The Connected Parent: Real Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment
by Karyn Purvis, Ph.D., and Lisa Qualls with Emmelie Pickett
I just finished reading The Connected Parent and I cannot recommend it highly enough! I think it would be most helpful to parents who are in the trenches of raising a child from a hard place. However, the principles and subjects discussed in it would be applicable to anyone who regularly comes in contact with children, including grandparents and extended family and friends, teachers, children and youth pastors, coaches, Sunday school teachers, pediatricians, daycare workers and owners, children’s camp workers, and more. You may be wondering what I mean by children from hard places. That term was coined to represent children who have survived early life adversity of various kinds. This could be a stressful pregnancy, extreme prematurity, adoption, foster care, neglect, abuse, prenatal or postnatal exposure to parents who used drugs or alcohol, domestic violence, or a chaotic home life due to poverty, community violence, family dysfunction, and various other stressors that affect children prenatally or in the first years of life. When these types of difficulties are present in the life of a child, without a healthy attachment to a primary caregiver who can act as a buffer to make the child feel safe and to meet the child’s needs, these difficulties can affect the growing brain of the child often causing developmental delays, behavior issues, and difficulties with social and emotional maturity. Parenting children from hard places is a very difficult undertaking that requires skills, coping mechanisms, and community support.
What I love about this book is that Lisa Qualls and Dr. Purvis focus on teaching a few very practical things that parents and caregivers can do to meet the needs of children from hard places. They teach parents how to be detectives in figuring out the needs of each specific child. Children from hard places have often developed survival skills that worked well in their early, difficult circumstances. When they continue to use these skills in a safe environment it often appears disrespectful or defiant. Sad feelings often look like mad feelings. Sensory avoidance can look like defiance or refusal. Fears can look like refusal to “act their age.” This book gives parents practical advice in how to meet needs, build attachment, allay fears, and encourage growth and maturity in our children. Lisa shares anecdotal stories from her large family and friends to help us see how these things play out in our day to day life, and to reinforce that none of us are perfect and there is always room for grace.
Lisa and Dr. Purvis also share some of the core strategies of the parenting method that Dr. Purvis and her colleague Dr. Cross developed, called Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI). These include redos, choices, time ins, and scripts among other things. I especially like the teaching on how to use scripts, as it has saved my sanity a few times. Scripts are short phrases that address behaviors in a way that is positive and easy to understand and remember in the midst of high emotion situations like melt downs. I don’t know about you, but I can get as flustered as my kids in these situations and it gets hard to think of what to say and then spit the words out. Similarly, when kids get upset the rational part of their brain is less accessible and they are responding from the emotional part of the brain. They cannot take in new information, or a lecture. If we learn scripts like “no hurts,” “gentle and kind,” “show respect,” “stick together,” and “listen and mind” when we are calm, we can use them in the middle of an upset and everyone knows what they mean without processing a lot of words. Families can make their own scripts that are culturally acceptable and more appropriate for different aged kids. Lisa gives the example of how teens have used terms like “be cool” instead of “no hurts”, and “check with me” instead of “ask permission.” This is just one example of the way TBRI principles have been helpful to me personally, but there are many more examples in the book along with the rationales for why these things work with kids and teens from hard places. They also spend some time translating how to meet the needs of older kids and teens and how to apply nurturing and correction principles in these challenging age groups.
Finally, something I haven’t seen in many other parenting books, Lisa spends a chapter discussing the importance of self-care for parents and gives lots of practical ideas that parents can use, even in the middle of the hardest times. She understands that telling parents to take better care of themselves is often a fruitless command and speaks from the point of view of a parent who has been there and understands the challenges.
Many of you may have already read The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, Ph. D., David R. Cross, Ph.D., and Wendy Lyons Sunshine and you may be wondering how this book is different. I would say The Connected Child took a higher or more comprehensive view of children from hard places, with more explanation of prenatal growth, brain development, and meeting needs. It includes many of the same parenting techniques, so there is some overlap, but I felt The Connected Parent was a little easier to read, understand, and quickly apply for a parent who is currently in the process of parenting a child from a hard place. It has a lot of practical approaches with explanation of the rationale and then anecdotal stories that make it easier to remember and think about how these things play out in real life. I always like stories, as they keep books interesting. The Connected Parent is only 4 hours and 45 minutes on audiobook, so it’s a pretty quick read. Please check it out if you know and love a child from a hard place!
Laura Shamblin, MD
Fellow, Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics