Touchpoints Three to Six: Your Child's Behavioral and Emotional Development

Touchpoints Three to Six: Your Child's Behavioral and Emotional Development

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by T. Berry Brazelton, Joshua A. Sparrow

For decades, new parents have relied on Dr. Brazelton's wisdom in such beloved best sellers as Infants and Mothers and Touchpoints. But all "Brazelton babies" grow up. Now at last, the internationally famous pediatrician, in collaboration with an eminent child psychiatrist, has brought his unique insights to the preschool and first-grade years. In his


For decades, new parents have relied on Dr. Brazelton's wisdom in such beloved best sellers as Infants and Mothers and Touchpoints. But all "Brazelton babies" grow up. Now at last, the internationally famous pediatrician, in collaboration with an eminent child psychiatrist, has brought his unique insights to the preschool and first-grade years. In his warm, funny, empathic tone, he again listens to the child's perspective while also showing his characteristic compassion for the parents' feelings.Parents will welcome the unique features of this important new guide. First the authors profile four very different children, followed throughout these years in a delightful and revealing narrative that applies the touchpoints theory to each of the great cognitive, behavioral, and emotional leaps that a child makes from ages three through six. The second part of the book, arranged alphabetically by topic, offers guidance to parents facing contemporary pressures and stresses, such as how to keep a child safe without instilling fear, countering the electronic barrage of violent games and marketing aimed at children, coping successfully with varied family configurations, shifting gender roles, over-scheduling, competition, and more. A Merloyd Lawrence Book

Editorial Reviews
Trusted parenting expert T. Berry Brazelton applies his renowned "touchpoints" concept to the preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade years in Touchpoints Three to Six. The touchpoints concept aims to help readers take advantage of the moments of frustration and regression that accompany a child's natural progression and emotional development, and use these moments to strengthen the bond between parents (or pediatrician or other caregiver) and child.

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Da Capo Press
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Chapter One


What I Do Matters

On the

The playground was teeming: Children running about with their caregivers or nannies, and the at-home mothers clustered in groups on the benches. Children were mostly under four. Their siblings were in school—preschool and "real" school. Freed from the pressure of their older siblings' domination, the two- and three-year-olds raced from one activity to another. Watchful parents or caregivers needed to race back and forth with them to maintain conversation. Children were stimulated to keep up with each other's activities. The sandboxes were the quiet areas. The slides and merry-go-round were active spots. Four children, two boys and two girls—our four major actors in this book—were part of this melee. An active boy and a quiet boy, Billy and Tim, an intense, driving girl, Minnie, and a cheerful and outgoing girl, Marcy, played with the other children.

    Billy, a joyful, active little boy, arrived on this scene with his mother. His round face had a cherubic look. His soft, full cheeks and wide eyes, his tumbling hair, busy-talk, and finger in the mouth—all seemed designed to make him endearing and pick-up-able. It was difficult not to want to hug Billy. When he was ready, it was okay. But when he wasn't, away he'd wriggle. He wanted to be free to roam, to inquire, to find out about his world. He still stood with feet apart, though more steadily now. Occasionally, he stumbled. He was in a hurry. He hadn't yet mastered motor planning, anticipating how his body would have to move in time for him to get where he was going. At three, getting there is more important than figuring out how. For the most part, though, his motor development allowed him to move about with greater certainty and aplomb. As a result, he wanted to be with everyone, but not always with people who represented hugs. He needed to explore the world; and, for him, the most important part of the world was people.

    Billy was always smiling and outgoing. He charged up to a group of three-year-olds in the sand pile. "Hi. I'm Billy." No one looked up. Undaunted, he sat beside a boy who was making a sandcastle. As if in imitation, he began to make a castle just like the other child's. Never looking at each other, the boys became more and more aware of each other's moves. Billy took a cup, filled it with sand, and patted the sand down; when he turned the cup over, the sand formed a molded tower. The other child was clearly impressed. The two moved closer to each other and began to build together. Billy's mother was struck with Billy's ability to "move on in."

