The Parenting is Different.
As you support foster and adoptive families around you, you might begin to pick up on parenting differences. Maybe they are handling challenging situations in unfamiliar ways. You may hear more talk about connection than correction and something called TBRI. TBRI stands for Trust Based Relational Intervention. It is an attachment-based, trauma-informed parenting style designed to meet the special needs of children, especially those who may have been through hard times. Children who have experienced hard circumstances, like being separated from their families and removed from their homes for whatever reason, must be parented differently.
When children experience situations that are just too hard for their brains to make sense of, their brain chemistry changes, and brain scans will even show the changes in their brains due to trauma. Children who experience these hard things often live in what some therapists call survival mode, meaning their thinking brain cannot make sense of the situation, so their protection brain has kicked in. Their primal instincts have taken over and emit a danger signal in their brain. “Your life is in danger. You must do whatever is necessary to stay alive!” When we realize this is happening within a child, we must change how we see and interact with the child. The child needs to be seen with our greatest empathy. Their behaviors are indications of an underlying need or fear. Connecting is the best way to calm their protective brain and repair the rupture.
God has designed us all with a deep need for connection. We all need a connection to God and a connection to others. If we do not have these, our brain desperately attempts to help us fill this hole. You might have felt this during the worst times of COVID quarantine. Even those of us who are introverts were seeking out ways to find connections, hence the huge surge in social media and zoom. If we experience this as adults, think how much more the lack of connection could affect children. Often children that come into foster care do not understand that this is what their brain craves. To build connections, the first thing a child needs is safety. Until they feel safe, they live with a brain in survival mode. When they feel safe, they can trust adults and build connections. All children need safety, emotional regulation, and connection. As things increase, you will see their brains calm, and their behaviors change. Connection is not always easy with a child living with their brain in protection mode. It takes time, consistency, and lots of patience.
Tips to encourage connection:
Time and Space: Make time to be with the child. Every positive interaction with a trustworthy adult brings healing to their brain. Even if the child is not ready to participate in activities with you, make time to be in the child’s presence so they can start feeling safe and building trust in you.
Listen and Share: Listen to them talk about whatever is on their mind and try to find common ground where you can share in the conversation. Maybe all they can talk about right now is their favorite video game, then google it and try to find a way to connect over the competition. Showing interest builds connection.
Play and Praise: Playful interaction is the best way to build connection. Keeping things light-hearted opens the door to safety and helps establish trust. Anytime you interact with a child, be on the lookout for opportunities to build them up and praise them. If there is a rupture or a stressful time in the interaction, do your best to bring it back to play before the interaction ends.
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