Dr. Brazelton On Guiding Parents And Learning To Listen

Play associated audio

For the better part of the past century, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has studied babies, helping change the way we think about and care for them — right from the time they take their first breaths.

The renowned pediatrician hosted the long-running TV show What Every Baby Knows, and has written more than 30 books about child development. Hospitals worldwide rely on his newborn assessment known as the Brazelton scale.

At age 95, he's still going strong.

He continues to work with the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, a network of training sites he founded for medical professionals, and travels the country speaking publicly about child development.

His latest book is a memoir called Learning to Listen: A Life Caring for Children.

It begins during his boyhood in Waco, Texas. There, his grandmother made the prescient observation, "Berry's so good with babies," pointing the way for his life's work.

"She'd put me to work every Sunday on the front porch of her house, while my parents went in to have cocktails and get drunk," he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

He was 8 years old when he was put in charge of minding his younger cousins. Brazelton says it was then he learned to pick up on behavioral cues.

"So right from the first, I learned that if you watch a baby and listen to them — or a child — they would tell you what they were about to do," he says. "And I could stop them before they got in trouble, not afterward."

Brazelton went on to study pediatrics and child psychiatry, eventually getting into private practice and teaching parents to get to know their babies.

It was a new way of thinking. Before World War II, babies were not really thought of as individuals.

"I think because we'd lay them out on a cold slab, didn't swaddle them and then confronted them with noises and sights — and these kids wouldn't respond," Brazelton says.

But small changes can yield big results.

"As soon as you wrap them up and cuddle them and bring them up to an alert condition, they'll do anything you want," Brazelton says.

He conducted decades of clinical research, writing more than 200 scholarly papers, and traveling around the world studying child development in various cultures. He says American methods of early parenting don't tend to compare very well.

"I wish that parents were like the parents I saw in Kenya or in southern Mexico, where they carry their babies around and learn about them right from the first," he says.

American parents, Brazelton says, "tend to put a baby down, tend to talk on our cell phones, rather than looking at him and speaking to him."

But, Brazelton says, mistakes are nothing to fear; they're learning opportunities.

"Parents need to understand that they can relax and have fun, because the baby will teach them how to become a parent," he says.

After so many years in the field, the soon-to-be centenarian isn't ready to stop.

"Oh, golly, I don't want to give up," he says. "I learn every time I see a new baby, every time I talk to a new parent."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

Verdine White On 45 Years With Earth, Wind & Fire

Forty-five years ago, the band “Earth, Wind and Fire” introduced audiences to a new kind of funk--one that fused soul, jazz, Latin and pop. Bassist Verdine White talks to guest host Derek McGinty about breaking racial boundaries in music and how the band is still evolving.

NPR

If War Is Hell, Then Coffee Has Offered U.S. Soldiers Some Salvation

"Nobody can soldier without coffee," a Union cavalryman wrote in 1865. Hidden Kitchens looks at three American wars through the lens of coffee: the Civil War, Vietnam and Afghanistan.
WAMU 88.5

What's Ahead At The Democratic National Convention

The Democratic National Convention gets underway in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton will accept the presidential nomination.

NPR

What Verizon Will Get When It Buys Yahoo

Verizon is announcing a deal to buy Yahoo's Internet business on Monday. The telecom giant is eyeing Yahoo's content — and more opportunities to sell ads on it.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.