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T. Berry Brazelton (19182018)

photograph of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton

A renowned international expert on child development, researcher, author, and “America’s Pediatrician,” Thomas Berry Brazelton, M.D. was born on May 10, 1918, in Waco, Texas. He passed away on March 13, 2018, just shy of his 100th birthday. Dr. Brazelton attended Princeton University, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1940. He graduated in 1943 from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City and accepted a medical internship there. In 1945, he moved to Boston to serve his medical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital. He then completed pediatric training at Children’s Hospital Boston. His interest in child development led to training in child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and the James Jackson Putnam Children’s Center. In 1949, Dr. Brazelton married Christina Lowell, with whom he shared more than 65 loving years of marriage until her death in 2015. They had four children and seven grandchildren.  

In 1950, Dr. Brazelton began a private pediatrics practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He became interested in understanding children beyond pathology and disease and began conducting research with parents and babies with the goal of achieving a better understanding of infants’ behavioral and developmental progression. In 1972, Dr. Brazelton established the Child Development Unit, a pediatric training and research center at Children’s Hospital Boston. The Child Development Unit offered doctors the opportunity to conduct research on child development and train for clinical work with parents and children. In 1973, while at the Child Development Unit, Dr. Brazelton published his Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS), used worldwide in research and in clinical interventions to facilitate parent-infant interactions and understanding.

In 1988, Dr. Brazelton became Clinical Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. The T. Berry Brazelton Chair for Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Boston was established in 1992. Dr. Brazelton founded the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in 1996 to offer programs and services based on his pioneering model of child and family development. The Center was founded to shift the paradigm of care so that service delivery systems empower families to rediscover the intrinsic strengths they possess to nurture themselves and other members of their communities. 

Dr. Brazelton was President of the Society for Research in Child Development for the 1987–89 term. He was a founding member of the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs, which later became ZERO TO THREE, and was its president from 1988–91. His growing concern about the pressures and stresses that families face led to his frequent appearances before Congressional committees in support of parental medical leave bills and to his work to improve child-care access and quality for all working parents. In 1989, he was appointed by the U.S. Congress to the National Commission on Children, where he advocated with vigor for materially deprived children. 

Over the years, Dr. Brazelton published more than 200 scientific papers and chapters, and 40 books, including classics such as Infants and Mothers: Individual Differences in Development (1969), Toddlers and Parents: A Declaration of Independence (1974), Doctor and Child (1976), On Becoming a Family (1981), What Every Baby Knows (1987), The Earliest Relationship (1990), Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development (1992), and Touchpoints: Three to Six (2001). 

The T. Berry Brazelton Papers, 1949–2007 can be found at the Center for the History of Medicine at the Countway Library, Harvard Medical School, and are the product of Brazelton’s research and administrative activities as Director of the Child Development Unit at Children’s Hospital Boston, as well as his activities as a private-practice pediatrician and author. 

Dr. Brazelton’s contributions were recognized with numerous honorary doctoral degrees and distinguished awards over his lifetime, including the Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation’s second-highest civilian honor, which President Barack Obama awarded him in 2012. Other awards and honors included:

  • Living Legend, Library of Congress 200th Anniversary
  • René Spitz Award for Lifetime Contributions to Infant Mental Health, World Association for Infant Mental Health, Amsterdam
  • Gustav Lienhard Award, Institute of Medicine, Washington, DC
  • Award for Changing the Understanding of Infants, Children, and Child Development over the Last Half Century, Cardinal Health Children’s Care
  • Hannah Neil World of Children Award, World of Children, Inc., New Albany, OH
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, Boston
  • Arnold-Lucius-Gesell Prize, Munich, Germany
  • Catcher in the Rye Humanitarian of the Year Award, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Boston
  • Edna Reiss–Sophie Greenberg Chair, Recognizing Outstanding Professionals in the Field of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Reiss-Davis Graduate School
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, ZERO TO THREE
  • Distinguished Contributions to the Lives of Children Award, Society for Research in Child Development
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Babies and children, families and communities do the research on what it takes for them to flourish. Listen with us to what they’ve been learning. Watch a webinar. Check out the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative. Join the Brazelton Touchpoints Center Learning Network. Join the conversation.

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