Sometimes I hear, ‘My child was exploding & PACE just made it worse!’ If you’re having a difficult moment with your child & they are becoming increasingly upset or angry, try to hold your confidence that your PACE-ful attitude (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy) can help. You just don’t need to use it all at once!
At tricky times when a child is going into fight/flight mode, you might find it helpful to ‘think A&E’. Focus on your acceptance & empathy & try not to ask your child too many questions.
Acceptance & empathy can help a child to feel safe & understood & this may help them to calm down.
Remember your child needs to be calm to be able to think properly, so being curious with them & asking them too many questions, when they’re in a heightened state of emotions, can lead to an escalation in distress & more of the behaviour you don’t want. If they can’t think of answers to your questions, it feels like another failure to them (at a moment when they’re already feeling bad) & this can lead to more shame & rage.
So – go big on empathy & acceptance. In the heat of the moment, save your curiosity for questions for yourself, not your child. For example:
What needs to happen to create physical safety – perhaps move to a quiet place together?
What will help my child to calm – perhaps a drink or a snack?
How can I show I care about them – perhaps a smile or a gentle hand on the shoulder?
What’s the story I can create that might help to make sense of what has happened – ‘perhaps you felt upset when you couldn’t go out to play with your friend & that’s why you threw your drink on the floor?’ Wondering aloud in this way, rather than asking questions, can reduce the demand on your child & give them some ideas to ‘try on for size’.
Curiosity can help empathy & acceptance to grow, if you focus it on arousal regulation & relationship repair, before trying to reason.