    As soon as Billy had made a friend, the other children seemed to recognize their strength as a pair. "Billy, look here." "Tommy, can you help me build?" They moved closer. Another child, a girl, recognized a kindred soul in Billy. "You got curly hair. Did your mommy do it?" "Do what?" "Curl it up like she does. My hair is curly, too, but kids tease me." Billy returned to his sand building as if this were to be ignored. The girl moved next to him. "Wanna ride my big wheel?" Billy looked up, brightening. "Sure." She raced over to her tricycle. Billy followed as fast as he could. She held on to one handlebar while he climbed on. As soon as he was astride, he tried to pedal. At first, his foot slipped. The girl grinned. Billy looked around, embarrassed. Placing his feet more squarely on the pedals, he began to move, but backwards. She laughed, "Not that way." Billy realized his mistake, and began to pedal forward. Proud of his achievement, he began to yell, "Look out!" The other three-year-olds stopped to watch with admiration.

    Learning to pedal a three-wheeler is quite an achievement. From walking to running to pushing a kiddie-car are a two-year-old's milestones. Then, a year later, to be able to push, to alternate feet, to cycle with one's own legs, and to be able to reverse the motion is a major victory for a three-year-old. No wonder Billy was proud. His ability to restrain his own behavior to match that of the other children, and to enter their play, is a measure of his adaptability. He is hungry to win these children over to play with him. His persistence and determination to succeed in social interaction is one window into his temperament.

    Billy's mother sat on the bench with the other mothers. She was confident that Billy could take care of himself. Did he already know how to reassure her with his competence? As she watched Billy with the other three-year-olds, she realized how nurturing he was. At one point, a child threw a handful of sand at him. Billy looked down at the culprit. "No! No throwing." Mrs. Stone was fascinated that he'd taken in her admonition and was now ready to use it to protect himself. Instead of throwing sand back, he'd used words he'd heard before. The other child looked up in surprise, listened, and stopped.

Marcy was already on the jungle gym. Although she still toddled at times—falling back on her wide-based gait, on rather clumsy footing, she was handsome to watch. If she stumbled, she'd fall down and get up in one motion without stopping. Her eyes sparkled. Her smile was contagious. She climbed with deliberate concentration, but slipped if distracted. She whipped up and down the slide. She rode her tricycle with dexterity. At home, she could put pieces in her puzzles, although she had to fumble around, and could untie her own shoes. She could pile as many as ten blocks on top of each other in a tower, placing each corner precisely on top of the corner below it.

    Like her mother, Marcy was tall—tall for her age. Her skin was a light chocolate color, her tight, soft curls were shiny black. She was winning in her ways. Her pretty face with her appealing, dark eyes looked at you with trust. As her face broke into a smile, your heart flip-flopped. She was eagerly responsive and everyone in turn seemed to respond to her.

    As she came onto the playground, she bounced. Her limbs were soft and strong, with dimples still in her elbows and beside her knees as she started off to a run. Then, the slight widening to her gait seemed to disappear, or nearly. This almost imperceptible immaturity makes an adult feel more protective than she will feel about Marcy at four and five. But Marcy's movements are so purposeful and enthusiastic. Boisterousness is mixed with adventure, and all Marcy's activities seem aimed at playful fun.

    Every new object needs to be examined, to be tried out. A large leaf must be dislodged and turned over for scrutiny. A rock becomes an object of curiosity—"Is it heavy? Is it rough? Is it muddy? What's under it?" That squirmy worm must be picked up and examined. Active wonder marks every experience. Each leaf is a first.

    Marcy ran up to each child. "I'm here!" She waited for a response before she went to the next child. When she approached a little boy who was sitting in his mother's lap, she greeted him. As he withdrew and turned in to his mother, she followed her greeting by appealing to his mother. Sensitively, she dropped her voice to say, "I'm Marcy. I'm shy, too." She obviously wasn't.

