Early Learning

From Harvard Magazine:

BabeSister Suzanne Deliee climbs the steps of the East Harlem brownstone, rings a bell, and is buzzed in. The visiting nurse has come to see Susana Saldivar and her four-week-old son, Xavier. He was born prematurely, at 33 weeks, and as Deliee asks questions, it becomes clear Saldivar is nervous about caring for him properly, even though he is not her first child. Xavier has not yet learned to latch onto his mother’s breast. While keeping him nourished with formula, Saldivar has been encouraging him to suckle. “That’s all you can do—truly,” the nurse reassures her. The conversation turns to how Saldivar plays with her son. “What kind of rattle are you using?” Deliee asks. Saldivar looks bashful and begins to explain in a soft voice. Deliee gently interrupts: “Do you have a bottle of pills? That will work just fine.”

None of Deliee’s words are random or accidental. She is choosing them carefully to educate Saldivar about child development: preemies commonly have trouble learning to suckle; using a rattle is important to Xavier’s cognitive development. She is also assuaging fears: Saldivar doesn’t need an expensive toy for her son; she is doing just fine as a parent, even if Xavier isn’t yet proficient at breastfeeding. Deliee’s communication style typifies the unique and powerful approach to child development crafted and disseminated by the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, part of the Harvard-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston. Deliee’s employer, Little Sisters of the Assumption Family Health Service, first sent staff members to the center for training in 2006; today, employees say the approach is integral to the agency’s holistic, relationship-oriented view of social services.

More here.