Why Families Struggle with Relationships (and ways to fix it)

I still print photos.

Yes, I know I’m a dinosaur.

I don’t print all of them.  But I do have a pretty hefty and poorly organized box of hold-in-your-hands snapshots from over the years.

It’s fun to pull them out every now and then- and comes in real handy for my kid’s last minute school projects.

Plus, walking down memory lane completely melts my heart- those chubby cheeks and toothless smiles are so dang adorable!

Thank goodness photos don’t really capture the whole story.

Between all those moments of sweetness and joy has equally been my own mistakes and frustrations.

Family life is bumpy.

And rollercoaster-y.   And exhilarating and sacrificing.

It pushes us to grow as human beings and tests the meaning of unconditional love.  This is its nature.

Family life is also a tremendous gift and the foundation of our society.

When asked by a reporter at her Nobel Peace acceptance “What can one do to promote world peace?”, St. Teresa of Calcutta responded: “Go home and love your family.”

Her version of “Think Global. Act Local.” …I think.

So simple and yet not always so easy.

Lot’s of people experience more than just ‘bumps’ in life, which can make strong relationships seem impossible.

You might have grown up in a family where it felt like the rollercoaster went only one direction- down.

Or maybe you’ve gone through huge hurdles like the loss of a child, infidelity, divorce or you feel really overwhelmed with behaviors from your kids.

Perhaps you’re just feeling ‘lost’ and off track or really disconnected from your spouse or children- and not sure why or how you can fix it.

If this is you, you are not alone.

Sometimes a counselor can help.  Please get help if you need it.

But there are also other ways to move momentum upward, to a more loving, happier family life.

Ask questions about your childhood

The first place to get started is with yourself- and a great place to begin is with your earliest years.

Ask yourself: When I was a kid...What were relationships like?  What did I learn about family life?  Are those the values and behaviors I want in my family today?

People resist this kind of self-reflection.  That’s normal (but not helpful).

We come up with all the reasons not to…

“I turned out okay.”    “What’s the point, you can’t change anything now.”    “That stuff doesn’t affect me.”   “I’m nothing like my parents…”

Those are excuses that block your growth and self-awareness- so dump them.

This isn’t about wallowing in a pity party, it’s about being realistic with our story, embracing who we are and moving forward consciously.

Let me explain…

Why Attachment Theory Matters

In 1949 work was started from a theorist named John Bowlby and expanded on by Mary Ainsworth.  Together, their research birthed what we call Attachment Theory.

Attachment theory tells us that parent-child relationship is crazy important.

It also teaches us that having healthy relationships requires self-reflection and self-awareness.

Here’s why-

After studying post-war orphans Bowlby concluded that “a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with (infant and) his mother” is essential to thrive.

In the 70’s Ainsworth looked at Bowlby’s theory in action through a series called the “Strange Situation Test”.

Ainsworth placed a mother, her 12-month infant and a stranger (to the baby) in various scenarios. The child’s reaction (or lack of) was organized into styles of attachment- either secure or insecure.  The latter of these was broken down into 3 types of insecure: Anxious-avoidant, Anxious-ambivalent, and Disorganized.

Ainsworth found that mothers who had securely attached children responded in a nurturing and attuned (present) way with their baby.

She also found that almost all moms with insecurely attached children were themselves insecurely attached.

And that the attachment style of the baby tended to stay with him as he grew.

So in a nutshell, relationship patterns stick with us and get passed on to our kids.  (Disagree?  Keep reading…there’s more.)

Attachment Styles Explained

Here’s a breakdown of the childhood attachment styles, the style of parenting and resulting adult traits:

  • Secure: Parented in a way that was attuned and responsive.  As adults, they are able to create meaningful relationships, set boundaries and are empathic.
  • Insecure, Anxious-avoidant: Parent was unavailable or rejecting.  As adults, they tend to avoid closeness or emotional connection; distant; critical; rigid.
  • Insecure, Anxious- ambivalent: Parent communicated in an inconsistent or sometimes intrusive way.  As adults, they can be anxious and insecure; erratic; blaming; unpredictable; sometimes charming.
  • Insecure, Disorganized: Parent ignored or didn’t see the child’s needs, the child was traumatized.  As adults, they can be untrusting while craving security or attention; insensitive; chaotic; abusive.

This information is grossly general, but still really valuable.

Since the beginnings of attachment theory, there has been a mountain of research to validate it and information to give us helpful direction.

