During TBRI® Training, Dr. Karen Purvis discussed five principles of connecting with a child from a hard place. The foundation for building a trusting relationship between a parent and child is through connection. TRBI® Training (Purvis, K.B. & Cross, D.R. (2013, September). TBRI® Professional Training Program presented by the TCU Insitute of Child Development. Training conducted at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas) focuses on five principles for parents to focus on to connect more fully with their children. These five principles are briefly discussed below.
- Matching – Behavioral matching is mirroring a child’s behavior or physical position in a way that would increase their feeling of safety.a. Matching Physical Position – As an adult your mere stature could cause a child to revert to a fear based reaction. For instance, instead of standing over the child and talking to a child while they are on the floor sitting cross-legged – sit down on the floor cross-legged as well. Get on their level!
- Matching Behavior – When children grow up in an optimal setting with a responsive parent, matching occurs automatically. When an infant coos, the caregiver coos back and when an infant makes a face or smiles the caregiver will make the same face to the child. These matching behaviors build trust and connection. Many children adopted internationally missed out on these experiences, so parents must be more 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, by playing with the blocks in the same manner alongside your child. Small matching behaviors consistently over a period of time helps to build trust.
- Playful Engagement –When engaging with children with difficult past histories, it is important to engage with children in a playful way to ease fears and limit their 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. When parents are playful in their interactions it allows the child to let go of some fear, so that they can learn to trust.
- Eye-Contact – Eye-contact is vital in all types of communication and is especially important in communicating with children with traumatic past experiences. The reason that eye contact is so important in these situations is that so much can be felt when we are looking at a person’s face and eyes. 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. The child can feel that they are loved through the warmth of a parent’s face and eyes far before they are able to understand their preciousness with words alone. When someone is looking at you warmly and making eye-contact with you as you speak you may feel feelings of appreciation, love and empathy. These are feeling our kids need to feel and be reminded of consistently for all of the time that they did not have this in their early lives.
- Safe Touch – Consistent and affectionate touch is important for the connection between the parent and child. Safe touch and nurture stimulates pleasure receptors in the brain and may curb stress hormones like cortisol. Many children that grew up in institutions or abusive or neglectful homes often missed out on the nurture and touch that an infant in an optimal setting would have received in spades. These children many not have had much nurturing touch and the touch that they may have received may have been the result of abuse. In these cases, parents must be mindful to provide not just touch, but safe touch. What is considered safe depends on the child. The fact that the parent knows that their touch is safe means nothing, until the child knows that the touch is safe. This will require the parents to be attuned to the needs of the child, based on the age of the child and the child’s cues. It may mean that the parent asks permission to touch the child or tries symbolic touch first.
- 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. Sometimes this type of voice is called “motherese” or “parentese.” This type of speech is often more effective in getting a child’s attention and is part of bonding that in an optimal environment, occurs during infancy. For children adopted from hard places, parents will have to make up for lost time. It’s important that parents are mindful that even a harsh or angry tone in their voice can evoke flashbacks of abuse or danger. In TBRI®, parents are training to be firm when needed, but never harsh, sarcastic or degrading. The goal is always connection and building trust before correction.
There is so much more to discuss on each of these topics mentioned above. In the coming weeks, MLJ will be further breaking down these topics and providing concrete examples for you to implement the TBRI® techniques in the home.