P.A.C.E yourself: How to build emotional connection with your child

We all want to do what’s best for our children – to have that secure attachment relationship. But all of the parenting books, courses and resources can feel overwhelming and conflicting! How do we stay emotionally connected with our children whilst also teaching and guiding them through challenges?

That’s why we like to follow a simple four letter acronym.


Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

Dan Hughes’ simple acronym spells out the attitude which helps parents to strengthen the relationship with their children, by remaining emotionally available and engaged.

Why is it important for parents to be emotionally available and engaged?

Children are vulnerable in their younger years, being completely dependent on their parents for survival. We offer food, protection and emotional regulation. If we are emotionally unavailable with our children, they lose trust that we’ll take care of these most basic needs. This sends them into high alert and quite rightly so! It’s only through openness and emotional connection that we allow our children to relax and feel safe with us. In turn, that shapes a child’s sense of self and perception of safety in the world.  

What is P.A.C.E and how do I bring it into my relationship?


Do you ever feel closer to a friend after you’ve had a good old laugh and joke about something? This is because a shared experience of positive emotion, such as joy, strengthens our trust in relationships.

And it works exactly the same with our children. 

If we regularly make space for playfulness and humour, our children are more responsive and feel more secure. Playfulness can also be a great way to teach an important lesson or value to your children too. 

Could you teach them about the importance of telling the truth by reading them the story of Pinocchio ? Or perhaps you could dust the Lego figures off to re-enact the same lesson. We know by keeping it humorous and playful, children really listen and value your message rather than feeling bad about themselves and becoming defensive about being told off.  


Be willing to meet your child where they are in the present moment. Let the tears flow and the anger pour out. Do not try to change these emotions because they serve an important purpose. 

If your child is arguing with friends at school it’s natural to want to magic their pain away and make them see how wonderful they are. But if we jump in with things like “Hannah still likes to play with you” or “Just ignore them, they’re just petty girls ‘ we subconsciously tell our children to squish down their uncomfortable feelings and that a part of them is not okay.

 We need our children to feel heard and understood in challenging moments.

So can you take a step back and lend a listening ear? Really acknowledge and normalise those tricky feelings by saying something like “That sounds really tough and I can see that when Rebecca said that it made you feel upset and self-conscious”. 


So am I just supposed to sit back and let my child struggle? Of course not, we think the best thing you can do is approach the situation with curiosity. Letting your child figure out the best thing to do is part of them growing up and becoming independent, but become their scaffold in the process. Support them with their thinking by asking open-ended questions and help them to gain perspective on their situation without assuming that you know the ‘right’ answer. 

One way you can become curious is by using our favourite phrase “I wonder if…”. 

“I wonder if she knew that her words came across in an angry tone of voice”

“I wonder if she didn’t have a lot of sleep the night before and that led to her snapping at you”


Empathy is difficult to get right and is a skill learnt over time. It’s not pity. It’s letting your child know that they aren’t alone with their feelings. It’s thinking back to when you were their age and remembering how big and overwhelming particular emotions or situations felt. With our adult wisdom, we often fall into the trap of minimising our child’s experience with sayings like “You’ll realise that the teacher was only doing what’s best for you”. But instead, can you take a moment to remember how unfair and unjust school life could be and say something like “I can see that this feels really unfair to you and I felt like that when I was your age too”. 

If you can keep PACE when teaching or coaching your child around something tricky you will support your attachment relationship, their healthy brain development and reducing the drama. Win-win!

If you would like any help in applying PACE or other therapeutic parenting approaches consider booking in a consultation with us. These are 60 or 90 minutes long sessions with one of our psychologists. Or consider our Crack the Code, our self-paced parenting masterclass.

Until next time,

Pocket Family Psychologist

Written by Ellie Harper.

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"Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative"

“Dr Andrea Shortland’s session for MediaCom on a children’s mental health was incredibly informative. During the second period of lockdown and home-schooling; parents and children found themselves again in a period of upheaval and transition. Many parents and carers were extremely worried about their children’s mental health and their own ability to be present and engaged whilst also playing the role of teacher and care giver. Dr Shortland gave attendees an insight into how many parents were feeling; tips on supporting children and helping them cope whilst studying from home and also managing their mental health. She also helped us realise the importance of taking care of ourselves in order to effectively support our children. It was such a useful session that we realise it was also pertinent for not only children’s mental health but also adults! We will be holding another session with Dr Andrea and MediaCom soon.”

Avelon Thompson, MediaCom (following a parenting workshop)