We were in full TBRI mode last week at For the Sake of One, and it got me fired up again about teaching parents/caregivers, teachers, and caseworkers how to connect with the children in their home or the children they serve. Below, I’ll explain a few techniques.
Before reading the rest of this blog, I recommend going back to read Angela’s blog on the attachment cycle because attachment is the root of these techniques. These are evidence-based practices to establish that healthy attachment.
The Connecting Principles are the heart and soul of TBRI. Without connection, you’ll likely find yourself going down a dead-end street, straight to feeling burned out and overwhelmed. So often, parents and caregivers want to spend all their time correcting big behaviors. While correcting is important and necessary too, the child in your home (or classroom) desperately needs to build that trust and connection for the improvements the adult desires to be made. Connection builds trust and safety (and attachment!) which begins to meet those deeper needs that are beneath all of those big behaviors.
Some of these Engagement Strategies I’m about to explain may seem unnatural to try, especially if you have an older child in your home. I used these techniques almost daily at my last job when I worked with kids in foster care, and found that kids aged 4-17 all responded to the strategies and began to build that trust and safety. The goal is to make sure we are providing safe and healthy ways for the child to attach to their caregiver in a language they understand. Not all of these strategies will be right for every child, but there will be something for everyone.
Safe, healthy touch releases both calming and joy hormones and reduces stress chemicals! A simple high five, sweep of the hair, or a hand on their shoulder could provide healthy touch for a child. If your child is seeking that deeper touch, you can try deeply massaging lotion onto their arms and hands at night before bed while you talk to them about their day.
2. Eye contact.
This one can be difficult, especially for children from hard places. Don’t force eye contact. Be playful and loving to encourage it. Try encouraging eye contact from your child when they are NOT in trouble. We want to show their preciousness and elevate who they are.
It is so important to be able to control your tone, volume, and cadence. Make your voice playful and calming as much as possible. Kids know what your voice sounds like when they’re in trouble, and they know what your voice sounds like when you’re being playful or joking. So, being able to have control over your voice in those tough moments really matters.
This is a nonverbal approach that conveys safety and understanding. When you match the behavior of a child, they feel seen. This could be as simple as grabbing the same flavor of candy they choose or picking up the same kind of toy they are playing with.
Again, being playful is key! This helps to disarm fear. When a child is playing, get down with them and follow their lead. If you follow their lead, you are brought into their world and their emotion. This will sometimes allow the child to open up during play. You can also incorporate behavior matching with playful interaction. Pick up the same kind of toy as they play, make the same sounds as them. Even if they say, “oink oink” pushing a car around! It’s okay to let them use their imagination and play with them.
I hope these tips are helpful whether you use them with kids in your home, kids you serve as a caseworker, kids you teach, or even kids you serve at daycare or church! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us!
Building Healthy Families Program Director
For the Sake of One