PACE is an attitude that helps us connect with our children in a relational, rather than a behavioural way. It is useful whether we are parents or carers, or part of the team around the child. PACE stands for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy. It was created by Dan Hughes, the founder of DDP & based on what goes on between a parent and very young child. We are naturally PACE-ful with little ones. Imagine talking to a baby & the tone & language we might use. We’re animated, we chatter to them – wondering if they’re hungry, tired, happy. We connect with them emotionally as we think about their internal state, mentalising their experience. Curiosity & empathy is at the centre of this & total acceptance of emotions & thoughts – they’re neither right nor wrong, they just are. We’re being playful & delighting in them.
As our child gets older, somehow, we tend to lose this PACE-fulness. We have different expectations. We give more instructions & correction. Playfulness & mentalising are not at the centre of the relationship anymore. So, our emotional connection with our child rest on what we’ve done earlier in their life to communicate acceptance, curiosity & empathy. An older child still knows that we unconditionally love and support them – even when setting limits for them – because of that early relationship building.
Developmentally traumatised children don’t have this foundation of good early relationships. They missed out on early PACE-fulness & the secure sense of self & others that this provides. If their adoptive parent or carer gets impatient with them, they have no sense that their parent gets their internal experience & loves them. So, PACE is an attitude to adopt not as a technique but as a way of being. It’s a way of being, designed to help the child feel more secure, not a technique to change behaviour. Persistent PACE-fulness & connection before correction to heal hurt hearts & minds.