Family walking down sidewalk

Trust-Based Relational Intervention: A TBRI® Overview

The key to healing is through connected relationships. Many families, schools, orphanages and treatment centers use this approach. The TBRI® principles were developed by Dr. Karyn B. Purvis and Dr. David R. Cross of Texas Christian University and are found in the book “The Connected Child,” which Holt International began encouraging adoptive parents to read almost a decade ago. These principles also apply broadly to many relationships.  

TBRI® is based on these three basic parenting principles: empower, connect and correct.  

  1. The principle of empowering centers on addressing the child’s physical needs. If your child has hunger, thirst or other imbalances in their body, these will all affect their behavior and response to you.  
  1. The second principle, connecting, focuses on understanding and meeting attachment needs. Your child needs to know that you really see them and not just their behavior.  
  1. Lastly, correcting principles are techniques used to disarm fear-based behaviors.  

Redefining Discipline

Far too often, parents think when raising a child that discipline needs to include an element of pain to be effective. But the root word of discipline is to “disciple,” or teach or correct. It is not to punish or cause pain. Kids do not need punishment, especially if they have any trauma in their history. They need connection, especially in the hardest of moments or meltdowns. The goal is to teach and reach them within the context of connected relationships, so they can heal and grow to their potential, not cause them further pain or trauma. We never want kids to walk away from parental interactions with shame, embarrassment or fear. Our goal in parenting is to provide an optimal environment where children can grow in the present and look forward to healthy future relationships.  

When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.

Dr. Karyn Purvis

For children, behavior is communication. It is helpful to look at behaviors as the tip of the iceberg — what we see versus what the child is actually experiencing. Beneath the iceberg is a whole host of possible issues: stress, anxiety, fear, hunger, sleep, attention, emotions, need for connection, sensory need, sadness, environmental stressors, medical issues, etc. Therefore, it’s our job as parents to be the detective and figure out what the need is behind the behavior and use positive techniques to address unwanted behaviors. 

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TBRI® strategies include: 

  • Maintaining eye contact 
  • Allowing for do-overs
  • Being aware of voice tone 
  • Offering choices and compromises 
  • Minimizing words or lectures by using word scripts   
  • Being nurturing and using playful interactions  

Remember that TBRI® principles are not for admonishing negative behaviors. They help caregivers recognize and encourage positive behaviors. You can train or retrain your child’s brain for connection using the TBRI® strategies.

Goals of TBRI®:

  • Create an environment where children feel physically, socially and psychologically safe 
  • Understand and meet children’s physiological needs  
  • Structure interactions to enhance emotional and behavioral self-regulation 
  • Help caregivers interact with children mindfully 
  • Build and strengthen secure attachments and resilience between caregivers and children 
  • Help caregivers master the use of proactive strategies for behavioral change  

For more information on TBRI®, please visit the TCU site.


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All parents encounter challenges as their children grow up. And sometimes, issues may arise that leave you uncertain as to how best to respond. But not every issue requires therapy or counseling. The PACE program is here to help during those times.

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