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Parenting conference set for May 12-13 at St. Gabriel Parish
Theresa Ward

Parenting conference set for May 12-13 at St. Gabriel Parish

By Theresa Ward

COLORADO SPRINGS. Twelve years ago, Annie and Tom Waits thought they were doing a fair job as parents of their three-year old, but when the couple adopted twin one-year-old daughters, their rosy perceptions of themselves were capsized by their daughters’ unexpected behavior.

Through a parenting program called Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), the Waits learned that their daughters’ actions were the result of the traumatic experiences they had prior to becoming part of the family, and how to overcome these experiences to become a united family. Now the Waits are passing on what they know at a conference they will present in May at St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish.

The Waits are the parents of six children, five of whom are adopted. The children range in age from their biological son, who is 16, twin girls age 14, a girl age 11, a boy age 10 and a five-year-old boy.

“What we’ve learned about attachment shaped our family,” said Annie. “Twelve years ago, when our (adopted twin) daughters had been home for about a year, our oldest son was always a pretty laid-back kid, which we had attributed to our parenting style. Then our daughters — honestly, the cutest girls you’ll ever meet — came home, loved us, hugged us — and didn’t listen to a thing we said. We tried applying consequences, and the situation got worse.”

Annie and Tom learned about a TBRI conference and decided to attend. They learned that their daughters’ behaviors — having a hard time following directions and running up to hug strangers — represented an attachment style that embraced everyone.

“That’s how they knew how to survive. They weren’t appropriately cautious. They didn’t have a sense of to whom they belonged,” said Annie.

Recognizing that early trauma the girls had experienced called for a new approach to parenting them. Tom explained how they got involved with TBRI. “How we were called into this, sharing what we found, has in so many ways shaped us personally and our family, unlocked the personalities of our children and opened them fully to the person that they can be, is that twelve years ago we were introduced to this Texas Christian University program called TBRI.

“We went to a conference,” Tom explained, “the very same conference we will host here, 12 years ago, and we found it incredibly engaging. They were speaking to us. Telling our story. How we experience our kids, how they respond to consequences, to love and eye contact, attachment and how that opens them up as kids.”

Tom explained that there were some fundamental pieces to it: build trust, disarm fear and empower children. “We started doing this and saw a night-and-day change in our kids, both in our adopted kids at the time — our daughters were two and our son was five. Even our son responded well to it.”

Since then, they’ve gone to conferences, seen connected professionals, and trained themselves based on the TBRI DVD series. “This year we’ve felt called to do something to share what we’ve learned,” said Tom.

Robin Schneider, principal of St. Gabriel Classical Academy, came to the Waits around the same time and said, “I’ve noticed there are a few families around here parenting in a non-traditional way, either through adoption or parenting their grandchildren. How about having a group?”

The Waits started a group that meets twice a month to watch the training DVD and share their experiences and wisdom.

“I have known the Waits for several years and have seen how well they have raised their children, which caused me to approach them about how we could help parents of adopted children, and grandparents raising their grandchildren, who attend our school,” Schneider said. “What I realized is that TBRI is not only good for these families, but it is also simply ‘best practice’ for all parents, regardless of the family composition.”

Schneider intends to provide TBRI training for teachers next August because the school wants to support their families in every way.

“By recognizing that these children do have a unique background, we can sufficiently meet their needs in our classrooms, as well,” she said.

Trust Based Relational Intervention consists of three principles: Empowering, connecting, and correcting. Tom shared that the empowering idea is to address a child’s physical needs: comfort, food, a place where they feel safe.

The connecting principle consists of meeting a child’s need for attachment, for example, the bonding eye contact that a parent provides to a baby when they hold the child and gaze into their eyes. This is about connecting with a child of any age and providing an experience they may not have received earlier. “Kids with a traumatic background may not have had this experience,” said Tom.

The third principle, correcting, consists of meeting the child where they happen to be in terms of compliance with parental wishes. Tom gives an example of picking up their toys at the end of a play session. The child might not be ready to put away all the toys by themselves. A parent might help them and give them praise for picking up three of the toys, and then continue to give the expectation at cleanup time until the child is able to do it by themselves.

The Waits maintain that TBRI is a great idea for any parent. “We want to share that message to anyone who feels stuck in their parenting,” said Annie. “It doesn’t always have to be foster or adopted children, (TBRI can be for) any parent who wants to soften their parenting style, or a parent who is having power struggles with their child. This disarms that struggle, and it sets the relationship in a place that is beautiful and peaceful.”

The Waits would like to see the TBRI message extended not only to families, but also teachers. Adults who are in the lives of children who have attachment trauma could benefit from the conference, said Tom.

“It could certainly be the parents, but it could also be extended family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, foster parents and I think importantly, also educators,” he said. “I think it’s a real key to reach out to educators. We’d like to extend the message to teachers, so that they can understand how to connect with the different styles of correction when it comes to children with attachment trauma.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Trust Based Relational Intervention can attend the “Hope for the Journey” conference May 12-13 at St. Gabriel. The conference begins at 4 p.m. on Friday and concludes with a Mass on Saturday afternoon. Childcare is provided at no cost. To register, visit infernomen.com.

More information about TBRI can be found at: https://child.tcu.edu/about-us/tbri.

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