Complex Histories, Complex Difficulties

Are you wondering why your tamariki or rangatahi (child or young person) does not learn from experience, or has no understanding of what they did was wrong, or has no empathy or remorse for others?

Many young people do well in spite of adverse and traumatic experiences while growing up. However, far too many of those who end up in our child protection system have survived by adapting to those adverse conditions.

It can be hard to understand why young people who have complex histories and complex difficulties seem not to learn from experience and particularly do not seem to learn from punishment. It is easy to label them as bad, but it is more realistic to see them as hurt and injured and doing the best they can to survive.

When placed into a new environment tamariki / children often struggle, not understanding how to connect to others or how to navigate their new social world and environment. They may have even been in this new world for some time, but their survival adaption is part of who they are, and this takes time to change. This adaption is usually what creates the behaviours as they fight to stay in a world that is familiar for them.

Knowing this we need to embrace new ways of assisting, supporting and socialising tamariki so that we can move them from isolation to connection and empowerment. To do this we need to have a deep understanding of them, and we need to have compassion. This, over time, will allow them to see themselves in a new and more positive light.

So how do we do this…

At Fostering Kids NZ we have been using Dan Hughes’ model of PACE for some time now. PACE is an acronym for ‘Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy. Using PACE allows caregivers to build a connection to the tamariki / children or rangatahi / young people. The relationship and connection are the key to the child learning to trust adults. They need to know you will be there for them, to love them unconditionally.

Particularly important is the A & E (Acceptance and Empathy) or as it states above understanding and compassion.

For those of you who have been on our LIFT programme you will have an understanding of PACE already.  As with all new things we often slip back into our default mode, which for most of us is the traditional parenting style that we have all been brought up with. We know that this often does not work for children in care, as it is based on behaviour management, not on connection before correction. So, if you have learnt about PACE, remember to use the Acceptance and Empathy when things get difficult. The warmth that this provides will challenge their internal working model.

Next issue of Snippets we will explore A & E in more detail.

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