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Understanding the PACE Model

Updated: May 16

PACE is a trauma informed approach developed by Clinical Psychologist Dan Hughes which 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 adults to build on their attachments with children, by communicating and interacting in a way which helps children and young people feel safe. PACE stands for Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.


For children and young people with a background of neglect, abuse, or loss, it can be difficult for them to realise adults are safe, friendly, and caring towards them. Playfulness is a great way of showing them that there is still plenty of room for fun and relaxing interactions even during difficult times. Playful moments can reduce the shame a child might feel when something has gone wrong and reassures them that your disagreement is only temporary and will not impact the strength of your relationship.

Examples of playfulness:

- Try using a light tone of voice and positive facial expressions to show your interest

- Try adding enjoyment to your social interactions whenever you can


Acceptance is a fundamental aspect of developing a therapeutic relationship with children and young people who have experienced trauma because it shows that you can connected with their feelings and emotions without judgement. It communicates that your positive regard for a child is unconditional, regardless of the way they behave. It is showing a child that you accept the thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories which are associated with a particular behaviour, even if you don’t agree with the behaviour itself.

Examples of acceptance:

- “I can see you’re angry at me, I’ll still be here for you after you calm down”

- “I’m disappointed with how you behaved, but I still care about you”


Curiosity is wondering about the reasons behind the behaviour of the child which often leads to a better understanding. By being curious we as adults are simply trying to understand ‘why’ and help the child, rather than lecture and convey annoyance. When we direct non-judgemental curiosity towards a child’s experience, they will become more open to understanding this experience themselves.

Examples of curiosity:

- “I’m wondering if you broke that telly because you were angry”

- “I’m thinking you might be slightly nervous about going back to school today and that’s why you don’t want to get ready this morning”


Empathy is actively showing a child that their feelings are important to you, that you are alongside them during difficult times and that they’re not alone. Rarely can a response make something better, empathy is all about the connection with a child.

Examples of empathy:

- “You’re crying I can feel that pain, I want to be here for you”

- “I know it must be hard for you to hear what I’m saying”

As with anything being PACE-ful in our responses to a child takes plenty of practice. However, through Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy our relationship with children and young people will grow and flourish to benefit the mental health and emotional wellbeing of everyone involved.

To find out more about the PACE approach to therapeutic parenting, get in contact with our team at bMindful who offer a wide range of training for supporting children and young people that have experienced trauma.

To find out more about bMindful Psychology as a specialist psychology service with particular expertise in supporting the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people.

Key References

Hughes, D.A. & Baylin, J. (2012). Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Golding, K.S. & Hughes, D.A. (2012). Creating Loving Attachments: Parenting with PACE to Nurture Confidence and Security in the Troubled Child. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Read more about Children's Mental Health

Join us for an engaging online event on Thursday 23rd May, 2024 at 4:00PM BST. This webinar is designed to give you an introduction on how care teams can effectively implement the PACE model once completed the full training! Follow the link below to the eventbrite page:


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