Saying “Yes” can help build trust with a child

Parenting is hard, and under the best of circumstances there are incredible highs and devastating lows along the way. Right?

That said, parenting children from hard places adds another layer of challenge. These unique and resilient children have often experienced past neglect, abuse, abandonment or have had multiple home placements prior to joining their forever families. Their behavior might often seem bizarre and erratic to those who don’t understand that their social development was hindered by past traumatic experiences and they often operate from a “fight, flight or freeze,” approach.

So how can we help?

One small way is to try to say “yes” more often than no. Or in other words, add to the “YES” bank to help the child form trust and healthy attachment.

Let’s think about these children and their early experiences from the perspective of forming healthy attachments. If your home was healthy when you were a baby and toddler, you likely received thousands and thousands of “yeses” every day. When you were hungry, someone fed you. When you were cold, someone warmed you. When you were soiled, someone changed you. When you were lonely, someone played with you. And when you were sad, someone comforted you. These experiences continuously played out over the time of your childhood and formed trust that you could count on adults who cared about you to meet your needs.

On the other hand, children from hard places are missing that “trust” piece because they needed to rely on themselves to be safe or to get their needs met. Often when they cried, no one came, and this pattern was repeated often. Thus, they didn’t receive many “yeses” in the form of care. Thus, hearing “no” often triggers the child’s “fight, flight or freeze” response. They don’t have “trust” that you will meet their needs.

Can we help rebuild their trust in others? The answer is absolutely! Trust-Based Relational Intervention® or TBRI® is an attachment-based, trauma informed intervention designed to meet the complex needs of children from hard places. It uses three basic principles: Connecting, Empowering and Correcting. Read more here.

Today’s Tip: Practice making deposits in the “yes” bank

One of the simple practices under TBRI®’s Connecting principle is to add as many “yeses” as you can to the “YES” bank. Think of the “YES” bank as the “TRUST” bank.

Of course, there will be times when you need to say “no”, especially for safety reasons, but try to find creative ways to say “yes” often.

A colleague of mine suggests that when saying “yes” is not optimal, try to give a “yes….and” creatively. For example, if your child is asking for more screen time, but hasn’t done a chore yet, instead of saying “no” try saying “Yes, you can have 10 more minutes, and you can do that right after you put your dishes in the sink.” If there is still resistance, you might offer to help them.

A general rule of thumb is for every “no” you say, try saying “yes” at least seven times.

Once you have built up dividends of “yeses” in your “Trust” bank, it will make it easier for correction to happen. This of course takes time, patience, and lots of repetition and practice. It’s helpful to remember that with patience and practice implementing these TBRI® strategies, your children can heal from their past trauma.

In the very wise words of the late, great Dr. Karyn Purvis: “Connection must always come before correction.”

By Angie Woodhead, LSW Social Worker, TBRI® Practitioner
Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers