PACE is a way of thinking, feeling, communicating and behaving that aims to make the child feel safe. It is done by communicating the four elements of PACE together flexibly, not as a step by step process. This is an approach that our Wellbeing Team and EAAs use with our children.
Using PACE helps adults to slow down their reactions, stay calm and tune into what the child is experiencing in the moment. It supports us to gain a better understanding of what the child is feeling. In tricky moments it allows us to stay emotionally regulated and guide the child through their heightened emotions, thoughts and behaviours. In turn, PACE helps children and young people to feel more connected to and understood by important adults in their life and ultimately, to slow down their own responses.
Below is a guide to support parents and carers use this approach with their child.
Sometimes a child has given up on the idea of having good times and doesn’t want to experience and share fun or enjoyment. Additionally, some children don’t like affection or reject hugs. A playful stance can allow closeness but without the scary parts.
Playful moments reassure children and young people that their conflicts and separations with adults are temporary and will never harm the strength of their relationship.
A playful stance adds elements of fun and enjoyment to day-to-day life and can also diffuse a difficult or tense situation. The child is less likely to respond with anger and defensiveness when the adult has a touch of playfulness in their discipline. While such a response would not be appropriate at the time of major misbehaviour, when applied to minor behaviours, playfulness can help keep it all in perspective.
Ideas for how to incorporate playfulness:
Acceptance communicates that that the child’s inner life is safe with you; that you are interested in it and will not judge or evaluate it. The child’s inner life is not right or wrong, it simply is. Acceptance is at the core of the child’s sense of safety.
Accepting the child’s intentions does not imply accepting behaviour, which may be hurtful or harmful to another person or to self. You can limit the behaviour while at thesame time understanding and accepting the motives underlying the behaviour.
Through acceptance, it’s hoped that the child learns that while the behaviour may becriticised and limited, this is not the same as criticising the child’s self. The child then becomes more confident that conflict and discipline focuses on the behaviour, not the relationship with adults nor their self-worth.
For example, a child may say “I know you hate me”. It is tempting to respond with“that’s not true” or “don’t say that” but this may leave the child feeling that you really don’t understand what it’s like for them. Instead, through using PACE we could respond with “I’m sorry you think I hate you, that must feel awful, no wonder you’re angry with me” or “I didn’t realise that you feel like that, I’m sorry it feels that way to you”.
Examples for how to express acceptance:
“I can see how you feel this is unfair. You wanted to play longer” “You probably think that I don’t care about what you want.”
“You were letting me know that you were really scared when you ran away from me.”
“I can hear you saying that you hate me and you’re feeling really cross. I’ll still be here for you after you calm down”.
“I’m disappointed by what you did, but I know you were really upset. It doesn’t change how much I care about you”.
Children often know that their behaviour was not appropriate. They often do not know why they did it or are reluctant to tell adults why. Curiosity, without judgment, is how we help children become aware of their inner life and reflect upon the reasons for their behaviour.
Curiosity is wondering about the meaning behind the behaviour for the child. With curiosity, the adults are conveying their intention to simply understand why and to help the child with understanding. The adult’s intentions are to truly understand and help the child, not to lecture or convey that the child’s inner life is wrong in some way.
Curiosity must be communicated without annoyance about the behaviour. Beingcurious can, for example, include an attitude of being sad rather than angry when the child makes a mistake. A light curious tone and stance can get through to a child in a way that anger cannot.
As the understanding deepens, the child can discover that their behaviour does not reflect something bad inside of them, but rather a thought, feeling, perception, ormotive that was stressful, frightening, or confusing that could only be expressed through their behaviour.
If an adult can stay curious about why the child is behaving as they are, the child and adult are less likely to feel cross or frustrated.
As the adult begins to understand the needs underlying the behaviours, the child’s feelings about the behaviour may change, with less defensiveness and shame but more guilt, leading to less of the behaviour. With PACE, the child can let others start to see them, get closer emotionally and start to trust.
Being curious is different from asking the child, “Why did you do that?” with the expectation of a reply. It is not interpretation or fact gathering. It’s just about getting toknow the child and letting them know that. It can be about having a conversation, almost with yourself, with the child in the room, without anticipating a response.
Examples of curiosity:
“I’m wondering if you broke the toy because you were feeling angry.”
“I’m thinking you’re a little nervous about going back to school today, and that’s why you don’t want to get ready this morning”.
“I’ve noticed that you’ve been using a really loud voice, and if you’re trying to tell me that you’re angry with me.”
“I’m a little confused. Usually you love going for a walk, but today you don’t want to go. I’m wondering what’s different about today”.
“When she couldn’t play with you today, I’m wondering if you thought that meant she doesn’t like you.”
I wonder if…. Could it be…?
I am trying to imagine….
Can you help me understand…? Tell me if I’mgetting this wrong…
It sounds like you might really be struggling with… Is there a part of you that…
As you were talking I was starting to think that maybe… Does this make any sense…?
Being empathic means the adult actively showing the child that their inner life isimportant to the adult and that they want to support the child during their hard times. The adult is demonstrating that they know how difficult that experience is for the child. The adult is telling the child that they will not have to deal with the distress alone.
The adult is also communicating strength, love and commitment, with confidence thatsharing the child’s distress will not be too much for them. Together they will get through it.
It is about having compassion for the child and recognising that they are struggling to handle something difficult. It is about looking at the needs, motives and feeling underlying their behaviours, and recognising that they may be feeling distressed, hurt, annoyed, upset or so on.
Examples of empathy:
“You are SO upset about this right now. That must be really hard!”
“It hurt so much when she didn’t ask you to play. You were probably thinking ‘Why did she do that?’ It was a real shock for you.”
“You wanted to have another turn so badly. You were so excited about it and it’s so unfair that we ran out of time”.
“It seems to you like he hates you. That must be really hard. I know you like him a lot, so this is pretty confusing”.
“I know it’s hard for you to hear what I’m saying.”
“Me saying ‘No’ has made you angry with me. I get why you don’t want to talk to me right now”.
It sounds like it’s been really tough… You have had lots of tricky times…
I am so sorry it’s been so hard for you…
I can’t even imagine how that was for you… I really want to hear how it’s been for you…