Playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy is the key to raising happy, healthy children

    Words by Briarne Manley, Children, Youth and Families - Promotion Officer
    As a mother of a three year old, and with another baby on the way, I am always looking for tools and techniques to help me navigate the uncertainty of parenting.
    I believe I want what most parents want, to raise happy, healthy children who feel loved and supported and have the resilience to navigate their world. 
    Through my work, I was introduced to the Sanctuary Model of Care which is used by all Children, Youth and Family (CYF) Services. As a mum, I found the PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) technique developed by Dr. Dan Hughes particularly helpful.

    Our foster carers and residential youth workers use PACE to build safe, trusting relationships with children in their care – it works well for all ages and focusses on ‘connection before correction’. 

    A great philosophy I felt would adapt well to meet my needs as a parent.

    Playfulness: through laughter, we gain trust and closeness

    Changing gears from project-managing mother of the household to Lego-building, trampoline-jumping mum requires some discipline, but because I saw the value of this kind of connection I created some structure to ensure it was prioritised:   
    • After day care pick up, I ignore the mess and dinner for 40minutes and play.
    • If there is an opportunity to have a laugh – I try to run with it.
    • If I have something I need my son to hear, I interrupt him by tickling the back of his neck.
    • I use thumbs-up as a non-verbal check in when we are out and about.

    Acceptance: the child and the feelings not necessarily the behaviour

    Acceptance requires determination and when my toddler is in the throes of a tantrum separating his behaviour from his thoughts and feelings can be hard. My gut response is to go into problem solving mode and relieve the discomfort (for both of us). 
    What I try to do is to help him identify his feelings, let him know I am ok with them, encourage him to accept them and when the moment has passed, address the behaviour. “I can see you’re feeling frustrated because I said you could not ride your bike inside, that is ok. I won’t let you hit me though.” 

    Curiosity: to identify the thought or feeling behind the behaviour

    Curiosity is linked to acceptance, I want to understand, and without judgement what thoughts and feelings were driving the behaviour. My son is only three and while his language skills are still developing it’s a nice time to talk about feelings and we try to do this in our quiet time after a book and before bed. In time practicing PACE will help my son and I understand that he is not his bad behaviour rather that his behaviour is an expression of something stressful, confusing, frightening or overwhelming.  

    Empathy: learning how to identify feelings and self-regulate without shame

    As an adult I know it feels much easier to take bad feedback when it’s delivered with some understanding and acknowledgement of my own feelings. For children, empathy helps them feel their loss, to share their negative feelings and know they are not a bad person. “I’m sad you can’t ride your bike inside too, it would be so fun to ride up and down the hallway, but I can’t let you.” 
    PACE is not a tool made up of four single components but all four are most powerful when used together to connect with and respond to a child. 
    Parenting is challenging at times, PACE has given some mindfulness to my parenting and some structure and consistency in difficult moments. I am able to remain calm when previously I would have become just as frustrated as my son. 
    Posted April 2, 2019 in Blog