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PACEful Parenting: How To Build A Healthy Relationship With Your Child (At Any Age)

Parenting is hard. As parents, we avoid this difficult truth because we feel it somehow reflects our quality of parenting, but it doesn’t! It’s one of the most difficult (yet rewarding) thing’s you’ll ever do in life. One thing that many parents struggle with is building a positive relationship with their child that promotes open, honest communication, allowing their child to feel comfortable sharing important details about their life. 

This aspect of a parent-child relationship is especially important when you’re parenting teens. Communication often becomes more difficult at this age and your child’s personal struggles become much more complex. Their insecurities are at an all-time high as they try to accept themselves for who they are, and it’s not uncommon for them to feel misunderstood or judged when opening up about their life. On top of all that, teens’ actions are often subject to higher levels of criticism, leaving them worried and anxious about what’s going to happen if they truthfully share their mistakes with their parents. 

The good news is that strong, healthy parenting styles can be learned at any stage, and you can begin building a more positive and honest relationship with your child by including 4 important aspects into your day-to-day interactions with them. 


What Is The PACE Model? 

The PACE model was developed by clinical psychologist Dan Hughes, and is used in an evidence-based treatment called Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP). PACE is made up of 4 actions aimed to create a safe environment for children, through enhancing how parents communicate, behave, model, think, and feel about their children and how they interact with them each day.

The PACE model focuses on 4 major areas you can build into your parenting, which includes: 

P – Playfulness 

A – Acceptance 

C – Curiosity

E – Empathy


Why Is PACE Important In Your Relationship With Your Child? 

When you incorporate PACE into your parenting style, you’ll be creating a solid foundation of trust, honesty, and understanding to support your child in ways that are easy to incorporate in your everyday life with them. 

The 4 pillars of PACE offer unique benefits to your child, such as giving them the confidence to explore and grow knowing they are fully supported by you, encouraging emotional growth (through 2 of the pillars specifically), and helping them develop a strong awareness and understanding of themselves, building confidence in their feelings, choices, and actions.

Before you can start including these methods in your parenting, it’s important to know what each pillar provides both you, and your child with. Let’s break them down. 

PACE – Playfulness

Playfulness is an area that is particularly important in your child’s early years, however, it can be introduced to your relationship with them at any stage, which we’ll discuss more in the next section. 

The most important benefits of Playfulness include: 

  • Helping you connect with your child on their level, and in a way that they can control
  • Involving you in their interests, allowing you to share in their joy
  • Providing you with a great way to better understand them, and experience how they see the world around them
  • Showing them that you genuinely care about spending time with them
  • Helping your child learn in a fun way (particularly in the early years)
  • Helping them develop creativity, emotional awareness, cognitive thinking, and strong social skills. 
  • Helping them open up and be able to share what’s truly on their minds. Through play, children feel more secure and can handle more risk, making the serious topics feel less heavy


PACE – Acceptance

Acceptance is arguably one of the most vital aspects of any strong parenting style and is also one of the more challenging ones to develop. 

Acceptance plays an equally important role in your child’s relationship with themselves and with you. These benefits include: 

  • Teaching them forgiveness, both in themselves and others
  • Learning that mistakes are okay 
  • Accepting themselves, and feeling confident that you will always accept them too
  • Building a healthy relationship with themselves and their peers
  • Learning to trust themselves
  • Developing a strong emotional awareness
  • Teaching strong problem-solving skills and objective thinking


PACE – Curiosity

Curiosity is the pillar that has the strongest influence on your child’s understanding of themselves in 4 big ways, including: 

  • Teaching your child to be observant of their wants and needs
  • Encouraging lifelong learning
  • Learning how to explain their thinking 
  • Helping them find their passions 


PACE – Empathy

Empathy is a skill many people struggle with. It’s also one that is continually evolving throughout our lives. It’s a skill that is heavily influenced by our own personal experiences and can be difficult to master, but when you’re mindful about its inclusion in your parenting, you’ll help your child: 

  • Feel understood and feel safe being vulnerable
  • Build emotional awareness of both themselves and others
  • Know their experiences and emotions are valid 
  • Be confident in helping you understand their perspectives
  • Accept and manage their emotional responses
  • Develop resilience


How Can You Include PACE In Your Daily Interactions With Your Child?

Now that you know how each pillar can help your child, you may be wondering how you can start including each one in your parenting style. While some will require more work than others, there are a few things you can include every day from each category to create a healthier relationship with your child. 

Parenting with Playfulness

Playful parenting has 4 main aspects that determine its success. It’s important that your interactions are meaningful, engaging, fun, and enjoyable (for everyone). This pillar also falls into one of the 6 characteristics of strong families; quality time, making it a skill that is exceptionally important to develop. The best ways to include this into your everyday interactions are: 

  • Starting your day with something fun and playful
  • Letting your child choose the activity
  • Being dramatic and expressive, and SILLY!
  • Prioritizing playtime every day

It is also important to take time to observe your child’s play styles both when they’re playing alone, and with friends. Be aware of how they interact with others, and how they self entertain. This can give you a great insight into how they experience the world around them. 