    Of course, the other toddlers and three-year-olds began to be aware of her. Several of them followed her around. She quickly became a leader of those her age. She took her role seriously. "Let's play on the jungle gym." The others followed. "Let's climb through the tunnel." They followed. "Let's ride on my big wheel." They followed. They all tried to climb on the tricycle at once. It turned over. No one got to ride.

    All of Marcy's achievements were accompanied by her good nature. Although she often had to work hard to complete a task, she finished with a grin. It seemed as if she was not only pleased with herself but wanted to share her joy in success with others. This was not done with any braggadocio, but more with the feeling of "Isn't it fun to be alive?" No wonder she was popular with her peers and with adults who met her. "Is she always like this?" people would ask. "She always has been delightfully easy," her mother would reply. "As a baby she seemed to appreciate all we did for her. Her brother was just the opposite. He's easier now, but he wasn't in the beginning. Everyone loves Marcy. Her brother would like to make her life miserable, but she worships him, and she learns so much from him. He can't stay mad at Marcy too long."

Tim sat watching the other children from his mother's lap. He had been to the playground once before, but there had been only one other child present. He had clung to his mother, hiding his face in her shoulder. After a few minutes, he'd begun to peek out at the other child. His mother sensed how hungry he was to know and understand other children. She'd brought Tim again today, expecting him to be shy. He was. Even around his older brother, he clung to his mother or his father. Everyone in the house was aware of Tim's shyness. It daunted them all. As a newborn baby, he was too quiet, too easily overwhelmed by noise and people. His parents had protected him because it seemed too painful to push him. If they took Tim to a noisy party or into a crowd of people, he'd quiver. He'd shun those who came near, averting his face and eyes. At home, he was just as quiet and retiring. He was clear about his needs, however—hunger and sleep—and made few demands. In that respect, his parents felt he'd been easy. At first they'd taken him everywhere, as they had his older brother. But he was too quiet, too unresponsive when they were out with him. People wondered why he was so quiet. When the family returned home, Tim would cry a great deal, in long sobs, which wrenched his parents' hearts. It was easier just to stay at home with him.

    Tim had walked at the expected time. He had talked on time. Each milestone in his development reassured his parents that he was doing fine. This quiet child was so gentle. When a new person came into the house, he hid his face or covered his ears. When he could walk, he would quietly disappear. Her own mother reassured Mrs. McCormick; she called her grandson "her quiet, sensitive Tim."

    Tim's older brother, Philip, teased him. Tim would brighten at his attention. His brother's intentions weren't so benign, however. He'd look for Tim's weaknesses. When Philip saw Tim open up to him, he'd increase the teasing. "Nyah, nyah, nyah. Look at Tim, he's a baby." Tim would look worried. Then Philip would grab Tim's blanket. Tim couldn't stand it. He'd curl up in a little ball to protect the blanket. He'd whimper silently and suck his thumb loudly—his most overt plea for help. Mrs. McCormick would rush to Tim to pick him up. She'd sit down in a rocking chair, rocking him with a tender, crooning song. Tim would visibly relax. His face would brighten. He would look around and show interest in everything around him, but only as long as he was enclosed in the safe envelope of his mother's lap. Mrs. McCormick knew she was needed. Tim's older brother would then slink off, angry and unfulfilled. "Tim always gets his way."

    When Mrs. McCormick held Tim in her lap at the playground, she sat alone on a bench across from the other mothers as if she were ashamed of Tim's clinging. She knew that if she sat by other mothers, they would all give her advice: "Just put him down and let him cry—he'll get over it." "My little girl was just like that but she finally got used to other kids." "Get him a play date. He can learn about other children that way."

    They watched the other children play, and as Mrs. McCormick relaxed, Tim's vigilance began to diminish. He grabbed for his blanket. It was at home, so he grabbed his mother's dress, clutched it in one hand, and sucked on his thumb with the other. As he did so, he began to relax. He watched and watched. He even began to talk about the children he was watching. "He don't like that slide. He don't want to climb it." He wasn't speaking to her, but she could tell that this was Tim's attempt at participation with the other children.

