Three Principles of Trust-Based Relational Intervention

Developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross at the TCU Institute of Child Development, Trust-Based Relational Interventions® (TBRI®) is an emerging intervention model for a wide range of childhood behavioral problems. It has been applied successfully in a variety of contexts, and with many children for whom numerous other interventions have failed (e.g., medications, cognitive-behavioral therapies.) TBRI® is based on a solid foundation of neuropsychological theory and research, tempered by humanitarian principles. It is a family-based intervention that is designed for children who have experienced relationship-based traumas such as institutionalization, multiple foster placements, maltreatment, and/or neglect. For the past ten years, Drs. Purvis and Cross have been implementing and evaluating TBRI® , and their strategies have proven extremely effective in creating healing environments for children who have come from “hard places.” (from

The TBRI intervention model applies three main principles—Empower, Connect, Correct. The studies have proven that traditional parenting and interaction styles don’t usually work well with children from a hard place.

Let’s take a closer look at what these three principles look like:

Empowerment—attention to physical needs.

Understand the difference between “being safe” and “feeling safe”. This helps a parent or caregiver to know when a child’s behavior is more than just defiance or belligerence.

Take hunger. The caregiver knows that the child will never go hungry as long as the child is in their care. However, the child doesn’t know this. The child is safe, but she doesn’t feel safe. The child most likely exhibits mal-behavior stemming from their fear of not having enough to eat.

The caregiver can choose to empower the child first before any kind of correction.

For example, they can work on strategies together that will help the child feel safe in this context.

  • Shop together for healthy snacks.
  • Come up with an acceptable, reachable location for the child to access the snacks at any time.

This gives the child tangible evidence that they will not be hungry again.

Other physical needs that a caregiver can intentionally empower a child in are:

  • Transitions—daily, major stages in life, developmental
  • Sensory needs—tactile, spatial, etc.
  • Nutritional—for example, a dehydrated brain is a stressed brain.

Connection—attention to attachment needs

There is something that each of us wants more than—even more than the air we breathe: Connection. Curt Thompson M.D. Anatomy of the Soul

Building a strong foundation of connection is essential to help your child (from Empowered to Connect):

  1. Learn to trust
  2. Discover his voice
  3. Learn to self-regulate
  4. Understand his own preciousness, knowing they have value—opposite of shame.
Deep down, these children want desperately to connect and succeed but don’t know how. As a parent, it’s our job to show them how. —The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family

Correction—attention to behavioral needs

Disciplining is more about training kids how to relate rightly than it is about punishing them for not getting it right. The question is never “Do I correct?’ The question is always, “How do I correct?”

Dr. Purvis and Dr. Cross share some key strategies that help a caregiver “connect while correcting”.

Respond efficiently with levels of engagement.

Always work at applying the least amount of correction necessary to stop and correct the behavior.

Use the IDEAL Response

  • Immediate
  • Direct
  • Efficient
  • Action Based
  • Leveled at behavior not the child

Practice Outside the Moment

I admit that I usually try to correct my son as soon as he behaves badly. My thought is he will understand why I am correcting him. Instead, these principles encourage me to help calm and protect my son in the moment. Then I can turn to other tools to help him learn and grow outside the moment.


This just scratches the surface on the TBRI principles. My hope is that it peaks your interest enough to look into this approach of nurturing children, especially if you parent or care for children from a hard place.

Get the book—The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family.

Also visit for videos and articles that explain these principles in more depth.

Will you share any experience you have with TBRI principles?

I wrote a book based on my experiences and of other families who work to apply TBRI principles. You will appreciate each of us sharing with vulnerability and authenticity. Get your hard copy or ebook now on Amazon:

Foster and Adoptive Parenting: Authentic Stories that Will Inspire and Encourage Parenting with Connection

If You Are Considering Foster Care or Adoption, You Need to Take this Free Course!

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This 8 day course—Are You Considering Foster Care or Adoption?—will walk you through this important decision. Sign up for it now!

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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