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April 2014



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So What is PACE?

by guest blogger & ACO Education Day presenter: Dawn Tracz

PACE is an approach to parenting that was developed by Dan Hughes. He developed it in response to the therapeutic work he had been doing with families who had experienced separations, foster care, abuse and/or adoption. Dr. Hughes started to approach his relationship with people who had experienced early loss, abuse and neglect, particularly with children, differently because he realized that kids who have had those experiences did not have the typical developmental and attachment experiences that nature intended them to have.

Traditional therapy for children in foster care focusses on behavior management and compliance to rules. He observed, and I have too, that often this approach does not reach children. Or they learn to follow the rules but they do not learn how to cope with deeply emotional experiences. As Dr. Hughes spent time with a grandchild he realized that what children needed, before they needed rules and behavior management was that they needed a caregiver who could connect with them on an emotional level. This emotional connection; known as attunement, helps the young child learn to understand and cope with his or her emotions. Attunement is the ability to understand how the other person is feeling. It’s the ability and desire to learn about what it is like for the other person to have their experience. It helps children learn about how they are in the world; that they are seen and part of the family and later one, the larger society. Once the parent and child are attuned then there is an opportunity to share experiences with one another.

For example a child is having a difficult day at school and it is reported to the parent that the child was disobedient because she would not remain in her seat. As the parent is curious about this child’s experience the father learns that the child had a nightmare the previous evening about a traumatic event that happened long before she came to live with her adoptive family. This nightmare has caused the child to be afraid that she will someday be forced to return to that person who was dangerous and so she had difficulty concentrating at school. Once the parent attuned to the child’s emotional state the behavior looks very different (attunement). The parent then shares with the child that he feels sad that his daughter is feeling scared and that she had a difficult experience in the past. The parent may even express that he wishes he could have protected his daughter from the event. That exchange is an example of inter-subjectivity. This is the process where the child learns that his or her behavior impacts on those around him, especially those who are closest to them. They also learn that their parent can have feelings about what happened to the child. Once those areas are addressed the child is free to hear whatever correction or guidance is offered.

Dr. Daniel A. Hughes developed the acronym PACE to help parents or caregivers attune to the child’s emotional state. It stands for playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. He developed this to help therapists and parents follow the guidelines so that attunement can occur.  Dr. Hughes believes, and I do to, that true healing occurs for all of us when another person understands us and for that moment, we feel that we are not alone. When we can look at another person and we know that we understand each other the healing happens. Connection and attunement show us both that we are in this together. Afterall, isn’t that why you wanted to be a parent in the first place?

[Register for ACO Education Day to attend Dawn's Workshop]


Posted: April 17, 2014 at 10:02 AM
By: Wendy Hayes
(0) Comment/s | Categories: ACO Education Day Guest Blogger
Looking Through the Adoption Lens: ACT Pilot Workshops

On Monday March 31, 2014 the ACO was thrilled to launch the first Pilot of its Introductory Workshop - Looking Through an Adoption Lens: Understanding the Complex Mental Health Needs of Children, Youth and Their Families. The Introductory Workshop is the first step in the ACO’s overall Adoption Competency Training (ACT) program for mental health professionals and others in Ontario. The Workshop will be piloted in other locations over the next two weeks as follows:

  • Monday March 31 – Toronto
  • Friday April 4 – Waterloo
  • Monday April 7 – Ottawa
  • Friday April 11 – Thunder Bay

In total over 90 Ontario mental health professionals and child welfare professionals have signed up to attend the full-day Workshop Pilots.

Once feedback from the Pilots has been analyzed and any changes to the Workshop made, the ACO plans to roll it out across the province beginning in the summer of 2014. A schedule of offerings will be developed over the spring months and made available on the ACO website and through other channels.

Development of the comprehensive ACT Syllabus is underway. Additional modules will be piloted and then delivered throughout 2014 and into 2015.

We’d like to thank the members of our four ACT Roundtable groups that first met  one year ago to begin the discussion about adoption competency training for mental health professionals in the province. We couldn’t have done it without the support and participation of each and everyone of them. Heartfelt thanks also goes to our adoptive families who provided us with their comments, views and suggestions through surveys the ACO undertook in 2012 and 2013. Finally, we’d like to acknowledge with thanks the Ontario Trillium Foundation who has provided the funding to develop and pilot the comprehensive ACT curriculum.