But listen up, because THIS is my favorite part-

We now understand that if you’ve had bumps in life as a kid, you aren’t destined to stick with an insecure attachment, you can EARN your secure attachment.

I’m personally a proud member of the earned-secure club and I wouldn’t want it any other way (a colorful past can make a person enormously resilient and empathic).

Earned secures understand that the past is significant, but it does not determine the future.

Earning Security

Becoming an earned securely attached adult requires 3 things: Self-reflection, self-awareness, and forgiveness.

Why?  Well, you can only change what you are aware of.  And forgiveness cuts the cord of resentment or dependence that continues the unhealthy patterns.

Forgiveness is saying “I’m letting this go”, it is not saying “That was okay”.

This is a very important distinction.

In my line of study, I’ve had the benefit of diving deep in this area with brilliant teachers and mentors.  You can, too- but without all of the expense and time.

For less than the cost of gas to see a therapist, Dr. Dan Siegel writes about this in his book Parenting From the Inside Out.   It’s awesome and can walk you through a lot of this stuff.

For even quicker and free access, here’s an AttachmentQuestionnaire from his work on the topic.

Self-work requires carving out time, but it’s so worth it.

Moving onward and upward

We hold on to ‘old habits’ and patterns in our relationships.  Some are helpful.  Some are not. We’re usually unaware of most.

As you become more aware of your past, many patterns will reveal themselves.  Keep what’s helpful.  Dump the rest.

And when you feel off track as a family, these are some excellent guiding questions.

  • What is deeply meaningful to our family?
  • What is blocking or limiting this from happening?
  • What actions can help us get more of what we want?

These three questions are as simple as they are complex.

Love your tribe

That messy box of mine contains more than just photos.  It’s filled with memories of the most valuable gifts I have in this world- my family.   There is no greater treasure and nothing more important to invest in- which often starts with our own self-work.

All families are lovely messes of good times and challenging times.  Through them all, it’s LOVE that binds- that’s really all you need (the Beatles nailed it).

The greatest gift you can give your family is your time and attention.  

Change is tough.  Counseling can help, but sometimes the office isn’t the right fit.  I get that.  That’s why I’ve created an e-course for people looking for a little extra family support.  It’s packed with tons of direction and support- all that you can do from your home.

I also have a free monthly newsletter (scroll down to sign up) and facebook page with tons of support for strengthening families and navigating tough parenting issues.

There are so many resources today to support your family.  More important than ‘what’ is simply to take action on something.

Above all, remember that the journey is meant to be enjoyed.  So just breathe, smile and let go of perfection (it’s so over-rated).

…and if you can, print a few photos along the way.

Jenna

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

 

TBRI® Correcting Principles

At a loss with handling your kid’s behavior?

Have you been loosing your cool, getting caught up in power struggles or quite frankly becoming a nag?  Maybe you’ve been giving punishments- but they don’t work, make your kid angry and they’re oh-so-hard to follow through on.

Many parents don’t see other options.  I get it- handling difficult behavior is, well…difficult.

But there are ways- better and more effective ones- to handle tough behavior and actually focus on teaching and strengthening the relationship with your child.

Correcting Principles in TBRI® helps parents EFFECTIVELY address problem behaviors AND maintain healthy relationships!

Now let’s get clear on this one key point- the best way to handle behavior is to prevent it.

Connecting and Empowering principles focus on prevention and they should be the first focus.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go back, read those articles (click on the links above), then come back here.

Okay, prevention in mind first, time to tackle how to handle that naughty behavior (because…it will happen).

Within Correcting Principles, there are two types of strategies: proactive and responsive.

Proactive strategies are about balancing structure and nurture to build trust.

Responsive strategies are structured and easy to learn, although learning new parenting skills can often be difficult.

In TBRI®, there are three goals for Correcting:

  • Connected: Parent maintains connection with child (not disruptive to the relationship)
  • Content: Children end the episode feeling content (not discouraged or shamed)
  • Change: Behavior change occurs (for the positive)

The goal is real behavioral change…

…not simply stopping the behavior at that moment.  In fact, through the Correcting Principles, the goal is for your child to gain mastery of important life skills and even strengthen your relationship through the process.

Sounds pretty good?  Then listen closely-

Proactive Strategies:

The Proactive Strategies consist of several “Life Value Terms” and “Behavioral Scripts”.  Using a playful tone of voice can be correcting and nurturing at the same time.  By focusing on positives children learn social skills and how to regulate (calm themselves down).

