The “PACE Parenting” Principles

Ask a Foster Care Expert Children who have suffered trauma

Our Therapeutic Care Team will guide you through the PACE parenting approach in this installment of “Ask a Foster Care Expert”.

Parents and foster carers can use the PACE principles to help them interact with young people in their care, especially those who have suffered trauma.

PACE stands to promote playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. It was created by Dr. Dan Hughes who is a psychologist who specializes in treating children and adolescents who have suffered neglect and abuse.

Dr. Hughes believes that all children require love. However, a loving home for troubled children is not enough. Children who have been through trauma should be raised in a special way.

PACE is a way to think, feel, communicate and act that helps children in care feel safe. The child can look at himself and allow others to see them. They can trust again.


Playfulness refers to creating an environment of lightness and interest in your communication. This means that you should use a light voice when communicating, similar to what you would use for story-telling. It’s about having fun and being spontaneous. A playful attitude suggests that the parent/carer’s relationship with the child is stronger than minor irritations. A playful family doesn’t take their own mistakes too seriously. It is the primary goal to invite children or young people into the parent/carer’s experience. This allows them to enjoy being together without any spoken or unspoken goals.


Unconditional acceptance is the foundation of a child’s safety and security. Acceptance of the feelings and emotions of a child or young person is important, but not unwelcome behavior. To truly accept the child/young person, it is essential that the parent/carer establish a routine for viewing them beyond their behavior. If your child is expressing distressing feelings about others or themselves (e.g. Do not challenge them if they express distressing emotions about themselves or others (e.g. “nobody loves you”, “I am stupid”, “I feel bad”, “you hate”). Recognize these feelings and show empathy and curiosity.


It is important to ask questions about the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of your child. Effective discipline requires curiosity. Ask your child what they feel if they behave inappropriately. Curiosity is a quiet, accepting tone of mind that conveys a desire to understand the child.


Empathy allows the child in your care to feel your compassion. Empathy is actively showing empathy to the child and letting them know that your inner life matters to you. Sometimes, praise is more effective than understanding and expressing one’s feelings about a child or young person. If a child tells you “you don’t care”, you can reply by saying “That must have been really difficult for you.” It’s sad that you perceive me as not caring.

These are the difficult moments to manage

Dr. Hughes emphasizes that PACE is about the whole child and not just the behavior. It helps children feel more secure with their parents/carers, and it allows them to reflect on themselves and their thoughts and feelings. Children feel more secure with PACE parenting and can do better.

Parents/carers can use PACE to reduce conflict, defensiveness, and withdrawal that are often present in the lives children who have suffered trauma. The parent/carer can see the positive and strong features underneath the challenging and more negative behaviours by using PACE.

Different types of foster care are available to suit different lifestyles. Send an inquiry if you are passionate about improving the lives and well-being of children.

PACE Parenting Course

Dan Hughes has developed PACE (Playfulness Acceptance Curiosity Empathy). This is a method of parenting and caring. It supports and forms secure attachments with young people and children who have had difficulties in their early years. When working with children in their care, fostering agencies as well as residential resources, the PACE model is becoming more popular.

PACE Parenting – Learning Outcomes

Understanding attachment, trauma, and brain development

Discover what PACE Parenting is all about

Learn how childcare workers and foster carers can incorporate the PACE model in their work

Learn how childcare workers and foster carers can help children who have attachment difficulties

Discuss the challenges that may arise when using PACE to provide care

Format: Sections of instruction, small group work and work in pairs. Whole group discussion

Handouts: You will receive a complete handout and additional information.

Attachment and Parenting With PACE

Attachment Theory states that children are more likely to seek safety from their primary caregivers (Golding & Hughes, 2012). Secure attachments will form when there is a steady and sensitive love. Secure attachments provide a sense safety and security. They regulate emotions by creating joy, soothing distress, and regulating emotions. This will provide a secure base to explore.

Secure Attachment vs. Insecure

Secure attachment has a positive impact on the brain of the child. It organizes itself to give the child the best foundation for their life. This includes a feeling that is safe, which results in an eagerness to learn and healthy self-awareness. Trust, empathy, and trust are all benefits. Parents who are not able to manage their own distress will find it difficult to soothe and calm. Insecure attachments can lead to insecure attachments that will prevent the child’s brain from functioning in its best ways. This can lead to problems in learning later in life, as well as mental and emotional development.

There are many behaviors that children exhibit that signal to parents that they need comfort and nurturing, such as crying, clinging, or just following. Children may also exhibit exploratory behaviors that indicate their willingness to explore the world. These signals can be picked up by sensitive parents who will support their child in exploring the world. This is what creates secure attachments. This will help you to understand the dynamics of relationships and act as a guide in your future and present relationships.

What is PACE? And WHY do we use it?

Parenting with PACE is about helping to build secure and loving relationships.

PACE has four elements.

Playfulness is the first element of PACE.

Infancy is the first time that playfulness begins. A child is born into a loving, open, and enthusiastic relationship. The first time a child experiences a positive, unconditional relationship is when they are able to play. The same authors claim that we are most connected when we play with children.