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.