Being playful with teens can look quite different than with young children, however, it is still an important aspect to include in your interactions with them. When you spend time being playful and silly with your teens, you provide opportunities for them to bring out their inner child and create an environment where they can relax and connect with you in less serious ways. Playfulness with teens can include: 

  • Joking together (or learning a few kid jokes to tell other family members)
  • Trying out a new TikTok trend 
  • Dance and/or sing (the sillier, the better!)
  • Taking them out for a fun night of their choosing 
  • Playing a sport with them
  • Watching a funny movie (and reenacting your favourite lines)

*Note to parents: In these stressful times, it may be harder to find or create playful and silly moments. As adults, we tend to be more serious when we’re anxious or stressed, and our teens experience the same thing. Try to be intentional about being playful or silly with your teen and try to connect to your own inner child in these shared moments of joy and ridiculousness. It may feel awkward, but it’ll pave the way for your kids to embrace themselves– and your inner child will be glad for it too. 


Parenting with Acceptance

This is a difficult one because often, we as adults still haven’t fully accepted ourselves. We may still have our own triggers that can influence how we handle the situations we’re involved in. It’s important to remember that when interacting with your child, you must avoid responding to your triggers and not have your feelings overtake the interaction you are having with your child. Here are some ways to build acceptance into your relationships: 

  • Accept your own triggers and reactions by labelling your emotions, knowing they are yours and do not fall on your child. Put them aside to focus on your child’s experience without projecting your emotions onto them (this is SUPER hard, especially when we’re stressed, but it’s essential)
  • Remove judgement from your interactions with your child
  • Assure them they can talk to you about anything, and prove it through your actions when they do open up
  • Verify your understanding of what they’re telling you. Repeat back what you hear in an accepting way to check if your understanding of it is correct, reminding them that what they’re feeling is okay, and makes sense
  • Show an interest in their lives outside the family dynamic, in a positive, supportive way
  • Listen to what they are telling you, even if it’s asking for space. It’s difficult to respect that request, but it is important that your child feels heard. Make sure they know that you’ll be there for them when they’re ready, and then respect their request by giving them space. This is especially important with teens and will help them feel understood, supported, and respected. When you do this, remember to always come back around to check in with them and reinforce that they’re not alone.


Parenting with Curiosity

Curiosity is a great way to encourage your child to explore the world around them and help them gain a better understanding of themselves. Try to include some of the following each day: 

  • Challenge your child with questions, experiments, and new opportunities
  • Encourage them to try new things
  • Explore new places with them
  • Allow your child to play without intervening (unless absolutely necessary). This will help them to experiment with new things and engage with them in their own, unique way. If they ask you to play with them, follow their lead, letting them control the play environment. 
  • Be curious about their world. Ask questions and make observations, by using “I wonder” statements, such as “I wonder what that sound could be”. Use these statements as a way to “think out loud” and get your child thinking, while also still letting them lead
  • Observe the interests of your child and encourage them to explore these interests.  Try providing opportunities for them to engage in these special activities. 


Parenting with Empathy

Empathy is a skill that is something that can greatly strengthen your relationship with your child almost instantly. . It shows them that you care about their experiences and that you deeply understand them. Here are some of the best ways to respond empathetically to your child each day: 

  • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings. While older children are able to verbally express how they’re feeling, younger children may not have the words to explain them, so it’s important that you help them understand what they’re feeling and how that is being shown. Think of what it looks like when your child is mad. Help them understand this feeling by explaining why they are mad, and how you knew they were mad. Think of something like “I can see you’re mad that you didn’t get to have the snack you wanted because you’re screaming”. This will help them not only know what they’re feeling, but also allow them to pair their reaction to their emotion 
  • Show your child the importance of thinking about others by discussing other people’s feelings, and showing them how you think about those around you
  • Validate your child’s feelings by telling them it’s okay to feel the way they do at that moment and emphasize that it makes sense they would feel that emotion. 
  • Listen without interrupting them
  • Avoid solving problems for them. Instead, talk through the problem with them, and help them come up with a solution for it, without actually being the one who fixes it.
  • When your child is struggling, wait for them to be calm and able to think clearly again, then ask them what they need from you to help
  • Remind them they aren’t alone, and they will always have you to help them

Remember, your children’s emotions are just as big and complex as yours, but they are still learning how to navigate them. Take every opportunity to help them understand and work through these emotions, and you will not only see your relationship grow but also create an environment where your child feels supported and loved, opening up to you whenever things get tough. 

When you include PACE in your parenting style, you will begin developing deeper connections with your child and reinforce your role in their life. This will allow them to feel respected, understood, and fully supported. PACEful parenting will help create open and honest conversations where they will begin opening up to you and involving you in the more vulnerable aspects of their life, and feel more safe to do so. 


Anna Raworth, MSW RSW CPT is trained in DDP, attending both Level 1 and Level 2 trainings both in Canada and virtually in the USA. She utilizes these aspects in her work with any age, and often has family sessions or parent sessions to support this learning and way of being.