One of our favorite strategies of the TBRI parenting model is using scripts. Scripts are short, verbal cues that parents use to remind a child of the desired behavior. Scripts can also communicate a sense of safety or connectedness in moments of distress or dysregulation.

Why use scripts?

When our kids are upset, they can be hard to talk to. If our child’s brain is so overloaded with a perceived threat or big feelings during a meltdown, he cannot process much of anything. Even our attempts to help him calm down go unheeded. Those big feelings are scary for our kids. Therefore, our task in their moment of dysregulation is to help them re-regulate. They need to trust us to help them adjust their behavior and emotions to a more appropriate state.

Using scripts act as a sort of mental muscle memory to help get our kids back on track without requiring a lot of mental processing power. If you’ve ever witnessed a teacher quiet an entire class with a simple call-and-response, you already are familiar with the idea.

A short, frequently-used phrase like “Use your words” or “Ask, don’t tell” reminds your kids of how they’re supposed to behave without being punitive.

Scripts aren’t just for correction.

It’s just as essential to use scripts to communicate trust and safety to our kids and practice them frequently. When our children hear the family mantras of “I love you more than infinity,” “Mom’s got your back,” or “I knew you could do it!” it can raise their sense of felt-safety, soften their hearts, or hold anxiety at bay

This course from Just-in-Time Training for Foster Parents/Kinship Caregivers is another tool to learn the basics of TBRI.

5 Tips for Creating Scripts

Our recent radio show featuring The Connected Parent – the late Dr. Purvis’ new book with Lisa Qualls and Emmelie Pickett – offered a few practical examples of scripts. They are good starting points with which you can practice. However, to be truly useful, you need to develop your own scripts unique to your family. To help you build on that show’s starters, we have written five tips for creating your family’s scripts.

1. Keep it simple.

Use as few words as possible, no more than five or six. Only address one behavior per script. Make sure you offer a specific and direct behavioral response to challenging behavior. Telling a child in the middle of a tantrum to “Behave!” is useless but telling her, “Use your words” is concrete action.

2. Practice scripts when everyone is calm.

Remember, when your child is dysregulated, it is not time to start using a new script they’ve not heard before. Identify problem behaviors you want to target, develop your scripts, and introduce them when everyone is calm.

You could try role-playing to practice the scripts, especially if you have a younger kid who like to engage in imaginary play. Building familiarity with the scripts and the desired behavior can increase everyone’s ease of using the scripts together. If he has heard the script before, he will be better able to remember and process what it means when dysregulated.

3. Praise good behavior.

When your child behaves correctly, use those positive “cheerleader” type-scripts to acknowledge their good behavior and praise them for it. “Great listening!” or “Thank you for the kind words” are examples of positive reinforcement that helps your child associate the script with the desired behavior. It also builds your child’s confidence that she can act in praise-worthy ways. Dr. Purvis called this “marking the task.”

4. Watch your tone.

Scripts are designed to remind your child of desired behavior without fussing or nagging. They will be ineffective if you say them through clenched teeth. Make sure you deliver the script in a gentle, non-threatening tone of voice. Remember, use the script as a reminder of positive behavior, not a punishment for negative behavior.

5. Make your scripts age appropriate.

A script that works great for your five-year-old might feel condescending when said to your tween or teen. You can still expect the same behavior. But as she gets older you should modify the language you use.

Check out this great perspective on Parenting Tweens and Teens.

Your tone in age-appropriate ways is key with tweens and teens. You should strive for light-hearted reminders early in the interactions that don’t feel like commands. His natural need for independence might very well feel triggered if he feels that you are talking to him like he is a child. In the radio show, Lisa Qualls provided a list of suggestions for teen-appropriate scripts.

Set your child up for success.

If you practice using scripts together before inevitable moments of meltdown come along, you are buffering your relationship with your child. As you figure out what scripts work and use them regularly, you set him up for success because he knows what to expect even in his dysregulation. He can trust your presence and count on your willingness to help him correct behavior and reclaim a sense of calm.