Empowered means to give someone power to change their lives. For a child who has come from a hard place and who has only learned primitive survival techniques that don’t really work in mainstream society being empowered to connect means they are given tools to better relate in healthy ways to those around them.

Me and my well attached daughter Anna.

Last weekend I attended an Empowered to Connect conference that teaches parents and caregivers  how to connect with their children from hard places more meaningfully and how to correct in a way that results in lasting change. I’m so thankful for the work of Dr. Karen Purvis and her staff at TBRI( Trust Based Relational Intervention) who have developed important life changing strategies for helping these children. These strategies actually correct chemical imbalances that result from early trauma.  I learned that there are six broad risk categories that set a child up for dysfunction; difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, early hospitalization, abuse, neglect and trauma. When these risk factors are present there is a high probability that the child’s delicate brain chemistry has been altered in a way that makes normal emotional development next to impossible. Behaviors in an older child who’s past hasn’t been addressed can be anywhere from infantile to dangerously violent..  To remedy these tragic circumstances a caregiver must in a way bring the child back to the beginning to reestablish the proper developmental stages through a healthy relationship between child and caregiver, a relationship where the cycle of attachment won’t be broken. Every abhorrent behavior a child exhibits is based on something gone wrong.

TBRI’s IDEAL response is:

I – Immediate

D- Direct

E- Engaged

A- Action- Based


At the conference we were walked through these steps in dealing with specific behaviors.  The level of response depends on the severity of the behavior.

Level 1: Playful Engagement

Level 2: Structured Engagement

Level 3: Calming Engagement

Level 4: Protective Engagement

The end goal of any interaction is always to connect in a positive way and end with a positive outcome.  I wish everyone could attend these conferences and take part in training to learn these strategies. When understood thoroughly and implemented consistently they have the power to heal children, even children with the most severe behaviors stemming from the worst situations.  Connecting has the ability to change a child’s brain chemistry so that they are able to articulate and self regulate and become healthy and happy.

There is so much more to it. Physical, emotional and sensory needs have to be addressed. The child needs to feel safe, trust their caregivers and have a sense of self-worth.  If this wasn’t established early on every interaction has to rebuild a trust, help the child feel safe and make them know they are precious.  I wish I could articulate all that was shared.

For years we’ve been dealing with a fairly volatile child who stops just short of physical violence in the tantrums and breakdowns. During this weekend I was given new hope and more importantly a new sense of compassion towards my children which has resulted in more patience. Before, even though I knew my child had come from a hard place, I would still lose my patience and take quite personally the verbal attacks and outbursts. Instead of correcting the behavior I would  get angry and the exchange would usually devolve into a two person meltdown.  Not very empowering to either of us!

Thankfully, while I am sorry for all the years I haven’t been connecting and correcting in a healthy way, I was given hope that all is not lost.  I and my husband have begun to change the way we deal with our children’s behavior that is positive, instructive and full of compassion for the child. By God’s grace we will be able to implement what we’ve learned to help all our children learn healthy ways of relating to one another and the world.  It’s going to take work but for the first time I feel equipped and empowered to carry through.

Here are some resources to help anyone caring for a child to get started on this journey of healing.

TCU Institute of Child Development

The Connected Child

Empowered to Connect



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