For further background information about the ACT project please see the newly developed ACT webpages on the ACO’s website at:

Any questions regarding the ACT or the Introductory Workshop can be directed to:

Kathy Soden
ACT Project Manager
(416) 481-0021 ext. 2990

Posted: April 4, 2014 at 08:20 AM
By: Wendy Hayes
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Adoption Competency Training
It’s not “what you do”, it’s “how you be”.

by Mary-Jo Land
Child Psychotherapist, and Play Therapist. Past President of ATTACh


“What should I do when my son lies?”

“What should we do when our daughter steals?”

“What should I do when my son hurts my other son?”

These are questions parents ask frequently. Before I learned about attachment disorder and the effects of early trauma and neglect, I would talk with parents about antecedents, behaviours and consequences. We would engage in conversations with the child about what the rules are and what will happen if they are broken. This dynamic is at play in most “Western” culture families, and is reflected in our society. Our legal systems focus on negative consequences for unwanted behaviour. We use police to gather evidence, courts to examine it and judges to decide the fate of the accused ne’er-do-well.  As a parent do you ever feel as though you have become the police, judge and jury when your children misbehave?  When behaviour is the focus, this is likely to occur.

This cognitive behavioural approach works well with typically-developing children; children who love and trust their parents and who strive to maintain concordance with them. This is the way most of us were raised. We didn’t want to get into trouble because we didn’t want to feel our parents’ disappointment, or experience unwanted emotional distance. Our actions were governed by the internal motivation of feeling we are in the good graces of our parents. Any breach in that feeling of the positive, protective relationship was uncomfortable if not painful. The rules that were broken were relatively minor, and correction came quickly with natural and logical consequences. The breach in the relationship was restored. This normal repair system worked because the child with secure attachment has an intact sense of self; she believes that she is good, worthy and valued; that parents are trustworthy and well-intended and the world is a safe and interesting place.

Children with early relational trauma begin life with a basic failure of the care-giving system. As a result, they do not develop a secure attachment characterized by trust in the benevolence of the adults in their lives. Rather than basking in the knowledge that they are loved and protected by their parents, they are uncertain about or fearful of their parents. Benevolence is not assumed. Maltreatment is anticipated. Rather than an intrinsic motivation to remain emotionally close and harmonious, the motivation becomes survival of the self through independence from others. We see this as pathological or precocious self-reliance. In this way, children with attachment disorder have not had the opportunity to learn to want to be acceptable to the primary care giver.  

Another aspect of this dynamic is the child’s need to avoid his own inner life. How can he examine feeling scared, rejected and shameful when he feels alone and without help to do that?  Without the ability to reflect on his own inner life, he struggles for any understanding of the inner life of others (Theory of Mind).  Affective and arousal dysregulation are common-- and frightening—experiences. Children with traumatic relational experiences often feel out of control. When a behavioural consequence is administered to a child who is out of his own control, the child may feel unjustly and unfairly punished because they did not consciously intend nor premeditate the misdeed. For some children though, punishment may be sought out as a way to have the parent see the “bad child” that the child believes he is. If punishment is given while the parent is angry or upset (frightening), the child is reinforced in his belief that parents are malevolent; and the attachment disorder is supported. 

One more reason why behavioural methods are not effective for children with disorders of attachment is that rewards and consequences are conditional on behaviour. The positive regard from parent to child is felt by the child to be conditional. In other words, “I know I am bad. My parents reward me when I am good, but deep down I know I am bad and not really worthy of a reward. They don’t love me when I am bad so that proves I am unloved / unlovable.” Parenting children with relational trauma requires therapeutic parenting. Providing your child with unconditional positive regard (not just love) is essential to gradually growing the seeds of a positive sense of self. This is about accepting your child as he or she is (while not permitting your child to do as he likes). Consistent unconditional positive regard for your child in the face of obnoxious or violent behaviour is one of the keys to reducing the deep shame the child feels. As you remain open, kind and calm in the face of your child’s dysregulation, she learns that no matter what, you accept the worst she has to give; the smeared feces, the broken lamps, the urine on the carpet, the terrorized dog and the disgruntled neighbours. As she experiences your love of the “bad child” whom she knows she is, along with the good child you want her to be, she can begin to trust that you won’t leave her, hurt her, or shun her.  Because you pay attention, care, understand and accept her, her shame has a place to heal. 

