Parenting techniques have understandably changed over the years. Whilst everyone has different ideas of what makes a good parent, there is no denying that the main goal is to make their child feel safe. But this can be tricky when raising a child with trauma. You can create a warm, loving, and safe environment, but sometimes, this can still lead to rejection. That is because it is not enough for a child with trauma to be safe- they need to feel safe. Only then can connections be formed for healing to begin.

Therapeutic Parenting

That’s where Therapeutic parenting comes in. Often criticized by outsiders as ‘soft’ or ‘lazy’ parenting, it is actually the opposite. Therapeutic parenting is nurturing care that adheres to strict routines and boundaries. It is also about understanding that the child’s behaviour is communication.

The PACE model

Its model is based on that of psychologist Dan Hughes’ PACE – playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy.

Playfulness creates moments of connection to teach the child in your care that things can change. It is looking for the joy in every day. It can often be the hardest component of the PACE model and usually comes after the others have been built upon.

The next aspect of the PACE model is acceptance. A child needs to know they are accepted unconditionally, whatever their behaviour. This doesn’t mean you ignore their actions, but rather reassure them that you’re in this together and will always be there for them. Therapeutic parenting is understanding why your child or young person acts a certain way. If a child does something destructive and you ask them why they did it, they will most probably not know the answer. Whilst this can be frustrating, the ideal of therapeutic parenting is understanding and accepting where the child or young person in your care is mentally and emotionally. Instead of saying ‘why did you do that’ it’s more constructive to say, ‘I understand that you’re trying to express yourself and that maybe things are tough right now- what can I do to help?’

Curiosity comes next, and this is to help with the child in your care’s self-reflection. As with acceptance, this is how you approach their behaviour and its reasons. If a child who is usually talkative on the way to school becomes quiet after a few days of having a different teacher, you might normally say ‘why are you so quiet?’ Again, they probably don’t know why or how to express their feelings. They may even view the question with mistrust and think they are being rejected. Instead, the therapeutic approach would be, ‘I notice you’re quieter than usual. Perhaps you’re nervous about having a different teacher to the one you’re used to?’  Asking questions with curiosity helps to create connections and allows the child to recognise their feelings.

Adhering to a strict routine can be very difficult for any child, but it is necessary for creating boundaries. Imagine the scene- your child or young person is having a great time, playing games, but you’ve correctly set routines, and now it’s time for bed. They are unwilling to accept that their fun is over and start to behave negatively. This is where empathy comes in. Traditional parenting may well say ‘tough, its your bedtime, you’re going.’ which can lead to worse behaviour and can have detrimental effects to the connections you have already made. Therapeutic parenting techniques suggest that instead, you should try something like, ‘I can see how you might think I’m being unfair.’ The outcome is still the same. They’ve still got to go to bed, but by empathising with them, you’re building on and creating those connections as their emotions are once again being accepted.