What is Therapeutic Parenting?
When we think of traditional parenting styles, we often think of reward and punishment-based approaches. These parenting styles rely on the idea that children will increase or decrease their behaviours based on rewards and punishments.
However, for children without emotionally secure bases – such as children in foster care – these parenting styles can be less effective because they focus on regulating behaviour rather than understanding it.
The word ‘therapeutic’ is associated with the idea of healing. This notion of ‘healing’ speaks to the key ideas and principles behind therapeutic parenting. Therapeutic Parenting does not mean practising psychological therapy on your child, though.
Instead, the principles of Therapeutic Parenting are based on creating highly-nurturing, highly-structured relationships between children and their parents. These relationships combine empathy with well-defined boundaries, routines, and behavioural expectations.
Because of its healing-based approach, therapeutic parenting is an excellent tool for foster carers. A lot of foster children have experienced traumatic experiences in their life, and may suffer from varying degrees of attachment trauma, meaning they require therapeutic care.
This style of parenting allows children to creature secure attachments and begin healing, as it cultivates feelings of safety and security.
Boundaries and Routines
Establishing firm boundaries and routines is a core part of therapeutic parenting. This includes having fixed mealtimes and bedtimes, or even having a fixed seat at the dinner table.
These routines and boundaries helps children to predict their environments, enabling them to feel safe and develop a sense of security within the home setting. The consistency of routines and boundaries can be comforting, especially for children that have experienced instability throughout their lives, like foster children.
This includes minimising surprises, as surprises represent a change in the child’s routine. In young children especially, the sensation of surprise can be confused with the sensation of fear, creating a fear response.
In therapeutic parenting, reward and punishment-based approaches are replaced with more empathetic practices. Empathy refers to the ability to ‘feel’ with someone, particularly difficult emotions.
When a child is upset or distressed, an empathetic approach means their carer can feel and relate to those feelings of sadness and distress as well. By feeling what your child is feeling, and putting yourself in their shoes, you can communicate your understanding of their experience and support them through it.
This is particularly important in the building of strong, healthy connections between a parent/carer and their child.
As aforementioned, therapeutic parenting does not use punishment or rewards to mark a child’s behaviour. Instead, therapeutic parenting calls for the use of empathy-based responses to a child’s behaviour. These responses are aimed at helping children regulate their emotions, rather than making them feel anxious, isolated or abandoned.
Empathic responses include never asking a child ‘why’ they have done something, but rather commenting on the way they chose to express their feelings. You might say something like ‘that is an interesting choice you have made,’ or ‘I can see you are really struggling with this’ or ‘you seem upset, I wonder if you might be a bit tired.’
Another therapeutic parenting technique is practicing ‘time-ins’, rather than ‘time-outs.’ In a time-in scenario, rather than isolating the child for misbehaving, the child spends a period of time close to their carer, in order to ensure their safety and help them calm down.
For instance, if a child needs to leave the room because they are exhibiting strong emotions or challenging behaviour, their care giver will leave the room with them, and help them work through their feelings. This helps the child feel connected and supported with their caregiver, helping them to better grasp why their behaviour may not have been appropriate.
How can I be more therapeutic in my parenting?
Therapeutic parenting involves recognising that your child’s behaviour is communication. Your main goal should be helping them move from an emotionally dysregulated state, to a regulated one, without the use of punishment or isolation.
It can be difficult to maintain a therapeutic approach to parenting all the time, so its important to remember self-compassion. It can be tough to exercise emotional restraint sometimes, especially when your child is acting in a challenging way. However, if a caregiver can adopt a therapeutic approach to their parenting even most of the time, this will have a considerable positive impact on the development of their child, allowing them to build healthy, secure attachments.
At Compass, we encourage our carers to begin with the PACE model when adopting a therapeutic parenting style.
The PACE model, developed by psychologist Dan Hughes, is comprised of four principles of communication: playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy. The PACE approach provides a framework for supporting children throughout emotional and behavioural challenges.
Find out more about PACE parenting.
• Learn more about therapeutic parenting at the National Association of Therapeutic Parents
• Check out Kim S. Golding’s book ‘Everyday Parenting with Security and Love: Using PACE to Provide Foundations for Attachment’
• Beacon House has numerous online resources, including therapeutic parenting
At Compass, all our foster carers receive essential training that prepares them for therapeutic foster parenting. We also offer additional therapeutic care and support for our children, alongside specialised education plans that are aimed at supporting our young people and ensuring they achieve the best outcomes possible.
If you’d like to make a difference to the life of a child by becoming a foster carer, you can get in touch with us here.