Balancing Structure and Nurture

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if you were provided with a handy flow chart and manual when you became a parent? Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. And so as parents, we just keep trying — making mistakes and experiencing successes along the way. Adoptive parents typically have additional roadblocks and speed bumps to navigate because adoption is a different way to build a family.  As a therapist and a parent, I have found the TBRI ® (Trust Based Relational Intervention) principles, strategies and techniques to be extremely helpful on this incredible journey called parenting.  TBRI ® teaches us, among many other things, that balancing structure and nurture is extremely important in connecting with our children.  What does balancing structure and nurture mean? It means creating a predictable, nurturing and safe environment while teaching life values, boundaries and rules. So, instead of being an authoritarian or dictator, parent authoritatively and share power with your child. Here are some examples of providing this balance in how you communicate:

“I want to help you meet your needs, but I need you to use your words.”

“I want to help you, but I don’t understand what you need when you are hitting and kicking.”

“It seems like you are having a difficult time right now and I want to let you know that I’m right here when you are ready to ask me respectfully.”

“What can I do to help you get what you need?”

Often, as parents, when we are confronted with disrespect or what we perceive as disrespect, we respond with much more than we need to. What if we were able to re-frame traditional discipline and punishment to be more about correction and teaching? If we model for our children the correct behavior and have them practice through the use of re-do’s and second chances, we are actually tapping into their motor memory or muscle-based recall.  Research from The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross shows that this way of learning actually trumps cognitive, thought-based memory for young children.

An example of a re-do might look like this:

Child: “I’m going outside.”

Parent (said with a playful yet controlled tone): “Now, honey, was that asking or telling Mom? Can you try that again with respect? I can help you if you need the words.”

Child: “Mom, can I please go outside?”

Parent: “Wow, that was such a great re-do! Yes, you may go outside.” Or “That was great asking with respect!”

For the older child, one way that I have suggested parents “re-frame” traditional discipline if grades are slipping and electronics need to be limited is to word it like this:

“I love you very much and I take my love and role as your parent very seriously. Part of my job is to keep you safe, but safety can also be about knowing what’s good for you and what’s not.  Right now, it doesn’t seem like playing video games during the school week is working for you because of your slipping grades.  So we’re going to only play them on the weekend.  This is not a punishment, but we need to figure out how to get those grades back up and video games seem to be a distraction right now.”

Balancing structure and nurture isn’t easy. Most of us were raised with the traditional “do as I say because I said so.”

In TBRI ®, we are still teaching respect but we’re doing it by modeling, coaching and connecting!

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