    Some of the other three-year-olds were curious about Tim and his mother. They watched them out of the corners of their eyes. After one little girl hurt herself on the jungle gym, she cringed in her mother's lap; she sucked her thumb and fingered her mother's dress, as if imitating Tim. As the other children watched, they glanced back and forth at Tim and the little girl. They had made the connection. Tim's utter dependency was a threat to all of them because they had only recently struck out on their own. One little boy rushed up to Mrs. McCormick: "Put him down! Make him play!" At this age, all children are still working on their independence. It is frightening to see someone acting out your own struggle.

Minnie raced into the playground. Her legs and arms were flying, her face eager. As she ran, she leaned forward, as if her legs couldn't keep up to get her where she wanted to go. "Hey, let's go!" she shouted, to no one in particular. Her mother walked silently behind her. She did not expect to keep up with her. For three years now, Minnie's mother had wondered where Minnie had come from. Minnie's sweet, patient, and engaging big sister, May, had not prepared her parents for Minnie. She was unlike anyone else Mrs. Lee had ever experienced. A steamroller, she never stopped moving. She climbed, she jumped, she tested every piece of furniture, every curbstone, every jungle gym or slide in a playground. As her mother watched her, she gasped at her audacity. "Minnie, don't climb up to the top until I get them!" fell on deaf ears. Minnie seemed to be caught by the physical excitement of movement. She had a kind of recklessness that made it nerve-wracking for her mother to watch. By the time Mrs. Lee got to the "big" slide, Minnie had gone up and come down at the other end. The harder Mrs. Lee tried to keep up with her, the more Minnie seemed to be on the run. As Minnie returned to climb up, her mother grabbed her arm in an attempt to make her slow down; Minnie wrenched it away and kept climbing. Her heedlessness, mixed with her ability to achieve these physical accomplishments, made her mother feel disconnected and somewhat useless.

    Minnie's father loved Minnie's athletic prowess. He admired her intensity. He valued her ability to achieve athletic goals, and she knew it. That was an unspoken bond between them. From time to time he'd say, "Minnie, you're amazing! I can't believe how fast you climbed that slide!" She never appeared to respond to him, either, although he thought he detected a slight smile after his words of encouragement. Minnie paid little attention to her father when he tried to slow her down with words. Instead, he'd throw her up in the air. She squealed with delight. He'd get more and more audacious. She loved it. They invented all sorts of games together. When she wanted a ride, she'd ask for the "wheelbarrow." He'd hold her by the ankles, dip her down and she'd run across the floor on her hands. Then, exhausted, she'd plop down on the ground so hard that her father would wonder whether he'd hurt her. Not at all. She chortled, "More! More!"

    In desperation, Mrs, Lee would enlist her husband when she needed to discipline Minnie, but his attempts at discipline were likely to go almost as unheeded as hers. Trying to stop this energetic little girl was like trying to dam a rushing stream.

The playground is often a child's first venture into the wide, wide world. Here, children learn from and about other children, about each other's individuality. Humans are social animals from the very beginning. From the start, infants are "wired" to seek out and engage in relationships. By three years, they have not only learned but can think about the importance of communication and of relationships. "You're my best friend." Nurturing relationships with their parents set the tone. A child knows how rewarding it can be to look, to talk, to listen, to touch, and to demand attention from an important adult. Siblings have been models for learning about ambivalent relationships—sometimes rivalrous, sometimes loving, but always exciting. A sibling provides the positive and negative sides of a passionate relationship as well as the enticing opportunity for involving a parent, who will try to break up the rivalry!

    Peers offer children a window they can look into and see themselves. They are often at the same stage of development, struggling with the same issues, facing the demands of the next developmental steps. Yet they are also different. The differences offer a kaleidoscope of experiences, a way of testing what one's own feelings might be. A child can see himself in a mirror as he experiences the other child's reactions. The chance to play with and to model on the peer's reactions and styles of learning offers the opportunity for learning about oneself.

