| Author: Jeff Johnston

Central Michigan University's Child Development and Learning Laboratory is all about imparting new knowledge to preschoolers — and to their parents.

Now, a CDLL workshop series offers those parents something they can't get anywhere else in Michigan: a focus on the Touchpoints philosophy of the late child behavior expert, author and pediatrician Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.

About 13 CDLL parents are attending the free weekly workshops through Nov. 20.

It's one outgrowth of CMU's Brazelton Touchpoints Professional Development and Research Center, established in fall 2018 as Michigan's first and only site authorized for Touchpoints training.

Meaningful connections

In Touchpoints, professionals who work with young children and families — doctors, child care workers, etc. — focus on making meaningful connections with parents, understanding their backgrounds and perspectives and reinforcing the positives in parent-child relationships.

"We're not trying to train the parent. We're trying to build partnerships," said Joellen Lewsader, human development and family studies chair and former CDLL director.

The term "touchpoints" refers to developmental milestones, such as sleeping through the night or learning to walk, when children may behave differently as their brains process the new behaviors. That can be a challenge for families and child care professionals.

Lewsader said the parent workshops not only offer helpful perspective, they create a supportive peer group of other parents and CDLL staff.

Spreading knowledge

Of the five CMU faculty and staff currently qualified to offer Touchpoints training, three teach CMU students and early childhood professionals locally and statewide, and two support families through parent training.

So far, CMU faculty and staff have taught Touchpoints to at least 60 professionals in health, child care, therapy, social work and more, Lewsader said. One goal is to reduce instances of child abuse that tend to happen when parents feel isolated and unsupported.

Training CMU students in relationship building also helps meet program accreditation requirements, Lewsader said.

About 25 child care professionals and CMU undergrad and graduate students are signed up for training next month.

Positive direction

Touchpoints emphasizes what children and parents can do, not what they can't, said human development and family studies faculty member Holly Hoffman. The focus is always on opportunities for improvement.

Hoffman said the College of Education and Human Services sent six people from the department to Boston a few years ago for initial training in Touchpoints.

CMU's program — and its unique status in Michigan — has grown steadily on a mission to educate current and future child care professionals.

"Our goal is to help infuse Touchpoints into their daily practice," Hoffman said. "Careerwise, it's a feather in your cap, and it fits hand in hand with trauma-informed education.

Fresh perspective

The CDLL has used Touchpoints for two years now.

In the workshop series, parents learn how to be supportive when children's behavior changes at the brink of developmental milestones.

Stephanie Terrian, a parent from Alma, Michigan, said it gives her fresh perspective on her 4-year-old son, Ian.

"If he's acting out about something, I have to stop and think, 'Is this because of a milestone?'" she said. "I like that it's open dialogue with other parents — not to compare but to know other parents are going through what we're going through."

Charlotte Galgoci, CDLL program assistant and a leader of the parent workshop, said the group setting is important: "It gives parents an opportunity to engage with other parents while strengthening their relationship with their children."

Touchpoints also encourages teachers, child care workers, pediatricians and other professionals to support parents of young children.

"Instead of talking down to the parent or trying to 'educate' them, you 'come alongside' the parent," evaluating behavior without judgment and working toward solutions in positive ways," Lewsader said. "The goal is to help the child — everyone wants to help the child — and you do that by supporting the family."

Explore a learning lab for preschoolers

CMU's Child Development and Learning Laboratory enrolls about 70 children ages 3 and 4 from central and northern Michigan each academic year. It focuses on their social, cognitive, emotional, physical and language development needs. It also provides a laboratory for CMU students to observe, train and study children under the supervision of trained early childhood teachers.

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