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Tips for parenting children with hard pasts

In my previous blog, I talked about the negative impact that abuse and neglect can have on a child’s brain development. I emphasized the great benefit that a long-term caregiver and a forever home can have on a child’s development of appropriate life-skills. In this blog, I am going to share suggestions from experts on how to parent and connect with a child who has been through abuse, neglect, or another type of trauma.

This past week I was given the opportunity to attend an Empowered to Connect conference. At this conference, we learned about Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) and parents were given methods for parenting a child with a history of abuse or neglect. We learned about techniques which children used to protect themselves during the period of abuse or neglect and ways parents can help their child overcome these tendencies and develop skills to thrive in safe environments.

We learned that children with a history of abuse or neglect learned different ways to protect themselves from their oppressive situation. The techniques they learned almost always fall into a category of control, manipulation, triangulation, aggression, or violence. While these were once the methods that kept them alive and safe, they are probably not necessary or productive in safe homes.

In order to overcome these bad habits, we learned the importance that empowerment, connection, and correction have in providing healing to a child. These three principles are a part of TBRI. By applying these three principles, you are paying attention to your child’s physical, relational, and behavioral needs. Together, these three principles help to promote healthy behaviors for both the caregiver and the child.

The empowering principles address the child’s basic physiological needs. These needs must be met first. You must let your child know that there is food available and all he has to do is ask for it. When a child knows that his environment is safe and his basic needs will be met, he can begin to trust others and develop healthy behaviors driven by trust rather than fear.

Once your child knows that his basic needs will be met, the success of the connecting and correcting principles will be greatly improved. The connecting principles address your child’s relational and attachment needs. You can apply this principle with your child through sustained eye contact, affectionate touch, and consistently high levels of attention to needs.

Correcting principles teach self-regulation and appropriate boundaries. The purpose of correction is to build your child’s social skills by teaching him how to respond appropriately in different situations. While correcting, keep in mind that you are to maintain a connection with your child, end the episode with your child feeling content not discouraged, and be sure that the episode ends with behavior change. This can only be done after your child feels empowered and connected. Some tools for applying this principle include role-play activities and mutual story-telling (discussing appropriate responses and behaviors).

You can read more about TBRI in Adoption Advocate No. 61, The Healing Power of “Giving Voice.” In this advocate, NCFA Fellow Dr. Karyn Purvis, talks about giving abused and neglected children back their voice. You can also find helpful videos, resources, and tips at Empowered to Connect or through Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development.

Here at National Council For Adoption, we believe that every child has a voice. We know that relationship-based trauma can only be resolved through a loving, stable relationship with a nurturing caregiver. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to regain their voice and to be raised in a nurturing home.