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.


  • 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


  • 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