Taking A Closer Look at Empowerment—A TBRI Principle

Do you get the idea that it’s good to empower your child but struggle with exactly how to do it? How do you find that balance of empowering yet remaining in control?

Trust-Based Relational Intervention, or TBRI, is becoming the standard for connected parenting. Schools, Child Protective Services, counselors, parents, and others recognize this and are applying these principles in their work and families.

I posted a blog a couple of years ago, Three Principles of Trust-Based Relational Intervention, that still gets a lot of traffic. Basically, the three principles are Empowerment, Connection, and Correction. If you want a quick overview of TBRI, please check out that blog post HERE.

Over the next few weeks I will post a blog digging a little deeper into each of the three TBRI principles sharing not only what I have learned about each, but some of my personal experience as I attempt to apply the principles to our family.

In this post, I begin with Empowerment. Basically empowerment means to pay attention to your child’s physical and emotional needs in order to set them up for success. Often our child’s struggles can be overcome by empowering them with the tools they need to succeed.

When my son is acting out or disobeying or not listening or bouncing off the furniture and people…and if I am doing this well, I ask myself, “what does he physically need right now?”. I go down a mental list and even ask him since he is learning to pay attention to his own physical needs. Is he thirsty or hungry? Is he tired? Does he need to move around?

Many times it is something simple like that list that is causing his behavior. If I jump to correcting his behavior, I am treating the symptom instead of the cause. However, when I can attune to his physical and possibly emotional needs, I can help him meet that need. When this is done well, we end up changing the unwanted behavior without having to correct. This approach isn’t ignoring bad behavior, rather it is looking to constructively change the behavior instead of punishing the behavior, if at all possible.

Here is the big catch for me…How well I do this often depends upon how well I am attuned to my own physical needs. When my depleted physical tank collides with my son’s depleted physical tank, yeah, let’s just say it’s not pretty.

Another thing to remember about our kids that come from a hard place is that often these physical needs can trigger a fear response. If your child experienced extreme hunger for example when they feel hunger that can trigger fear that they are about to experience that again. So they freak out or begin hiding food in their bedroom or some other erratic, bizarre behavior.

Again, I can flip my lid, get frustrated, even angry at their behavior and try to correct their craziness (which will probably drive them further into a fear response), or I can work on finding ways to empower them to not only know they won’t go hungry, but actually feel this truth deep down in their core.

Yes, that takes patience, insight, and a long-term view on the solution, which is a healing process, not behavior modification. And yes, progress will happen within the midst of setbacks.

I was thinking about some practical things I have learned over the past five years about empowering my son. Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Letting my son lead play time. Play therapy is a tool that counselors use to empower a child often so that the child feels safe enough to talk about what is going on in their world. That’s not the only reason I let my son not only choose what we will play, but I let him lead. Currently I find myself marching around the house or on our property as he leads our little army. Or, I am carrying a foam noodle that he deemed as a weapon as we sneak through the woods “deer hunting”.
  • Proactively providing healthy food and drinks water every couple of hours. Sounds simple, but how well do I do this for myself?
  • Teaching my son how to pay attention to his body and its needs…and how to meet those needs.
  • Practicing full body listening. I can tell when my son has my full attention, he does better. He has a strong need to be heard. When I don’t listen well, his behavior denigrates.

I could list many more things I have learned, so if you want to continue digging into the practical ways to empower our kids, start the conversation in the comment section.

If you haven’t gotten your copy of my book, Foster and Adoptive Parenting: Authentic Stories that Will Inspire and Encourage Parenting with Connection, I have a few chapters in the book that address ways we can empower our kids. Get your copy today!

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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