We are big fans of  Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) here at Creating a Family. Before she passed away, Dr. Purvis was on the Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcast several times and we have seen the difference this approach can make in the lives of children and families. We asked Amanda Purvis, a training specialist with the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development, to write a Beginner’s Guide to TBRI.


Many parents and caregivers have heard of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) but it oftentimes can be overwhelming to take on a new parenting strategy, change life-long habits, or even see the true need to change. As my grandpa used to remind me when he and I would go out on Saturday mornings to organize his garage, and he could see how overwhelmed I felt.

“How do you eat an elephant, Amanda?”
“One bite at a time, Grandpa.”

If you listened to the podcast I did with Creating a Family about Trauma Informed Parenting: Practical Applications of TBRI® you might have been intrigued. Here is a bit more advice on how to begin implementing TBRI with the children and teens that you care for.

What is TBRI?

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), is an attachment-based, trauma-informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. TBRI uses Empowering Principles to address physical and environmental needs, Connecting Principles for attachment needs and engagement, and Correcting Principles to disarm fear-based behaviors.

While the intervention is based on years of attachment, sensory processing, and neuroscience research, the heartbeat of TBRI is connection.

Connecting Principles

mom consoling crying daughter

Our Connecting Principles® consists of two strategies: Mindfulness Strategies and Engagement Strategies. Being mindful has to do with understanding what you bring to the table in every interaction you have with your children. Both in the present moment and based on your history.

Are you hungry? Are you tired? What does your childhood tell you about the behavior that you are currently dealing with? Does that story include a trauma-informed lens? How would that story change if it included the grace necessary for your child to feel safe based on their own history and trauma?

Engagement Strategies are practical tools to connect with people and create healthy attachments. These strategies consist of easy things you can try today to connect with the kids in your life: valuing eye contact, behavior matching, playful engagement, healthy touch, and authoritative voice.

Empowering Principles

Our Empowering Principles® have two sets of strategies as well: our Ecological Strategies and our Physiological Strategies. Ecological strategies have to do with setting up an environment from which our children can be successful and heal. Being mindful around transitions within their day and their life. Scaffolding the amount of support they receive based on their needs, and creating daily rituals that become points of connection and attunement throughout their day.

Our Physiological Strategies are based on helping their brains and bodies excel. In TBRI we believe that kids should be eating protein-rich snacks every two hours, be drinking water consistently, and having a sensory-rich experience at least every two hours. This two-hour routine of snacks, hydration, and sensory activity helps to create stabilization in their brains and bodies in order to limit behavioral meltdowns and emotional outbursts.

What research shows us is that over 85% of children from hard places have some sort of sensory need beyond that of a child who has not experienced early developmental trauma. Therefore, understanding how to interpret behavioral outburst as possible sensory needs and then meet those needs is key in providing felt safety for our children.

Correcting Principles

young girl washing hands in bathroom sink and laughing

Lastly, our Correcting Principles® are broken up into two strategies: the Proactive Strategies, to be taught during calm times before any behavioral problems, and the Responsive Strategies offer tools to use at the moment when a child is having a behavioral outburst. These tools offer research-based methods in calming a child down and teaching skills to eliminate problematic behaviors in the future and rewire the brain.

A key to being proactive with our children is understanding that often times behaviors have to do with a lack of skill comprehension. And discipline must revolve around teaching those skills, not punishing children for the (maladaptive) skills they have learned to get their needs met. An example of this strategy is the re-do. Offering kids, in a playful and engaging way, a chance to try a certain behavior again.

“Get me juice!”
“Whoa, buddy! Are you asking or telling? Why don’t you try that again please?”

No one is in trouble, the train keeps moving, but we get a chance to playfully rewire the brain around the correct behavior. Rather than continuing to talk about the wrong way to do things and wire the brain around the wrong way, emphasize and practice the right way!

Are you Parenting an Easily Frustrated, Inflexible Child?

Where do I start with TBRI?

Going back to my grandfather’s advice on how to eat an elephant, what bite do I take first? Remembering the three principles of TBRI is key to bringing balance and perspective when you first begin. We all have a strength, a principle we are already very good at. Begin by recognizing your strength.

For example, you might know all there is to know about providing for your child’s brain and body in promoting health and support. You already have the best snack options, all the right oils, the best Occupational Therapist, and all of the right sensory toys, so you are rocking our “Empowering Principles”.

But the idea of sitting down and connecting with your twelve-year-old, and engaging in what they love to do, make your skin crawl. You can’t imagine why you might need to learn Fortnight or all about superheroes? Therefore, understanding more about our Connecting Principles might be where you need to start. Hopefully, this quick overview of our three principles can equip you with a starting place to understanding and implementing TBRI.

I’m intrigued. How do I find out more?

TBRI is a complex system to help us understand the complex needs of our children. To learn more about TBRI and what it entails you can check out the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development’s website and YouTube channel. Read The Connected Child* by Drs. Purvis and Cross, or attend an Empowered to Connect simulcast training near you.


Thank you, Amanda Purvis, for this beginner’s overview of TBRI. We appreciate your wisdom and practical applications.

Image credit: Pexels; Jessica Lucia; Jay Hsu

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