Lili Peacock-Chambers plays with her five-month old daughter, as a camera crew captures their interactions. After filming, Peacock-Chambers, 30, watches herself on camera and gets live feedback from Martha Vibbert, a licensed clinical psychologist who is the executive director of the SPARK (Supporting Parents and Resilient Kids) Center for pediatrics and the director of Universal Baby™.
Peacock-Chambers is one of about a dozen parents participating in a pilot video for Universal Baby, new video and mobile technology developed at the SPARK Center in Mattapan that is intended to enhance parent-child interactions and improve early-childhood mental health.
Universal Baby is an international project launched in 2010 by a small group at the SPARK Center, a pediatric program of Boston Medical Center that provides therapeutic and medically specialized early education and care to children with complex special needs. SPARK staff collaborated with the Griffin Foundation, Inc., the World Forum Foundation, and international colleagues.
With mobile devices available to most people, Universal Baby aims to make a collection of video segments accessible to parents on tablets and smart phones. Universal Baby edits the segments that feature mothers such as Peacock- Chambers and their young children.
“The idea is, parents don’t have to search online to read anything or do anything -- except look at someone’s phone or their own phone” to see the collection of videos, Vibbert said. “We believe there is tremendous potential in developing video and mobile technology for helping parents support their children’s early development.”
Dr. Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter, a licensed psychologist at the Boston University Medical Center’s Center for Multicultural Mental Health and a school psychologist at the Park School in Brookline, said that recent findings in neuroscience have fueled an interest in early childhood mental health and brain development through stimulation.
“It turns out, a lot of important brain development happens during the early months of infancy,” she said.
She said that stimulation contributes to the overall development of an infant’s brain development. Understanding an infant’s cues allows a parent to be better in tune with a child’s emotions.
“Parents need to understand that there can sometimes be a parent-child mismatch, where they’re not reading their child’s cues,” Moorehead-Slaughter said.
Peacock-Chambers said Vibbert was able to point out when her daughter indicated she was tired of playing with her rattle, through the footage captured on camera.
Vibbert, meanwhile, complemented Peacock-Chambers on her vocalizations when she asked her daughter to sit down and stand up, while holding on to her hands. Those kinds of verbalizations, Vibbert said, can help her daughter with language development.
“It’s nice to have some positive feedback on interactions with your baby,” Peacock-Chambers said.
Vibbert said the goal of the intervention is to get parents to view “appealing and culturally appropriate” video segments of parents having authentic interactions with their babies. She hoped more parents, of diverse backgrounds, would participate in filming over time. For example, she said, a Haitian mother could watch another Haitian mother interacting with her baby – with the cultural similarities serving as “powerful role modeling.” Peacock-Chambers did her video in Spanish, to appeal to Latina mothers.
Vibbert said the aim of the program is to highlight positive parent-child interactions.
“It’s really powerful for a mother to see an interaction . . . and realizing they already naturally have these skills,” Peacock-Chambers said.
Moorehead-Slaughter said that interventions such as Universal Baby might be more effective than the typical pamphlet or fact sheet, since they are interactive.
“It’s good to not have people talking at you about what to do, when you are new to parenting,” she said.
Universal Baby is funded by the Griffin Foundation, Inc., and BU’s Center for Global Health and Development, along with limited private foundation support.
This article was reported and written under the supervision of Northeastern University journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel, as part of a collaboration with The Boston Globe.