Carolina Adoption Services hosted a simulcast of the Empowered to Connect conference this past weekend in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the three states in which we are licensed. It was an excellent training for anyone who provides care for a child who has experienced trauma or the loss of parental care. It included information on the Trust-Based Relational Intervention methods developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross. These methods are also outlined further in the book, The Connected Child.

In our work with children from “hard places” and who thus have experienced trauma, it is essential that we remember as one presenter stated, “harm happened through relationship and healing happens through relationship.” We must also be mindful that children’s behaviors are their language of unmet needs. Therefore, we must always be looking for the underlying message a child is attempting to communicate to us with his or her behavior.

To help a child heal, connecting through play is the main tenet of TBRI. Unfortunately, close relationships do not come easily for children who have experienced trauma, as they have learned that adults cannot be trusted to meet their needs. Consequently, connection demonstrates that he or she is valued and over time, as this cycle is repeated, he or she will begin to feel safe and then to trust. Throughout the conference, it was recommended that caregivers begin with ten minutes of one on one playtime per day, in addition to implementing the connecting principles.

Within one on one time, caregivers should be mindful of the following: eye contact, voice quality, playful interaction, matching behavior, character praise, healthy touch, and eye contact. For the play, it is important that it is child led with no teaching, no questioning, and no instructing. Activities for play should be centered on a creative outlet, such as blocks, drawing, painting, and Play-Doh. For older children, activities such as crafts, a manicure/pedicure, hair braiding, and a car ride would be applicable.

Lastly, in conjunction with the daily ten minutes of playtime, it is important to utilize the Connecting principles. Within these are the Mindfulness strategies, which include the practices of remaining calm, being attune, responding flexibly, and creative problem-solving. An example would be to keep your child close when you need to make dinner and provide him or her with a similar task, so he or she feels included. Also, there are Engagement strategies, which incorporate the practices of valuing eye contact, authoritative voice, copying a child’s behavior, playful interaction, and healthy touch.