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What is PACE and how is it used?

Happy little girls with dirty hands and faces having fun being creative with finger painting

PACE is the foundation of therapeutic parenting. It helps us to effectively communicate and connect with children and young people who may have suffered trauma.

It stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

The go-to Therapeutic Parenting Handbook for Foster Carers tells us that using PACE will result in having less focus on your child’s behaviour and help you instead to see and understand your child in a more meaningful and deeper way. It will help you discover what lies underneath the challenging behaviours you see. In turn, your child will begin to feel safer and less like a ‘bad’ child; they will feel connected to you, less defensive and begin to trust you at a deeper level. They will develop healthier ways of being that depend less on challenging behaviours.



Playfulness can lay a foundation for healthy attachment. A playful approach can communicate hope to your child and help stop them feeling overwhelmed with experiences and emotions.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

George Bernard Shaw

Healthy play at an early age is one of the ways a child learns so many key life skills such as compromise and negotiating, dealing with others’ feelings and being present and connected. One of the reasons your child might struggle with the lack of these skills is because they simply haven’t yet had the chance to learn them through play. Also, traumatic experiences can kill the ability to be spontaneous, a key ingredient to playfulness.

There are two parts to healthy playfulness:

  1. Making the time to actually play with your child
  2. Having a playful way of doing things, for example, your manner, tone of voice and approach to your child and to life.

One of the essentials of forming attachment with another person is to first engage with them. Play can be a healthy way to start engaging with your child and begin to help them feel safe enough to be open to forming attachment with you.



It is hard to overstate the power of acceptance. Acceptance for who we are is one of the building blocks of healthy attachment, meaning we’re empowered to feel good about ourselves, other people and the world we live in. For many children in the care system, their experience has been the opposite of acceptance.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”

J. K. Rowling

Acceptance is about genuinely communicating to your child that you accept the wishes, feelings, thoughts, urges, motives and perceptions that are underneath the outward behaviour and emotions (DDP Network, 2020). Acceptance creates a deep sense of safety for your child and this in turn will create the opportunity for them to reflect on their emotions and thoughts.

As a therapeutic foster carer, your biggest aim is to connect with your child. The more you can connect, the more potential there is to help your child heal. If connection can be established, behaviour will be more likely to fall into line, but expecting correct behaviour first and foremost may lead to the relationship not working and thriving.



Curiosity is a magic tool to help bring about change and healing in your child. Curiosity gets underneath the surface of what’s going on for your child. It can stop the same patterns of challenging behaviour being acted out day after day, and help bring breakthrough.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”


Approaching your child with curiosity can open doors to making much more sense of their challenging behaviour and unhappy feelings. Without curiosity, it would be easy to just see a demanding and ungrateful child and therefore feel increasingly drained and resentful. A deeper understanding and connection with your child can be achieved by developing a more curious mind-set. For example, take time to temporarily forget your perspective and instead pretend to see the world as your child does.

When children live with dangerous, abusive and neglectful birth families they get very little chance to develop their skills of healthy self-reflection, which is the ability to consider their own thoughts and feelings. For example, rather than concluding that they have been badly let down by their birth parents, they are much more likely to blame themselves. By being curious you can help them see things differently and much more accurately.



Empathy can be a complete game changer for a foster child and carer. Empathy is not necessarily about having experienced the same “event” as the other person. You may after all have experienced a similar event very differently. It’s about understanding and feeling what that particular person is experiencing. It’s about having experienced the same feelings and emotions, irrespective of what has triggered them.

“Empathy fuels connection.”

Bréne Brown

Empathy isn’t saying “Oh I understand” but rather “I’m guessing this feels like….” Empathy isn’t saying “Oh that’s bad….Well at least….” Empathy isn’t about fixing things. Empathy isn’t a tool to teach behaviour.

Empathy can be a powerful tool to connect with your child. It may open up an opportunity to talk about behaviour. Empathy is connection and acceptance in action, and builds attachment.

It’s very important to realise that when we are being empathetic, we are not concentrating on the event as the main focus of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. A similar event in our lives might create a completely different emotional response in us than the child’s emotional response – and that’s ok. Rather we aim to relate to the feeling we see in the other person


All of our foster carers receive comprehensive therapeutic training as well as a copy of our book, The go-to Therapeutic Parenting Handbook for Foster Carers. The book contains practical top tips for implementing PACE principles, which can also be discussed with our Trauma and Attachment Therapist, John Anderson, in 1-2-1 therapeutic consultations.