From School Psychologist to Adoptive Mama: A Series Part Two (Trust Based Relational Intervention)

November 11, 2016 Amy A., Attachment, attachment activities, attachment challenges, discipline, parent-to-child attachment, TBRI DVD Series, Trust Based Parenting 1 Comments

Because the majority of our NHBO readers are parents who have adopted children through the special needs program in China, part one of this series was an introduction to special education. My goal for that post was for parents to feel empowered by knowing their child’s rights. I shared links regarding the special education law for all 50 states, as well as the procedural safeguards for parents, which are typically a more reader friendly version of the your state’s laws. Our family has benefited from this knowledge, and I am hopeful that many of you have felt you could advocate for your child’s needs more appropriately and with better understanding of federal and state laws.

Today, I want to continue focusing on empowering parents because, let’s be honest, parenting is hard. And what is even more challenging is parenting kids from hard places. Trying to help our children in the safe haven of our homes can be difficult enough, but when you add the layer of daycare and educational environments to the mix, parenting kids from hard places can feel really frustrating. Desperation can set in if we don’t have tools to help our children and to help those who work with our children.

Initially after bringing our first son home from China, we attempted to parent him in very traditionally, the default way we had been parenting our two biological sons. It didn’t seem fair to give our new son special treatment (I cringe now at the younger me who was so naive), so instead we relied on the parenting strategies we had used the previous five years. Our biological sons were thriving, well-adjusted little boys. Shouldn’t we expect the same outcome with our new little boy from China?

I like to think of that decision as mistake number one… and two… and three… and four…

…five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten.

Our first son from China had been home for almost a year and a half – and we were getting ready to receive LOA for another sweet baby boy from China – when I attended Created for Care in 2015. I signed up to attend Tona Ottinger’s break out group entitled Connecting While Correcting. I knew that our traditional, default ways of parenting were not having the desired outcomes for our newest son. Tona taught us all about the correcting principles of Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), and we began implementing them as soon as I got home and continued to utilize them over the summer with all four of our sons.

I shared some information about TBRI with his preschool teacher, and she was completely on board with using some of the strategies in her classroom. In no time at all, our son exhibited tremendous improvement in his ability to use language, as well as his social, emotional and behavioral functioning. All of our challenges were not behind us, but we were definitely making more progress and felt more hope than we had in quite some time.

Last April I finally had the opportunity to attend a two-day conference called Empowered to Connect. Our local home study agency, MLJ Adoptions, Inc., hosted a simulcast of the event that took place live in Nashville, TN. According to the Empowered to Connect (ETC) website, ETC is “designed to help adoptive and foster parents, ministry leaders and professionals better understand how to connect with “children from hard places” in order to help them heal and become all that God desires for them to be” and “is ideal for adoptive and foster parents, those considering adoption or foster care and those who are serving and supporting others, including social workers, agency professionals, church staff and ministry leaders, counselors, therapists and others.”

According to the ICD website, Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. As I sat and listened to faculty and staff from the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, everything they shared made absolute sense. Whether they were discussing information regarding brain development, neurochemistry, the four attachment styles, or the three principles of TBRI – Empowering, Connecting, and Correcting – everything made logical sense. More importantly, my experience raising our sons from China allowed for complete buy in on my part. They had completed research to support their claims with success story after success story. Families with no hope were living lives they never thought possible.

Toward the end of the conference, I learned that the ICD at TCU offers various training opportunities, including a TBRI Practitioner Training. Although I was unsure if they would accept a school psychologist into the Practitioner Training program, I decided to apply anyway because a wise friend once told me that not asking is an automatic no. Several weeks passed, and with great surprise, they accepted my application! It would be an expensive venture, but I absolutely believed that God was directing me down this path.

On August 1st I began ten weeks of online training and then spent the last week of October in Fort Worth, TX training on site with Dr. David Cross, Dr. Casey Call, Henry Milton, Dr. Jamie Hurst, and Daren Jones, who are some of the same presenters at the Empowered to Connect conference the previous spring. Dr. Karyn Purvis’ absence from the training was felt every day, but I felt inspired by the way her team was carrying their torches and continuing the legacy she gifted to the world.


According to the ICD website, “the heartbeat of TBRI is connection,” and I’ve never believed it more than I do now. The hurt our children experienced took place in relationship, and the only way those wounds can be healed is through relationship. Therefore, TBRI is based on three main principles (reference Pocket Guide):

Empowering Principles: The goal is to prepare “bodies and brains” for success by meeting physical needs and to prepare the environment in a way that meets the child’s physical needs.

Here are some practical ways you can empower your children:

1. Make sure your child is always hydrated.

2. Provide healthy food or snacks every two hours to maintain a balance of blood sugar and nutrients.

3. Give opportunities for physical activity every two hours.

4. Teach and model self-regulation strategies.

   • Check out The Alert Program and their free handout to teach self-regulation awareness.

