Being a parent is joyous, overwhelming, extraordinary and exasperating.
Before I became a mum I had often heard that what you want as a parent is ‘happy kids’.
I absolutely want happy kids. But I also want loving kids. Compassionate kids. Confident kids. Kids living to their full potential.
In our home we are often sharing our lives with others and I had imagined that simply engaging my children in this process, modelling for them what it means to be compassionate, would ensure that they would be caring little humans. However, the screaming at each other, picking fights and stubbornly refusing to help that baby sister that they so desperately wanted would suggest that my way isn’t working!
PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) is a way of thinking, feeling, communicating and behaving that we are trying to be more intentional about using in our day to day parenting. Simply, it is a way that I can stop lecturing my children and have more fun in teaching them why and how to be responsive to the needs around them while ensuring that their emotional needs are met too.
Playfulness is not about being funny all the time or making jokes when a child is sad. Being playful is a way of adding elements of fun to our day to day life. Being playful allows children to nurture their own sense of humour and have confidence in their relationship with you, just like when they were a baby and you played peek a boo, disappearing to reappear again in a game. This can build confidence, that when they are feeling hopeless in a situation, you will reappear again to support them.
Along with Playfulness, Unconditional acceptance is at the core of every child’s need to feel safe. It is also at the core of teaching children compassion. My 3 year old is one of the most self confident people in existence. She absolutely knows that she is adored, loved and no matter what her behaviour is, those around her do not judge her on her worst moments but love her no matter what.
Strangers often wonder how miss 3 copes with babies entering and leaving our family after a few months. Our gorgeous girl is the most loving child to these babies, no matter how long they stay. Smothering them with the love that they need, never focussing on the role change she goes through frequently from being the ‘baby’ in the house to the ‘big girl’. While Miss 3 can’t verbalise what happens to her role, we have coached her to be Curious. “What do you think the baby needs?”
“I wonder what would happen if you yelled near a sleeping baby.”
This is different from lecturing her. Curiosity allows her to reflect on her behaviour and the world around her and how they impact upon each other.
Finally Empathy. Empathy allows a person to feel your compassion. I have been trying this more at home in the last few nights as I feel my temper rising. I am practising responding gently to my kids as they grapple to find an excuse for why they left their bags strewn about the floor or why they ‘accidently’ threw the cup at their brother. Empathy means that they I care about their pain and am prepared to meet them when they need it the most.
It may seem a strange way to teach a child to be compassionate. Surely taking them down to the park and having them hand out sandwiches to the homeless would be much quicker! However, PACE focuses on the whole child, not just the behaviour. When a child feels safe, loved and nurtured they have the freedom to discover ways to make themselves and those around them better.
Wife, Mum, Foster Mum
& MOPS Australia Field Leader