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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patty Richardson

A New Way to Connect With Your T(w)een: Reflective Listening

Reflective listening is an approach to communication that encourages kids to reflect and openly share their thoughts and feelings. Building reflective listening into your relationship with your teen will help strengthen your emotional connectedness, support their emotional wellness, and make it more likely that they'll come to you with their challenges in the future.


How-tos of Reflective Listening


1. Stick with open-ended questions. When we ask a Y/N question, it pulls for a one-word response. For example, if you ask "did you do your homework?" the response has to be either yes or no. Y/N questions aren't exactly the most effective way to get a conversation rolling. Positively, open-ended questions allow your child to reflect and relay the information that is most important to them. A few examples of open-ended questions you could ask:

  • I was wondering what things have been like for you over the past few days?

  • I could imagine that some kids would feel nervous about starting the summer program--what kinds of feelings have come up for you?

  • I'm curious--what have been some of the thoughts running through your head about [situation]?

  • What have been some of the hardest parts of [situation] for you?

  • I'd love to hear about some the best things of your relationships with your friends--how they're special to you?


2. Acknowledge and Validate. It is helpful to acknowledge and validate your child's responses by restating what they have shared with you. Validating their response doesn't mean that you agree with it--you're simply acknowledging that their experience is real. It can also be helpful to share your own thoughts and feelings (up to a certain point). Some examples:

  • You've been really worried about your friend.

  • You've been handling things well but sometimes friend drama on social media stresses you out.

  • I'm with you, I've been thinking about losing your aunt, too. I miss her deeply. [appropriate parent disclosure]

*Up to a Certain Point. Sharing your own thoughts/feelings can help t(w)eens connect with you authentically. However, it is important monitor how much you disclose. If what you share could add to your child's distress or take the focus away from them, reign it in, and use open-ended questions to tilt the conversation back toward your child's experiences.



3. Be Present Set your phone aside, turn off the tv, put away your laptop. Being present during reflective listening sends a strong message to your child that what they're sharing matters. Your child might ask you questions. If you know the answer--try to respond to the best of your ability. It's also ok to be honest when you're not sure.



4. The "Don'ts" of Reflective Listening Please remember that the "listening" part of reflective listening is key. Make sure that the focus of the conversation involves your child sharing and you listening.

  • Avoid launching into problem-solving mode.

  • Avoid statements that might inadvertently suggest that your child's feelings are not acceptable, such as "there's no need for you to worry about it, you'll be fine."

  • Do not try to convince your child to change their emotional reactions.

  • Avoid engaging in criticism "you never listen to me" "your behavior is the reason your friend is mad at you" "you never take care of your responsibilities around the house."

  • Avoid statements that will likely put your child on the defensive “you wouldn’t be this stressed if you would have done your homework yesterday when I told you to.”

  • Read through the "Don'ts" examples one more time and take a moment to notice when you might be using them--even with the best of intentions.


Bringing the Conversation to a Close


This type of reflective conversation doesn't need to be long--though some t(w)eens might have a lot on their minds. Toward the end of the conversation, it can be nice to express your authentic gratitude to your child for this time together.



When Your Attempt at Reflective Listening Goes Awry


It is possible that your attempts at reflective listening won't go as you had hoped. You might do your best with open-ended questions, acknowledgement, validation, and avoiding the "don'ts" ... yet your t(w)een continues to give yes/no answers (or doesn't respond at all), brushes off your attempts, and makes it clear that they don't want to talk to you. Don't force it. It's ok if your kid is not into it. By beginning to use reflective listening skills with your teen, you have signaled that you believe it's ok for them to have thoughts and feelings and that you can be a safe person to share their experiences with.



We know that these kinds of conversations with your t(w)een can be easier said than done--especially when there has been tension building up for a long time. Feel free to reach out to a specialist at Bluebird for individualized parent coaching. We would be more than happy to help your family develop a new approach to warm and supportive relationships.


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