  • Life Value Terms is the language of a caring home culture. The terms embody respect for self and others, and include phrases such as “Gentle and Kind”, “Listen and Obey”, “Use Your Words”, “Good Accepting No” “Try that again With Respect” and “Who’s the Boss?”
  • Behavioral Scripts are the core behaviors of a caring home culture.  They foster self-regulation and pro-social competence.  Scripts include behavioral “re-do’s” and offers opportunity for a “compromise” or “choice”. An important key here is to give kids an opportunity for some control while maintaining authority.  Parents offer choices and compromises that they can live with.

Responsive Strategies:

The Responsive Strategies consist of the “IDEAL Response” and “Levels of Response”. Taken together, these two strategies provide a structured framework for effective and appropriate caregiving interactions with children.

  • IDEAL” is a prescriptive acronym for critical elements of responsive interactions:

Immediate- It is ideal to address the child’s behavior within 3 seconds.

Direct- Use of Engagement Strategies- “tune-in” to your child and become close in proximity (no yelling across the room, please)

Efficient- Lowest possible, yet still effective Level of Response (sometimes parents try to shoot a gnat with an elephant gun…generally match your response level to your child’s behavior level)

Action-based- For the child, not the adult- give your child opportunity to ‘re-do’ or correct the mistake.  This ‘wires’ neurologically what you want vs. focusing on what you don’t want.

Leveled- At the behavior, not the child.  Don’t continue to bring up past infractions.  Let your child know that mistakes happen…own it, fix it, learn from it and then MOVE ON.

The absolute best way to explain this is directly from the source.  In this video, Dr. Karyn Purvis, one of the creators of TBRI® walks through the IDEAL response and explains why it works.

Trust Based Relational Interventions TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection.

Wishing you strengthened relationships…

Jenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

TBRI® Empowering Principles

Trust Based Relational Interventions TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection.

Developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross, TBRI® is specifically catered to the needs of families with foster and/or adopted children.  As a counselor who employs TBRI®, I look at children and families from a holistic perspective, keeping relationships at the heart of the work I focus on.

Empowering principles is a term used in the TBRI® model.  It describes the attention to addressing the physical needs of a child and their felt safety.  Empowering principles help children learn important skills like self-regulation.  There are two types of empowering strategies:

  • Physiological Strategies, which focus on the internal physical needs of the child.  These include things like hydration, blood sugar and sensory needs.
  • Ecological Strategies, which focus on the child’s external environment include things like transitions, scaffolding (guided support appropriate to a child’s level that facilitates learning), routines and daily rituals.

Ecological Strategies

As parents, it is important to understand the difference between “being safe” and “feeling safe”. This helps a parent or caregiver to know when a child’s behavior is more than just defiance or belligerence.  Take hunger. The caregiver knows that the child will never go hungry as long as the child is in their care. However, the child doesn’t know this. The child is safe, but she doesn’t feel safe. Fear-based behavior can come from this.  Ecologically we can empower our children by creating an environment of felt safety through routines and rituals.

Rituals

  • Secret handshakes
  • Bedtime rituals that involve safe touch (bedtime rituals can also help with sleep issues)
  • Nicknames
  • Funny way to greet child
  • Dinner together (and involving child in planning)
  • Family traditions
  • I love you rituals

Routines:

  • Keep a one-week journal on behaviors to become aware of areas to address
  • Make an empowering schedule (eat, hydrate, activity every 2 hours)
  • Shop together for healthy snacks or other areas where child exhibits some ‘fear-based’ behaviors so that they have voice and choice in that area
  • Bedtime rituals that involve safe touch (bedtime rituals can also help with sleep issues)
  • Create calendars, schedules, behavior charts that empower the child to know what is to be expected and when changes will occur
  • Role play and/or discuss when changes will occur or how to appropriately respond

 

Physiological Strategies

Managing glucose levels, hydration, and nutrition (quality – quantity – frequency)

  • Small, regular snacks every 2 hours
  • Balance protein and complex carbs to help keep blood sugar stable
  • Avoid high sugar content foods, caffeine, and deep fried foods
  • Consider organic
  • Consider allergies and sensitivities
  • Keep a water bottle available

Touch- Loving, healthy touch is so important!  It helps us to connect and reduces stress.  Cortisol levels drop with touch.  It is important to make it part of our routines and rituals.

