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Understanding TBRI® Connecting Principles Plus Tips for Connecting With Teens

We were made for relationships, and the fundamental one in a child’s life is family. Children need to know that they are safe, secured, valued, and loved, yet key developmental and relational needs are oftentimes overlooked with traditional parenting models. The truth is, connection builds trust, and trust builds healthy relationships. Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI) is a care model designed to help meet relational and developmental needs of children and teens impacted by trauma. TBRI considers the whole child—his or her brain, biology, behavior, body, and beliefs—and provides parents and caregivers with practical tools and insight to help their child(ren) reach his or her highest potential. And, perhaps most integral, TBRI has connection at its core—the truth that connection builds trust, and trust builds healthy relationships.

Developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development (KPICD) at TCU, the TBRI model is built upon three guiding principles

TBRI Connecting Principles: Create connections that disarm fear, gain trust, and enhance learning.

TBRI Empowering Principles: Strengthen learning and regulation by meeting a child’s physical and environmental needs. 

TBRI Correcting Principles: Shape beliefs and behaviors effectively, so children feel safe, protected, and empowered.

TBRI Connecting Principles 

With connection at the core of TBRI, the goal of TBRI Connecting Principles is to build trusting relationships that help children and youth feel valued, cared for, safe, and connected. Disarming fear and building trust greatly increase the capacity for connection, growth, and learning. 

Secure Attachment Says: 

– I feel protected.

– I feel precious.

– I feel heard.

– My physical needs are taken care of.

– My emotional needs are taken care of.

Try the following strategies to help build the connections needed for trusting relationships.

Mindfulness Strategies

Self-Awareness Strategies:

– Identify the thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you bring to relationships based on the care you received.     

– Realize how these thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors influence your relationships.

– Identify personal triggers. 

– Practice regulating yourself during times of stress:

+ Pray.

+ Take 10 deep breaths.

+ Go for a walk.

– Stay calm and emotionally present during a child’s distress. This allows you to:

+ Think flexibly.

+ Solve problems creatively. 

+ Model compassion.

+ Co-regulate with your child.

Attunement Strategies:

– Be flexible in responding. Adjust your interactions based on your child’s or teen’s needs and developmental abilities.

– Be aware of your child’s or teen’s perceptions of your voice/presence/interactions (i.e. are they seen as welcoming, threatening, etc.?).

– See the need beneath the child’s behavior.

– Meet the need.

Engagement Strategies 

Use an appropriately authoritative voice—a blend of structure and nurture, never weak, shaming, or harsh. 

Value eye contact (but never force): 

– “Can I see your eyes, please?” 

– “I love seeing those beautiful eyes!”

– Match your child or teen’s posture and voice.

Incorporate healthy touch (with permission): 

– Chin prompt

– Hand on shoulder

– Hugs

– High fives or fist bumps

Interact playfully: 

– Play games.

– Be silly together. 

– Use imaginative play. 

Be aware of yourself, your child or teen, and the environment. Be a calm, attentive presence.

Questions & Reflections

As you consider your childhood, what from your past might hinder the connection between you and your child or teen? 

In times of stress, remember, It is my job to help my child regulate. What are some proactive strategies that will help you remain calm and present in those moments?

Remaining flexible is critical to your son or daughter’s mental and emotional health. In what situations can you give more “yeses”? 

Why is it sometimes challenging to see beyond your child’s behavior and recognize the underlying need he or she is trying to express or have met? Consider proactive strategies like identifying your personal triggers to better see the need your child is expressing. 

Tips & Reminders 

Be fully present.

– “Stop” what you are doing.

– “Look” into his or her eyes. 

– “Listen” to his or her words, and empathize with the joy or pain your child is expressing. 

Make it a priority to incorporate healthy touch (with permission) in your child’s daily activities and interactions to help build connection and disarm fears.

Action Points

One on One

Work to spend 10 minutes per day with your child or teen, engaging in a play with an activity of her or his choice. Allow space for your child or teen to lead the play with her or his unique ideas. During this time, offer healthy touch (i.e. high fives, fist bumps, side hugs, etc.); match behavior (whatever she or he creates, you create); and validate her or his ideas. Avoid using playtime as a way to teach or give direction, instead, make an effort to keep your child or teen in the lead as you play. This time is for her or him to be expressive and for you to recognize her or his unique ideas, creativity, gifts, and imagination. 

Behavior Matching

Matching your child or teen’s posture and voice can be effective in building connection and fostering felt safety. It’s an engagement strategy that really validates your child or teen and his or her expressions and passions. For younger children, it can be as simple as joining them in building blocks and copying their creations. For teens, it can be playfully mimicking their use of slang, body language, and tone. Behavior matching can also be an easy opportunity to incorporate other engagement strategies like eye contact and healthy touch—always with permission

Hear from Dr. Melody Aguayo as she shares practical ideas and helps for connecting with older children and teens. 

At Show Hope, we are committed to supporting families on their journeys, and part of that includes our annual Hope for the Journey Conference, where TBRI and its principles are further unpacked. And for us at Show Hope, TBRI is, in many ways, our faith in action—an expression of how God our Father loves us through connecting, empowering, and correcting. The 2024 conference will be available for viewing on Friday, April 5, through June 30. With viewing options for both churches and organizations as well as individuals and households, the conference resources and encourages parents, caregivers, and families meeting the needs of children entrusted to them, and twofold, the conference also serves churches and organizations in their ministries and support of children and families.

This is the first in a series of five blog posts. Also check out:

An Introduction to Trust-Based Relational Intervention 

Understanding TBRI Empowering Principles

Understanding TBRI Correcting Principles

Understanding The Gospel and TBRI

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