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January 6, 2022

When traumatic events happen in our lives, it can be difficult to move forward. Trauma impacts our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, and without the guidance and support of our families, mental health professionals, and our community, we can resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to handle the damage trauma inflicts on us.

The Mental Health and Recovery Board of Ashland County works closely with several systems in Ashland County to assist families and young people impacted by trauma. To help individuals impacted by trauma, these systems use a trauma-informed strategy called Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

What Is Trust-Based Relational Intervention?
TBRI is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. Using TBRI, parents, and guardians can learn how to help children develop resilience following traumatic events.

TBRI uses three different principles:

Empowering Principles to address physical and environmental needs,
Connecting Principles for attachment needs and engagement, and
Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors.
By following these principles, families can understand better why a child is behaving in such a way and address that behavior with empathy, compassion, and the tools to meet the needs of that child.

Connecting Principles
Trauma can disrupt our ability to connect with children, and the disruption can come from both directions. Connecting Principles invite the adult in a relationship to analyze what they bring into various interactions with their children that might be impacting the health of that relationship and offer guiding strategies to build healthy attachment between a parent and child.

When an interaction with a child isn’t going how you hoped it would, it’s helpful to take a step back and be mindful of how you’re feeling in this moment. Our own physical and mental well-being impacts our ability to interact well with others. Are you hungry? Are you tired? Are you distracted?

Just as our present circumstances can impact our interactions with children, so can past events. Did something happen to you in the past that is triggering a response in the present moment? What does your own childhood tell you about the behavior you are currently experiencing?

There’s so much more encircling every interaction we have with our children than just this one conversation. Mindfulness strategies help us assess what is going on in our own lives and in our own past that may be contributing to the tension of the moment.

In addition to Mindfulness Strategies that can help you be more aware of the added dynamics between you and your child, Engagement Strategies are practical tools that can help you connect with people and form healthy attachments.

Engagement Strategies are easy things you can try today to connect with the kids in your life. Strategies like valuing eye contact, behavior matching, playful engagement, healthy touch, and authoritative voice are all tools you can use to create connections.

Empowering Principles
Our physical environment plays a significant part in how we respond and recover from trauma. Empowering Principles contribute to this process by addressing a child’s environment and physical health to make sure these needs are met.

Ecological Strategies acknowledge the challenges that trauma poses to a child’s ability to transition from one task to the next in their day and in their life. These strategies establish an environment that allows children to be successful and heal by providing structure and familiar, comforting routines. This scaffolding establishes rituals that become points of connection and attunement throughout their day.

The external environment addressed by Ecological Strategies is matched by the internal health needs addressed by Physiological Strategies. These strategies help a child’s brain and body excel. Research shows that over 85% of children from hard places have some sort of sensory need beyond that of a child who has not experienced early developmental trauma. Therefore, understanding how to interpret behavioral outbursts as possible sensory needs and then meet those needs is key in providing felt safety for our children.

TBRI recommends that children should eat a protein-rich snack every two hours, drink water consistently, and have a sensory-rich experience at least every two hours. This routine helps create stabilization in a child’s brain and body, which limits behavioral meltdowns and emotional outbursts.

Correcting Principles
When behavioral problems arise, TBRI provides a framework for correcting that behavior. It employs two strategies: Proactive Strategies and Responsive Strategies.

Frequently, a child’s behavior has to do with how a child has learned (or has not learned) how to get their needs met. Our children need to be taught the skills they need rather than be punished for not knowing the appropriate manner to behave. We can lead a child to develop those appropriate behaviors by adjusting our own approach to correction.

Proactive Strategies are taught to children during calm times when there isn’t a behavioral problem, and Responsive Strategies provide tools to parents or guardians when a child is in the middle of having a behavioral outburst. These tools offer research-based methods to calm a child and teach them skills to eliminate problematic behaviors in the future.

One approach to this strategy is the “re-do.” When the behavior isn’t what you expect from them, this provides your child a chance to try the behavior again in a playful and engaging way.

For example, your son yells, “Get me juice!”

You might respond with, “Whoa, buddy! Are you asking or telling? Why don’t you try that again, please?”

This approach avoids escalating the situation. No one is in trouble, your day keeps moving forward, but we have taken an opportunity to rewire the brain around the correct way to do things. It is far better to emphasize and practice the right way of doing things than it is to dwell on the wrong way.

TBRI is a powerful model for helping our young people recover from trauma and grow into healthy young adults. To learn more about TBRI and what it entails you can check out the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development’s website and YouTube channel, read The Connected Child by Drs. Purvis and Cross, or attend the Hope for the Journey simulcast training near you.

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