I recently attended TBRI training as part of my continuing ed being a CASA volunteer.  Within the first 15 minutes of the 7 hour training, I thought to myself, “Where has this knowledge been all my teacher-working-with-kid life?!”

TBRI, Trust-Based Relational Intervention, is geared towards looking at kids’ behaviors through a trauma lens.  It was developed by TCU Institute of Child Development.

One of the primary principles of TBRI that stuck with me is “connecting.”  Often times, children who have experienced trauma do not have a sense of  “felt safety” even if they are with a safe adult, ex. teacher.  Thus, as teachers, we see kids who can’t sit still, kids who wander of out loud classrooms, kids who whack another kid as they walk by and then have no reason / remembering why they did that, kids who sit at their desk without a pencil but do not ask for one, kids who don’t turn in their homework, kids bursting out in anger, kids hunkering down like a clam, etc……  Throughout my 5 years of teaching, after witnessing some of these behaviors and others I didn’t mention here repeatedly, I’d think, “Oh, maybe they have ADD or ADHD?” never considering that these actions were due to trauma.  And here I should mention that the “trauma” I’m referring to may be physical, sexual, emotional abuse, a combination of those mentioned and/or neglect; a difficult pregnancy and/or birth; early infant / toddler hospitalization; or a one-time isolated event such as a car accident or death of a loved one.

Children who have experience past trauma or continue to live in a “trauma-prone” home live their lives in a hyper-vigilant state, and may continue to long after they have been removed from the cause of their trauma.

Perhaps you recall learning about the “upstairs” and “downstairs” of our brain from college.  The downstairs brain is what regulates our survival, or the fight, flight, or freeze response and our emotions.  Our upstairs brain helps us plan for the future and such, and is in charge of our logical thinking. If our downstairs brain is properly developed, our fight, flight, or freeze reaction is a response to a threat.  When this response occurs, it increases some body functions while it decreases or shuts down other functions.  This response affects our heart rate, digestion, blood sugar and brain function.

Exposure to fearful experiences cause children to operate in survival mode.  When the brain is exposed to trauma, the downstairs brain is very active and becomes overdeveloped.

When we are infants, we go through an infant attachment cycle: baby has a need, baby cries, need is met by caregiver, trust develops.  Infants who are raised in trauma prone environments go through an infant trauma cycle: baby has a need, baby cries, need is not met by their caregiver, mistrust develops.  Thus, the brain is reorganized around survival.  Language and sensory development suffers.  Lack of self-worth develops… Abuse sends the message “i don’t like you.” Neglect sends the message “You’re invisible, you don’t exist.”  As children grow older and begin to socialize, their actions can manifest as “bad behavior.”

From infancy on, we all develop a type of attachment to our caregivers primarily, and that attachment style carries over into our other relationships with peers, loved ones, significant others, etc.  There are four: secure attachment; anxious-avoidant attachment; anxious-ambivalent attachment; and disorganized attachment… More on this topic will come soon.

The main take away I hope you consider is this:  how we are treated from birth and in infancy most definitely, and very powerfully impacts each and every future relationship, and influences our demeanor and behaviors.