Nikaury & liam
Like many parents living in central Brooklyn, Nikaury worried that her children would suffer the consequences of the stress her family was facing, despite her best efforts to protect them.
Nikaury grew up in the Dominican Republic and came to the U.S. five years ago when her daughter, Sheiny, was two years old. The family prospered for a time, and then suffered a spiral of trouble — community violence, jobs lost, and Nikaury’s mother-in-law’s increasingly volatile behavior, ultimately ruining her son’s credit, threatening her and the children, and leading the family to seek shelter in the City’s homeless system.
Having experienced a loving and nurturing upbringing herself, Nikaury knew the importance of her role as a mom to now seven-year-old Sheiny, and eighteen-month-old son, Liam. Now however, after a series of challenges, she was overwhelmed and worried that the many things out of her control would threaten her children’s well-being.
Nikaury learned about Power of Two while attending a parent-teacher conference at Sheiny’s school. “It’s been a challenge to manage everything happening in our lives,” Nikaury said. “I thought Power of Two could help me with Liam and his development. That’s why it interested me.”
With her limited English ability, Nikaury was assigned to Kat Castaño, a bilingual parent coach. At their first session of Power of Two’s program, “Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC)”, Kat immediately saw Nikaury’s strengths in “dar atenciόn cariñoso” – that is, being nurturing when Liam was upset. Nurturance is one of ABC’s key targets because science has shown that it is a central ingredient for secure attachment.
Following the ABC model, Kat provided repeated positive comments throughout the ten sessions, reinforcing what Nikaury was doing well and further shaping her parenting behavior. In that first session, Kat commented, “He tripped and you say ‘Uh oh!’ That's great, showing him that ‘atenciόn cariñoso’ that he needs. That shows him that, when anything happens, you'll be there.” Not only did this simple, in-the-moment comment highlight Nikaury’s nurturing response to Liam, but it helped her understand why nurturance mattered. Over the course of ten weeks and countless such comments from Kat, Nikaury learned that her responses to Liam’s signals had the power to shape his development in ways she had never realized.
Using the ABC model, Power of Two provides ten sessions in the home, each an hour long, with the coach providing the parent with focused, positive comments that help the parent nurture the baby when he or she is upset, follow the baby’s lead in play, and refrain from frightening behavior. The coach also shares the research behind the program, explaining to the parent why these simple ways of parenting are so critical for a child’s brain development in infancy.
Asked recently about the impact of the program on her child, Nikaury said, “He has changed even in the way he plays. Before, if he didn’t want a toy or whatever, if I didn’t understand, he cried or acted out. Now I understand him, and it makes it easier for him.”
Kat noticed changes too, in the way Nikaury engaged with her infant son. “It was incredible to watch her grasp the concept of ‘following the lead’ and allowing Liam to play on his own terms.”
“Now he really looks for Mom’s involvement in what he is doing.”
Research has shown that this type of responsive parenting, and the attachment between parent and child that results, is critical to protecting children from any number of negative long-term effects of poverty and its accompanying stresses.
After the program ended, Nikaury told a Power of Two staffer, “Thank you very much, first and foremost. You’re doing excellent work for us mothers, and our children too. You’re helping us in a great way to understand them much better, and to deal with the things that can affect them. I found the program so helpful, so much so that if it were up to me, I’d still be in the program!”
As for coach Kat, Nikaury called her “excellent…the best life could have sent me.
Taniece & miya
Taniece is 37 years old, a mother of two girls, born nearly ten years apart. In the past, Taniece had been skeptical of home-visiting programs where a professional works with a client in the home. She wasn’t sure she wanted a stranger in her apartment, afraid they would pass judgment on the condition of her home, or tell her how to raise her child. After all, she already had an 11-year-old daughter.
“I was nervous,” she said, “because when you have someone coming into your home for the first time, and if your home is not nice, you think they will be judgmental of you.”
In the end, it was her baby Miya, just 18 months old, who made it happen, leading her to the team from Power of Two.
“I went to a resource fair at my older daughter’s school – P.S. 158,” Taniece remembered. “I didn’t go to the Power of Two table at first, but Miya was drawn to the table because of the little toys. So I talked to the people there and thought that the program sounded interesting. I went with the flow,” she said, “allowed myself to open up and see where it would take me. Since it was for my baby, I was willing to give it a shot.”
That “shot” was an evidence-based home-visiting program called ABC (Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up), that changes parenting in ways that research shows are critical for an infant’s healthy brain development. ABC involves ten sessions in the home, each an hour long, with the coach providing the parent with focused, positive comments that help the parent nurture the baby when he or she is upset, follow the baby’s lead in play, and refrain from frightening behavior.
As a child, Taniece hadn’t always had someone respond to her needs and take delight in her. In fact, at times she even felt unsafe in her parents’ care. “When I was growing up, it was different,” she recalled. “If you did something you were not supposed to do, you got popped.” Now, as a single mom with two children of her own, she was struggling herself. It can be hard to give what you didn’t receive.
“She is naturally nurturing,” Rosomond, the parent coach who worked with Taniece, said. “During one of our initial sessions, Miya bumped her head on the high chair and Taniece quickly walked over and comforted her.”
But Taniece struggled with following Miya’s lead, a critical parenting behavior that helps infants regulate stress hormones and allows their brains to develop fully. “She wouldn’t really interact with Miya during play.”
Following the ABC model, Rosomond took note of every time Taniece responded to Miya in nurturing or responsive ways. Within minutes of a camera being set up during the first ABC session, Rosomond picked up on a simple interaction between Taniece and her daughter Miya. “Good following the lead!” said Rosomond, “She said ‘hi’ and you said ‘hi.’” Over the course of 10 weeks, Taniece heard simple, affirming comments like this over and over again—when she picked up Tamiya after she bumped her head, when she laughed along as Miya pretended to eat a toy peach, when she clapped when Miya clapped. Ordinary moments that had typically passed by unnoticed now were celebrated.
Rigorous research has shown that these “in-the-moment” positive comments about what the parent is doing well create change in how the parent relates to the child. These changes in turn change how the child responds to the parent, creating a positive feedback loop between the parent and child.
“By our eighth session,” said Rosomond, “Taniece was more attentive to what Miya was doing and played along with her, following her lead. During that session Miya walked over to Taniece with the play mac-and-cheese bowl; Taniece immediately lifted Miya onto her lap and they sat and pretended to eat the mac and cheese together. It was the first time that Miya sat on her mom’s lap to play. It was an emotional moment for all.”
When asked what Power of Two had done for her, Taniece said she’s become “extra patient” with her daughter. She also said that she used to use her ordinary voice, which “at times can be rough, or maybe deep or harsh”; now, “I brighten it up when I speak with her, because I’ve learned that children tend to react differently when you speak rough versus sweet.”
Research shows that parents who were abused, neglected, or experienced other serious stressors in their own childhood can behave in frightening ways, sometimes without even realizing it. Frightening behavior such as yelling, growling, and intruding in children’s space can interfere with children’s development of secure attachments and healthy self-regulation, which in turn can lead to health, mental health, and academic problems later in life. With constant reinforcement from her coach, some simple guiding comments about what to do differently, and an understanding of how her upbringing subconsciously affects her parenting, by the tenth and last session, Taniece was avoiding the harsh tones of voice that used to scare her daughter.
When asked about Power of Two’s impact on this family, Rosomond said, “For me, it was so rewarding to see all the little changes happening between Taniece and Miya, because I have learned how important that is for Miya’s future.”