So when parents ask “What do I do?” I reply, “Create physical and emotional safety.  Be calm. Be kind. Be accepting.” Connect heart to heart with your child by staying close. Be wise and confident as you reflect her feelings so she can learn to understand them.  Talk about what happened only when your child is calm and able to listen. Work out what to do (repair, give restitution, reconcile) only after your child’s emotions and behaviour have re-stabilized through your positive regard. Natural and logical consequences need to be short and occur when the child is calm and hopefully, willing. Parents of children with attachment disorders should not expect to change behaviour but to teach that limits can be safe and not shaming. The change in behaviour will occur through the process of the development of attachment as the child’s shame is reduced and self-regulation develops. Emphasis needs to be on relationship repair not punishment. Try to end the event with you and your child feeling as close as or closer than when it began. If fact, it isn’t over until you are.    

Posted: February 28, 2014 at 08:00 AM
By: Wendy Hayes
(11) Comment/s | Categories: Adoption Competency Training Adoption Support Guest Blogger
Enough Already! Thoughts from an Adoptee

By Guest Blogger: Laurie

I’m an adoptee and apparently that means that I’m supposed to be mad as hell, poorly adjusted, have low self-esteem and be unable to build or maintain meaningful relationships!

Well enough already. I can speak for myself. I know how I feel and I don’t need to be told how I should feel or what my life and relationships will be like because I’m adopted. Everyone that’s been adopted will have a different experience. Some will be positive ones and some will not. Some will be tolerable and some will be awful. I am not downplaying or minimizing anyone’s experience but this is my life journey, mine and I resent anyone telling me what it should be or has been. My family was not perfect but that’s the case with most families. Adoption is not unique in that. My parents are the ones who took care of me, raised me to be the person I am today, who know my story from the beginning, who share a history with me and who were there for me when I needed a family.

The mother who gave birth to me did not forget me or cease to feel the emotions of motherhood but as an adoptee my experience was different. I called someone else mother, a woman who was present and mothering. The mother who had given birth to me was absent.

I have had in my life two mothers and two fathers. One mother and father are my parents because they raised me, my other mother and father are my parents even though they didn’t. I know some won’t understand or agree with me but that’s my reality and only I get to define what family means to me.

Posted: February 21, 2014 at 08:04 AM
By: Wendy Hayes
(5) Comment/s | Categories: Adoptees Adoption Support Guest Blogger
Family Day & Adoption

For many, putting the words “adoption” and “celebrate” in the same sentence can be an understandably sensitive subject. Though there is no doubt that bringing a family together through adoption is a good thing, the process often comes with its own feelings of loss and grief, which must be respected. While trying to find resources which would guide celebrating family on February 17, in light of adoption, I struggled to find anything at all. (In fact most search results yielded articles and blogs about ‘gotcha day’ for which it appears there are again, mixed opinions).

The ACO has seen many people speak to the unique ways they have helped their adopted children to navigate their often times complex feelings about their adoptions. I recall one family re-celebrating birthdays that they had missed out on while they were still waiting for their daughter to come into the family. (Read the article here)

There are many ways to explore your children’s adoption with them. One thing that the ACO Youth Network has told us is that it’s good to keep things open, but not to push if they’re not ready. Family Day was created to spend time with your family, it’s the perfect opportunity to let your children know that you are open to talking about their adoption story, and have the time set aside to do so in an otherwise busy schedule. Here are some “Conversation Hearts” to get you started.

  • Read a story about adoption together– many books stores carry picture books which are adoption focused stories. Or you could write your own!
  • Playtime – dolls and action figures are a great gateway to exploring the idea of adoption
  • Watch movies – there are many movies which deal with adoption. From Superman to Despicable Me, find something that would interest your child.
  • Ask questions – being open can sometimes mean being direct.

Remember you are not alone! There are a lot of great resources here that can help you guide how to keep the conversation open:

We would love to hear from you! How do you plan on spending family day? In what unique ways have you honored your child’s adoption? What experiences have you had when addressing your child’s story?

Just remember: You don’t have to be perfect to be an adoptive parent!

Posted: February 5, 2014 at 10:40 AM
By: Wendy Hayes
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Adoption Support

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