Correction and Connection Based on Trust
Although humans are hard-wired for connection, feeling connected to another person can be especially difficult for some. Children who have experienced early trauma, whether via a difficult pregnancy, a difficult birth, prematurity, early medical trauma, abuse, neglect, foster care, adoption, etc. can have a hard time feeling safe enough to let their guard down and connect with another person. Parents of children with these risk factors need to approach all aspects of parenting, including discipline/correction through the lens of connection.
In the book The Connected Child Karyn Purvis, Phd., David Cross, Ph. D., and Wendy Lyons Sunshine present a research-based approach for parenting children that come from a hard place. The trust-based, relationship-based intervention they founded is known as TBRI. This video provides a brief explanation of TBRI. While TBRI recognizes a child’s need for both correction and connection, the heart of TBRI is connection.
TBRI emphasizes Empowering and Connecting principles. Empowering principles include touch, sensory input, physical activity, hydration and nutritious meals and snacks. Empowering also includes helping a child navigate through daily transitions and providing guided support, routines and daily rituals. When parenting focuses on Empowering and Connecting principles, the need for Corrective principles decreases but is not eliminated. When misbehavior occurs, it needs to be addressed. TBRI addresses these behaviors using Correcting Principles. When parents see negative behaviors they learn to ask “What is my child really saying?” “What does my child really need?”
Children from a hard place need to experience correction in a way that helps them do better next time. A punitive style of correction does not provide them with these tools. Children respond much better to constructive discipline that helps them think about consequences and choices without being shamed.
One corrective strategy is teaching a child when they are calm, how to manage their behaviors and emotions when they are having a hard time. The child gets to learn these lessons apart from the heat of the moment. An example of this might be role playing at 2pm how the child’s bedtime routine is supposed to go.
Teaching the child to stop and breathe is another corrective strategy. Brains function best with plenty of oxygen but people tend to take shallow breaths when stressed. A child will have more brain-power available to control their emotions if they learn to stop and breath.
Parents can also encourage their child by trying to notice and reinforce when a child makes progress controlling their behavior. Look for opportunities to praise your child, “Good job accepting ‘no’!” TBRI also uses Life Value terms when correcting a child. Children aren’t able to process a lot of words when they are stressed, but short phrases such as, “Try it again with respect” or “Be gentle and kind” can be heard. Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development offers a free download of life value terms.
Of course, even with these strategies children will get dysregulated and need correction. The Connected Child advocates an IDEAL response at these times. The IDEAL response addresses a child’s behavior in ways that build connection. IDEAL stands for Immediate, Direct (parenting can’t be done from the couch), Efficient (parent uses short phrases instead of a lecture), Action-based (build the child’s motor memory by practicing the right way), and Leveled at the behavior, not the child. Learn more about the IDEAL approach at TBRI®: Trust-Based Relational Intervention.