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Chapter 2: Social Connections and Relationships



Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. Henry Ford

The Importance of Relationships


Relationships matter! The impact that we have on young people is enormous. Most people who make the career choice of working in the helping fields have a deep-rooted passion for the job and for young people. We enter the field and truly want to make an impact. When things get tough and frustrating, our efficient brains attempt to solve the challenges of the moment. Realistically, there is no simple solution because a one-size approach to behavioral support does not fit. However, we believe there is a way to reduce conflict and develop more positive ways of connecting to troubled young people. We believe the key to this connection is found in the power of both our brains and relationships—our NeuroRelational approach. It is now known that our brains are dependent on and develop through interactions with others. Throughout our lifetime, we need positive people and supportive ecologies for optimal survival, growth, and well-being. By tapping into the power of relationships and the brain’s ability to adapt and change, this powerful strengths-based approach provides a way to address even the most challenging behavior and obtain positive outcomes. And it all begins with a change in perception.

Behavior, the individual’s observable response to their environment, or what we see another person “do,” operates in a constantly changing social and emotional ecology. Young people need to feel safe, significant, respected, and related in order to grow and develop well. Focusing on these needs is important as they help us to understand what drives behavior, motivates people to strive and achieve, and provides the hope needed that will form the basis for change.


We Are Our Experiences


In The Hopeful Brain: NeuroRelational Repair for Disconnected Children and Youth, we explain that we are the result of our experiences, both good and bad, and that the brain is responsive to every experience. “From our first breath to our last, everything and everyone in our environment affect how we grow and develop” (Baker & White-McMahon, p. 3). Psychologists define perception as “the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment” (Pettinelli, 2015, p. 21). Our experiences in life create our perceptions of the world and the people around us. We learn how to function within our ecology by studying the behavior of others around us by using parts of the brain called mirror neurons.

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