  • Weather report massage (ask permission first)
  • Cuddling, bedtime routines
  • High Fives, special handshakes and silly games involving healthy touch

Self-Regulating- “Engine Plates” help children understand when their bodies are dysregulated.  Some self-regulating and sensory ideas:

  • Essential Oils (air diffusers, nasal diffusers): Peppermint ‘wakes up’, Lavender ‘calms down’
  • Gum- chewing helps to calm and organize thoughts (remember to teach your child the most important rule with gum: THROW IT AWAY when done!
  • Deep breathing (can calm or stimulate)
  • Push/pull on chair (can calm or stimulate)
  • Sensory calming: deep pressure is calming, magic mustache, weighted bags, blankets
  • Sensory input: Wiggle Seat, yoga ball, mini trampoline, fidgets, tactile objects

Need quick, FREE help handing some behaviors- or simply connecting better with your child? – I have a FREE download to give you support!  Grab it on the sidebar or at the bottom of this page.  I also have articles on the 2 other TBRI principles: Connecting and Correcting.

There is no greater investment than your family- You CAN do this!

Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   She offers counseling services, courses and classes to help families enjoy life more fully and get to a smoother, healthier path.

Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

TBRI®- Connecting Principles

Trust Based Relational Interventions TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI® uses Empowering Principles to address physical needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors. While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI® is connection.

Developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross, TBRI® is specifically catered to the needs of families with foster and/or adopted children.  As a counselor who employs TBRI®, I look at children and families from a holistic perspective, keeping relationships at the heart of the work I focus on.

John 15:12 “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Connecting Principles is a term used in the Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®) model.  These principles are based on attachment theory and considered to be the “heart and soul of TBRI®.  Connecting Principles describes an interaction between child and caregiver that produces warmth and trust. It disarms fear, promotes attachment and builds social competence.  Even adolescents who seem resistant and challenging actually love the opportunities for joyful, silly connection.  Parents, in turn, become more attuned to their children and experience more connection and joy.  There are two strategies in the TBRI® Connecting Principles- Mindful Awareness and Engagement.

Engagement Strategies include behavioral matching, playful engagement, valuing eye contact, healthy touch and authoritative voice.

  • Behavioral Matching is mirroring a child’s behavior or physical position in a way that would increase their feeling of safety and build a connection. Matching Physical Position –instead of standing over the child– sit down on the floor cross-legged as well. Get on their level!   Matching Behavior – become intentional in attempting to match a child’s behavior. For instance, your child is playing on the floor with blocks, you can match that child’s behavior in play.  This builds trust.
  • Playful Engagement –Engaging playfully helps to ease fears and limiting the fight, flight or freeze reactions. The goal with TBRI® is to engage with children with playfulness as much as possible. When a parent must be more firm to provide a correction the parent should return to playful engagement as soon as possible.
  • Valuing Eye Contact – Eye-contact is vital- when a child sees a warm face and soft eyes that look at him or her knowing that they are beautiful and precious, they can feel it. These are feelings our kids need to feel and be reminded of consistently.
  • Healthy Touch – Affectionate touch is important for the connection. Safe touch stimulates pleasure receptors in the brain and curbs stress hormones like cortisol. Sometimes in a child’s past, there was little or harmful touch. In these cases, parents must be mindful of providing not just touch, but safe touch. This will require the parents to be attuned to the needs of the child and may mean that the parent asks permission to touch the child or tries symbolic touch first.
  • Authoritative Voice – Being aware of the tone and cadence of your voice can have a significant impact on your communication and connection with your child. As much as possible parents are encouraged to use a tone of voice that is sweet and slightly higher pitched (never shrill) and a cadence that is more swift and melodic. This type of speech is often more effective in getting a child’s attention and is part of bonding. In TBRI®, parents are training to be firm and direct when needed, but never harsh, sarcastic or degrading. The goal is always connection and building trust before correction.

Mindful Awareness is essentially becoming self-aware and having awareness in the daily moments of parenting.  It allows us to “see” our children’s need behind the behavior and also to “see” our own needs as caregivers.  Mindful awareness is associated with secure attachments and also with empathy and morality, emotional balance, intuition and insight, and self-regulation.  Not all of us feel ‘mindful’ and that’s okay because, through mindful practices and self-exploration, we can cultivate mindfulness and form what is called “earned-secure” attachment as parents.

Mindful awareness practices can include yoga, centering prayer and meditation.  TBRI also employs the use of the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) in their training.   Talk in counseling about your own past experiences and your current parenting approach can be a powerful way to help to develop increased mindful awareness.