For those of us caring for and parenting children with Developmental Trauma it is clear that established methods don’t work. Most of us will have tried warnings, consequences, behaviour systems and ignoring. Some of these may work, some of the time, but for most of us they don’t work at all and can even make matters worse. Exhausting the traditional methods leaves the toolbox empty, and parents and children living in a war zone feeling stressed and exhausted.
Shame is central to Therapeutic Parenting because our children are bathed in the shame that what has happened to them is somehow their fault. On top of this they know that life is dangerous, unpredictable and unsafe and that trust and love only make them more vulnerable. Threaten to take away a toy, or an outing and they will be more convinced still that they are undeserving and bad. They may appear not bothered, or they may shout and rage at you. Either way, something’s for sure, they’ll repeat an offense over and over until you gasp ‘nothing works’.
Dan Hughes the American Clinical Psychologist who has done so much to establish effective therapeutic methods of working with traumatised children, advocates the use of PACE. PACE stands for Playful, Accepting, Curious and Empathetic. This is the way we must approach and reach our children. It means that we must try to see the world through their eyes and stay with them through the most difficult times. We must ask ‘I wonder why you kicked your sister in the leg’ ‘I wonder why that made you so angry’ ‘I noticed that you found that hard’ ‘I wonder what that was about, let’s try to figure it out together’.
It is very hard to do and requires practise but it works. It helps to reduce the shame and anxiety our children feel and gives them the message that someone is listening and understanding. Playfulness, humour and fun help our children to see that we experience them as likeable individuals who we choose to spend time with. That’s not to say that they must learn some behaviours are unacceptable, but even appropriate consequences can be managed using PACE.
All this has been the refresher that I needed and I have learnt some new things too. The golden nugget of the day was Acts of Random Kindness, little rewards given at unexpected moments because our children exist and not because they’ve done something to earn it, in other words, because they’re worth it.