   • Identify three activities you and your child can do to feel regulated (e.g., swinging, listening to music, using
    a weighted blanket, receiving a bear hug, deep breathing exercises, etc.).

5. Use predictable routines and rituals.

   • Check out I Love You Rituals by Becky A. Bailey.

   • Follow established morning, mealtime, after school, and bedtime routines.

6. Give advance notice to transitions (e.g., “In five minutes, I am going to need you to put your shoes on).

7. Be aware of your child’s sensory needs.

Connecting Principles: The goal is to build trusting relationships that help children and youth feel valued, cared for, safe, and connected. By disarming fear and gaining trust, the capacity to connect, grow, and learn increases.

Here are some practical ways you can connect with your children:

1. Match your child’s body position, posture, and voice.

2. Attain eye contact in a positive way (e.g., “Let me see those beautiful eyes.”).

3. Be aware of your own body language, voice, and gestures.

4. Be a calm, attentive presence.

5. Give your child a voice, as this decreases the use of maladaptive strategies to get needs met.

   • Be attentive when a child is talking to you.

   • Offer choices throughout the day (e.g., Would you like noodles or a sandwich for lunch?).

   • Offer compromises when possible (e.g., You can have three more minutes to finish drawing, and then I
   need you to get your shoes on.).

   • Share power to reinforce the adult’s authority but the care for the child’s thoughts and feelings.

Correcting Principles: The goal is to help children learn appropriate strategies to get their needs met and learning to interact successfully with others.

1. Teach social skills when your child is regulated.

2. Use play to teach various skills to your children (e.g., waiting your turn, sharing, asking permission, accepting no, being kind and gentle, etc.) because research shows that children learn these skills more quickly through play.

3. When a child makes a mistake, ask him/her to have a “redo” to engage motor memory and create a learning opportunity to benefit that child in the future.

   • For example, your child grabs a toy from his sibling without asking. Ask him to have a redo or try again.
   Provide instruction on what the child should do instead (e.g., “Ask your brother, ‘May I have a turn
   when you’re done?’”) Praise the child when he asks for a turn appropriately.

4. Offer choices and compromises to help correct behavior.

   • Situation: your child grabs a toy from his sibling but refuses to take part in a redo.

     a. You can then give your child two choices, he can ask for a turn with the toy, or he can choose a different
     toy to play with at that time.

     b. You can ask your child if he would like a compromise or present one to the siblings. For example, you
     could say, “Let’s compromise. Your brother can have five more minutes to play with that toy, and then you get a turn.
     Fair enough?”

5. Help your child regulate when he or she becomes too dysregulated to respond to redos, choices, and compromises.

   • Situation: your child grabs a toy from his sibling but refuses to take part in a redos, choices, or
   compromises and instead becomes more dysregulated.

     a. Be attuned to your child’s needs, thinking about if he or she might need a drink, a snack/meal, or
     physical activity.

     b. Offer your child a time in to think about the situation. When ready, the child can use his/her voice to
     share thoughts and feelings. Hopefully you can end on a redo.

     c. Use the pre-identified strategies that your child likes to use to regulate (e.g., music, weighted blanket,
     taking a walk, doing wall pushes, or using deep breathing).

We’ve been implementing these the empowering, connecting, and correcting principles of TBRI with our four sons over the past three months. I cannot begin to tell you how effective they have been for our family. All of our children, biological or adopted, are benefiting from these strategies.

Although it takes a lot of effort to implement TBRI, the rewards have been all the motivation we’ve needed to continue forward on this journey to healing and building healthy, safe, and trustworthy relationships. TBRI isn’t the latest trend for our family; rather, I am certain that TBRI has become our new way of life, an entire change of culture in our home.


I knew I would learn so much valuable information about how to help my sons from China. What I didn’t expect was to learn so much about myself while finding great healing in the process. My career is taking a very exciting turn, as I see such a need for TBRI to be implemented in our schools. The rewards have truly been endless.

Please consider attending Empowered to Connect on April 7-8, 2017 in Franklin, TN or through a simulcast to learn more about how TBRI can help you meet the needs of your children. Also, if you haven’t already, consider reading The Connected Child and/or purchasing DVDs created by the ICD at TCU. The Trust Based Parenting DVD is incredible, but to be honest, they are all really, really powerful.

After attending ETC, reading The Connected Child, or watching the DVDs, not only can your child achieve greater healing, but you may experience great personal healing as well.

Your children are worth it, and so are you.

– images by Tish Goff

One response to “From School Psychologist to Adoptive Mama: A Series Part Two (Trust Based Relational Intervention)”

  1. Renée Booe says:

    This was so helpful. Thank you for sharing this!!!

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