Use PACE to Help Adopted Children Feel Safe and Supported

This post was written by the Director of FamilyWorks Together, Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH.  Alisha oversees the counseling, training, education, and special projects teams at Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together.  She received her bachelors from Skidmore College in English and Spanish and her Masters in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill.  During her graduate studies, Alisha focused on issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and early childhood mental health.

As a follow-up to my blog post about playfulness, I wanted to explain in more depth each part of the PACE model: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

PACE is a way of thinking, feeling and interacting with a child that helps the child feel safe. Children with a trauma history have learned that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place. The adults caring for these children can send messages of safety by utilizing PACE.

PACE is based on how parents connect with infants, and the model holds true for connecting to children of all ages. Creating safety gives your child the opportunity to explore the world, their family and themselves.

Below are ways you can use PACE to make your child feel safe and supported, and in turn, help maintain your relationship:

Playfulness

Read my Playfulness blog post to learn how to bring out your sillies this week—even when it’s hard!

Acceptance

The Acceptance component of PACE asks parents to accept their child’s thoughts, feelings and choices. It does not mean accepting bad behavior, but instead accepting the fundamental characteristics and traits that make your child unique and special. Acceptance can help your child’s self-confidence and understand that bad behavior does not equate to a bad self.

For example, if your child says they do not like where they live, accept that the feeling is valid and then challenge it with follow-up questions like, “Why do you say that?”

Curiosity

Showing your child that you want to get to know them and are interested in their thoughts and feelings is critical. It may be difficult to have discussions with your child in instances when you do not understand their behavior (i.e., they may not want to go to school that day), but asking questions to ascertain what they are thinking and feeling will help build and maintain trust. Combined with the concept of Acceptance, Curiosity can ensure your child feels heard and understood in a judgement-free zone.

Empathy

Empathy with all children is important. However, showing Empathy to a child who has a history of trauma is necessary to build a strong relationship. One way to practice empathy is to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to imagine the world from their point of view, then act and speak to them with that in mind.

How have you incorporated the PACE model in your parenting? What advice would you give to new parents who want to start practicing this model of parenting? Let me know in the comments!

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