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The PACE approach – using the PACE model

Updated: Mar 14

PACE is an approach that was developed by Dr Dan Hughes to support recovery from developmental trauma, however, it is a tool that can be utilised with anybody who is dysregulated. The model is centred around building safe, trusting, and meaningful relationships with children and young people that have experienced trauma or attachment difficulties. PACE provides opportunities for the adults around the child to build on their attachments with children, by communicating and interacting in a way which helps children and young people feel safe.

Image describing the PACE Model

Using the PACE model in practice

The PACE model emphasises the importance of forming positive, empathic, compassionate, and responsive relationships with children who have experienced trauma. By using PACE, the adults around the child can create a nurturing environment where children can begin to feel safe, supported and valued.


A playful approach focuses on trying to evoke positive emotions and moments of connection. Playfulness brings fun and laughter to relationships, providing mutual enjoyment between carer and child and supporting children to learn to experience and regulate positive emotions. Playfulness can meet the child at their developmental age and provide opportunities for play and learning that the child may not have experienced before. Playfulness can be a distraction and support a low arousal approach to managing behaviours.


Acceptance is demonstrating to the child that you accept the wishes, feelings, thoughts, and motives that are underneath the presenting behaviour. It requires acknowledgement and validation of the child's experiences, feelings, and perspectives without judgment. Acceptance communicates to the child that they are worthy of love and belonging, regardless of their past experiences or current challenges. It is demonstrating that you can see the child as who they are beyond the behaviour.

Use phrases similar to “I can see how you feel that this is unfair, you wanted to go out” and “I can hear you saying that you hate me and you’re angry. I’m here for you, let’s have a chat when you feel that you want to”.


Curiosity encourages the adults around the child to approach the child with genuine interest to understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours without making assumptions. Curiosity involves asking open ended questions, active listening, and a desire to understand the child on a deeper level. By doing so support for the child can be individualised to meet their needs. Being curious is different from asking the child “why” with the expectation of a reply and it is not fact finding, it focusses on getting to know the child and letting them know that is the intention. Use phrases similar to; “I wonder if….”, “It sounds like you might be finding …… difficult” “When I was listening to you talking, I was starting to think that maybe you …….”. Using I instead of you statements can make it feel more comfortable for the child.


Empathy is the ability to understand and share the child's feelings, experiences, and perspectives. It requires caregivers and therapists to attune to the child's emotional state, validate their feelings, and provide empathic responses that convey understanding and compassion. Empathy helps the child feel seen, heard, and understood, fostering a sense of emotional connection and security in the relationship.

Learn more about:  Children’s Mental Health

Find out more about what we do:  Child Psychology Service




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