    Three-year-olds are now less dominated by tortured negativism. No longer bound to the parallel play of the two-year-old (although even at this age, children are already more interactive than was once thought), they are now able to pay attention to the other child in a more complicated way—reading cues, matching rhythms of response, waiting and watching for another response—the rhythm of interaction. They can learn to read the other child's cries and respond to them appropriately. From the beginning, the infant learns from interactions with attentive caregivers; but learning how to capture and respond to peers with their own agendas is a major step.

    With peers, a child can try out and experiment with his own impact on the world around him. He can begin to learn about himself as an active participant in the world, no longer just within his own family.


At the playground, children make very clear their individual differences in their play, in the way they make relationships. The way children take on the developmental steps to come will vary with their individuality, pressing their parents to face each "touchpoint" differently, too. Temperament, a valuable concept for parents, describes the differences in how children receive, digest, and express their experiences. Understanding the variations of each child's temperament can give us insight into the way the child needs to handle new developmental experiences, into his responses to each challenge he encounters as he develops.

    Certain developmental changes, certain touchpoints, are likely to be unsettling not only to the parents but to the whole family. But parents who have learned to understand the child's temperament can rely on each child's individual way of addressing a challenge, turning the turmoil into a more predictable event. Temperament is made up of many factors: activity level, distractibility, persistence, approach/withdrawal, intensity, adaptability, regularity, sensory threshold, mood. These traits are probably largely inborn. Stella Chess and Alexander Thomas identified these elements of children's temperaments and pointed out how powerfully they affect the parent-child relationship. Chess and Thomas coined the term goodness of fit to describe how temperaments of child and parent can match in a close and supportive relationship. My first book, Infants and Mothers, demonstrates how the baby's style or temperament affects the parent's reactions from the very first days. In the process of adjusting to each other, the baby and the parent develop a predictability of expectations with each other. Parents' understanding of their child's temperament limits the unpredictability of the forms that developmental changes will take.

    If parents can accept and value their child's way of greeting and mastering her life, they make a positive contribution to the child's sense of conquest and self-esteem. If parents can treasure their child's style of protecting herself from feelings or experiences that overwhelm her, they support her sense of security. A parent's first and most important job is to understand the child as an individual. This means watching, listening, observing each change in her development, and the individual ways in which she masters her environment. The new energy required for each new task is fueled when a child has found her own strategies for dealing with change. The stable aspects of a child's temperament supply the foundation from which the child can learn to deal with the instability and excitement that come with each new touchpoint.

    Is temperament fixed? Is it predictive for the future? To some degree it is. But many things influence temperament; these include the ways parents understand their child and interact with her, and the experiences (positive and negative) that challenge their child's coping strategies.

    By the age of three, temperament has become a reliable and recognizable part of the parent-child relationship. No longer can it be overlooked. No longer can a parent hope to change it. The child's powerful contribution affects every aspect of interaction: communication, caring, caretaking, and discipline. Unless its power is understood, a parent can easily feel manipulated and helpless.

    Parents are helped in understanding a child's temperament when they view the child as an active participant in their relationship. The chances of being able to adjust to that child's rhythms and behavioral language—the "goodness of fit"—is then significantly enhanced. It also helps when parents are able to understand their particular styles and to see their own reactions as subjective.

    Three clusters of characteristics vary with each child and affect how she deals with her world. These, along with the individual rhythms of sleep, hunger, and other bodily functions, define her temperament:

1. Task orientation—attention span and persistence, distractibility, and activity level.

2. Social flexibility—approach/withdrawal (how a child handles stimuli from the outside) and adaptability.

3. Reactivity—sensory threshold of responsiveness (high or low), quality of mood, and intensity of reactions.

Excerpted from touchpoints three to six by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D.. Copyright © 2001 by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., founder of the Child Development Unit at Children's Hospital Boston, is Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Brown University. He is a famed advocate for children, and his many other internationally acclaimed books for parents include To Listen to a Child, Infants and Mothers, and, with Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., The Irreducible Needs of Children.

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Touchpoints Three to Six 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
At last - a right on track book that makes each parent happy to be raising kids. Just what the doctor ordered. Of course it has many great points regarding these important years and learning time in the lives of children and he strikes a chord with all.