Measures of Child Development
Many parents consistently wonder if their children are on track, making appropriate strides for their ages, and experiencing all of those important milestones that are signs of a healthy child. We go to the pediatrician and trace their height and weight on a chart, mark on the calendar when they say their first words and took their first steps.
The Touchpoints Model of Child Development
Originally published in Infants and Young Children, (10, 74-84, 1997), authors Maureen O’Brien and Kristie Brandt, along with other colleagues, explored and described a system of growth measurement based on a new model – Touchpoints. Republished in The Irreducible Needs of Children, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. and Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D., the Touchpoints model has 8 core principles.
- Value and understand the relationship between you and the parent.
- Use the behavior of the child as your language.
- Recognize what you bring to the interaction.
- Be willing to discuss matters that go beyond your traditional role.
- Look for opportunities to support parental mastery.
- Focus on the parent-child relationship.
- Value passion wherever you find it.
- Value disorganization and vulnerability as an opportunity.
These basic ideas behind the Touchpoints model are directed at children during the first three years of their lives (including prenatal growth). The premises of the Touchpoints model are that developmental changes for young children can disrupt the family system and that if parents are made more aware of the stages, their reactions can be more direct and nurturing. If we know what is coming (and that it is normal and healthy), we can react to it more positively and see even the frustrating and challenging changes as successful milestones.
The 12 Major Stages of the Touchpoints Model
- Prenatal Touchpoint – During this stage parents prepare for the birth of their child physically and emotionally, and they draw upon their imaginations to envision what their baby will look like and how he or she will grow as a part of their family. Pregnant mothers often strengthen their own nurturing bonds with other women, especially other mothers, during this touchpoint.
- Newborn Touchpoint – Parents experience a flood of emotions as their child is born. No longer reliant upon their imaginations, parents form a new set of attachment bonds with their newborn child.
- 3 Week Touchpoint – Parents are often exhausted, and at this stage are at risk for emotional and physical stress and anxiety. Feeding takes on an enormous role – the schedule, the rate of weight gain, and even the diapering are all markers of development. The babies are beginning to demonstrate their own temperaments as they react to the care of their parents. Families with newborns at the 3 week touchpoint see changes in their relationships with friends, extended family members, and their communities.
- 6-8 Week Touchpoint – Babies at this stage are more social, having longer periods of alertness. Parents are usually feeling more relaxed in their roles and their exhaustion has eased. They are also feeling more confident as they are learning to understand their babies’ cues and are implementing schedules that work for the family. The one area that might be suffering the most is the intimacy of the adult relationship as both Mom and Dad have to once again figure out how to be Wife and Husband.
- 4 Month Touchpoint – Parents and their babies have developed strong emotional ties with each other and there is more predictability in expectations – both emotionally and schedule-wise. Babies become increasingly engaged in the outside world and are using more effective methods for getting attention. Often fathers feel more comfortable at this stage as they can engage more easily and feel less intimidated with the fragility of their children. It might be hard for some mothers to relinquish their primary role as their babies develop relationships with dads and siblings.
- 7 Month Touchpoint – Babies have developed more physical control over their movements and they are able to explore more easily. They have figured out the pincer grasp and can use their hands for more purposeful exploration. Feeding by breastfeeding or bottles is slowly being replaced by more active feeding of soft foods. Many babies go through a challenging sleep stage at this point, resisting going to bed and staying asleep. They are also learning more about objects and are experimenting with manipulating them.
- 9 Month Touchpoint – Motor skills are kicking into high gear during this stage and work hard to get where they want to go. They also test social reactions – throwing things to get your attention – and they expand these social tests to reacting to people in their lives more distinctly. Babies might also apply their social testing to eating and sleeping habits – pushing the limit to see who is really in control – Mom or baby.
- 12 Month Touchpoint – The attachment of the baby to his parents gives him the security to test independence, but at other times he also seeks comfort at great levels. Babies are learning at lightening-speed – exploring objects and assessing how people and things work together. At this stage there can be higher levels of frustration for both parents and babies as communication is not always clear, but the expectations for baby are growing.
- 15 Month Touchpoint – Moving into the toddler stage means seeking autonomy, which can be challenging for everyone, but there can also be increases in attachment desires. Fine motor skills are becoming more refined, and communication through language is emphasized more. Babies may not be able to clearly communicate with words, but it is more important at this stage that they comprehend the words around them.
- 18 Month Touchpoint – There is often a dramatic increase in use of language and imaginary play. Toddlers develop a sense of self, which can lead to inevitable battles for control. Most toddlers have developed a vocabulary of at least a few words.
- 2 Year Touchpoint – The imagination runs full force at this stage, where toys become props. Toddlers also develop the ability to form short sentences and dramatically increase their ability to understand language. The advances in physical, emotional, and verbal abilities leads to what are referred to as “the terrible twos” – but what are actually the emergence of a toddler who believes her agenda supersedes that of everyone else. She is the center of her world, and can be frustrated when others don’t follow her lead.
- 3 Year Touchpoint – Parents might see the emergence of imaginary friends as pretend play becomes more vivid. This coincides with increases in fears and phobias, as rationalization is not yet a skill. The three-year-old has major increases in language development, both in processing and in speech. Peer relationships with siblings and playmates takes on a new life, and three-year-olds begin to better understand social cues and expectations.
Recognizing these touchpoints as turning points in lives of our young children can help us find ways to help them express themselves more effectively, communicate at their levels, and nurture their needs. We might not be able to pinpoint these on a chart, but they are fundamental stages that healthy children experience.