CHILD RAISING IN A TIME OF MULTITASKING

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
CHILD RAISING IN A TIME OF MULTITASKING
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

In these challenging times, we risk losing our sense of balance. Technology and global competition have changed how we work. Multitasking has been glorified while new stresses on working parents sap more energy. Yet the most important jobs – like child raising – can’t be done without our full attention.

Working parents are less productive when they worry about their child care arrangements or about their co-workers’ resentment of parental time off when a child is ill.

Families suffer when parents – tethered to smart phones and laptops – bring work home. They may be home, but their jobs are their focus. They may be less engaged with their families, less available to them emotionally.

Yet that availability is critical for child development and strong family relationships.

Children and parents need protected time together to focus on each other, to watch, listen and respond with a minimum of intrusions.

From the start, babies and parents are learning to understand each other and themselves.

Since newborns have been listening to their parents’ voices for several months before birth, I like to help parents discover how much they and their babies already matter to each other.

I hold a newborn with his head in one hand and his bottom in the other. I ask the mother to stand on one side and to talk to her baby in one ear while I talk in the other.

Of course, most every newborn turns his head to his mother. And every mother grabs her baby, kisses him and says, “You know me already!” Then I do the same thing for the fathers. Eight in 10 babies turn their heads to their father’s voice instead of mine. With the other two, I tip their heads toward their fathers – to establish the “conversation.” The fathers react just like the mothers.

In our research, we found that 2-month-olds are already “conversing” with their parents. Sometimes a baby leads; sometimes he follows. He is learning that he can act on his world, and that he will be heard.

Babies and parents are working hard to get to know each other. They are already sharing emotions.

In another experiment, researcher Ed Tronick and I ask mothers to interact normally with their 2-month-olds – and then to turn away. When the mother turns back, we ask her to be unresponsive, expressionless: the “still face.”

Within 11 seconds the baby realizes that something is not right. Then he’ll try 15 different behaviors – smiling, crinkling his eyelids and cooing – to try to win back his mother’s attention.

The baby’s response changes if the mother is depressed. In the “still face” experiment, the baby gives up after only three tries.

Since we can detect maternal depression early and know how to treat it, we have an opportunity to protect children and families.

We used this research on Capitol Hill to advocate for the Family and Medical Leave Act (passed in 1993), which mandates job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks a year, although it is unpaid.

Parents need time with their new babies before returning to work. But these crucial interactions do not end after the first three months.

Workplaces can encourage strong families (and boost productivity, too) when job and family life are in balance.

Families also depend on strong communities where parents can find and share emotional support, practical advice and resources.

For many families, the workplace is their community. Workplaces must learn from strong communities about how to support healthy families. We must all put families first to keep our nation strong.

For more information on family and workplace:


Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

CARRYING A TUNE

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
CARRYING A TUNE
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My sons, who are 6 and 3, have been able to hum and sing on key since before they were 2. Why can’t my almost-5-year-old daughter carry a tune? Do most children grow to recognize pitch?

I don’t want to sign her up for singing lessons for fear it might squelch her delight, but it’s difficult to listen to her. I fear the day when peers tell her she’s off-key. For the record, my husband and I are musical, and I was able to sing harmony when I was 4.

A. Your 5-year-old may not be able to carry a tune, but that doesn’t mean she is tone-deaf. Amusia, the medical name for tone-deafness, is an impaired ability to discriminate between pitches. The brain pathway responsible for pitch perception doesn’t fully connect with parts of the brain involved in sound perception and production, according to a recent study. About one in 20 people are tone-deaf. Many who can’t carry a tune can still distinguish pitches, another study says.

Telling the difference between pitches is only part of singing on key, which also requires the ability to remember pitches and to reproduce them. Many off-key singers have another problem. They can differentiate pitches and remember them, and their voices work fine, but they can’t combine these skills. In effect, they lack the aural equivalent of hand-eye coordination.

Perfect or absolute pitch is the ability to identify individual pitches without a reference, like a pitch pipe or a piano. Only one in 10,000 people have absolute pitch. Relative pitch allows you to identify pitches after hearing them. Most people, including most musicians, have relative pitch.

Children’s rapidly developing brains are malleable; we bet that musical training at a young age can make a difference. We share your concern about spoiling your child’s musical joy. It’s hard to learn anything, or to overcome a personal obstacle, without hope.

We suggest you find a music teacher (perhaps with a background in speech and language pathology) who is experienced with young children, and who will take on this challenge with patience and respect.


Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton, prior to his passing, was the founder and head of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is currently the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.