Reflective Parenting a Teen: What Is It and How to Do It?

It is no secret that teenagers crave independence.  They want to explore life for themselves.  This is the time of their lives when they are discovering their self-identity.  In the process of finding themselves, they may push away from the ideals of their parents.  It is expected, no matter how uncomfortable and frustrating it may feel.  It’s not only happening to your teenager.

There is an urge the parent may have to tell the teenager when they’ve done wrong that the rules are the rules and that, as the parent or guardian, you are in charge.  It is understandable; you are responsible for their well-being, you want to love and nurture them, and you are used to setting the ground rules to help them guide your children to make the right choices and to have a successful future.  Teenagers may not respond to parental authority like they have in the past.  That is normal, partially due to their hormones, enhanced cognitive development, and influence from peers and other social outlets.  Their responses can change based on these influences, resisting the comfort their parent or caregiver played out for them in search for peer support and approval and identifying and expressing themselves.

Reflective parenting may be a new approach you’ve tried or haven’t tried that can help build your relationship, benefiting both the parent/ guardian and the teenager.  It involves responding to your teen in a supportive manner using active listening, validation, and empathy while working to understand their wants, needs, and challenges.  The goal is to create positive relationships with the teens and parents, providing each of you with what you need and working collaboratively.

Reflective functioning helps a parent remain compassionate when a child has challenging behaviors.  It requires tapping into the client’s mindset to attempt to understand the motivations behind their behaviors.

Reflection allows the parent to model and regulate how they interact with the teen, exemplifying empathy and understanding.  It gives more freedom for the teenager to be able to identify and shape themselves as an individual.  The reflection parents can also provide tools to regulate and recognize what their child needs based on their development.  It is also done unconsciously because parent attitudes can change based on their child’s development.  This reflection allows the parent/caregiver to be aware and intentional about their change in parenting and its effect on the teenager-parent relationship.

How to get started

Reflective parenting involves several strategies to incorporate through your interactions with your teenager.  These include the following:

  • Actively listening to your teen and showing interest in what they are saying can model appropriate communication and help your teen feel heard. Asking them open-ended questions and responding reflectively based on the discussion can also help.  Be careful not to assume what the other is saying and not to think of what you will say before they’re done speaking.  Be there in the conversation and try to repeat or summarize what they have said before adding your response.
  • Empathizing with them means understanding and sharing their feelings and emotions. If they are having a bad day and are expressing how upset they are with school, with a friend, or whatever is happening, try to feel that with them, share their feelings, and even reflect back to them.  Try to put yourself in their shoes, attempting to feel what they are feeling and relay that back to them.  That may be going back into the headspace of what it was like for you as a teenager and how social pressures and school affected you, trying to understand what they may be going through.
  • Building trust: You may already have a level of trust, or it has fluctuated; whatever your situation, trust will help you both navigate your relationship. Doing what you say you will do and respecting your teen’s boundaries can help them feel the independence they crave while instilling responsibility in them. Trust is the backbone of any relationship; your trust may have to grow to witness them grow into adults. It could happen in small or bigger steps; do what you can manage and build on that.
  • Celebrate them and their accomplishments! Positive reactions to their success and what they care about can also go a long way.  Be there and be supportive.  We all want to feel validated and understood; being excited about what brings us joy can make a world of difference.  A lot of change happens through these years of their life and your life.  Change can be stressful but also exciting; their success through these changes should be acknowledged and celebrated.  It can also show them your care.

Reflective Capacity

Reflective capacity has three core elements:

  1. A parent and a teenager have minds of their own, different types of thinking, and unique perspectives.
  2. There is a reason behind behavior; people do not do things to do it; there is a meaning behind what we do and how we do it.
  3. Disagreements, conflicts, and misunderstandings all happen; it is unavoidable and unrealistic to think that they will not happen in some way or form.

Understanding these core elements can help you enhance your ability to practice reflective parenting.  These can be reminders you can hold on to; your teenager is different even if they are similar to you; their wants, needs, desires, and dislikes can also change.  You are human; they are human.  There will be mistakes and conflicts, and that is okay!  It is also healthy to acknowledge the conflict while also recognizing there is some reason why they may have done what they did, even if you don’t like it.

Responsive vs. Reactive

Responding to what your teen is saying and trying to hear their feelings and truly understand them can make a lot of difference in the interactions.  Reacting to what people say by gut feelings of frustration can go against what you want to communicate.  We all react to what people say based on our feelings regarding the situation, values, beliefs, understanding of the context, or opinions on what should happen next.  The way we react can alter communication; if we say what we want to say, our gut reaction may say, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “Why would you do that?” demanding an answer or explanation instead of possibly asking something that can be received as a reflective response.  A reflective response may sound more like, “So I hear you have done this and how hard this has been; what made you choose to do this?  Or “That sounds like a difficult decision you had to make; how are you feeling about it now, or how would you do it differently next time?”

While teenagers are still learning and growing, a reaction to what they are experiencing that they disagree with could potentially harm the communication and relationship bond.  We don’t always need to tell them exactly what they want to hear; instead, we should work on our delivery, using the strategies above, asking open-ended questions, empathizing, and coming up with a response that reflects what they have expressed while also adding your insight and thoughts on the situation.

Practice and consistency in responding this way can help make this easier on you and them.  By exemplifying how to communicate, you are showing them healthy strategies for communicating with others as well.


Respecting Boundaries

Teenagers crave freedom; they want to know what it’s like to push themselves out of the constraints.  Each parent-teen relationship has different challenges.  Honoring some of their requests for privacy and boundaries can go a long way toward allowing them to feel heard and have autonomy.  They may need to be able to fail or mess up to understand the consequences and how to alter their actions moving forward.

Ultimately, parents are responsible, liable, and in charge of their children and teenagers. It is important that parents support and assist their teens’ growth while being there for them. Conflict will arise. For more guidance on how to help teens resolve conflict, please check out this blog.

Your efforts toward enhancing your relationship with your teenager are important. Your commitment to them and your relationship can help to model how effective relationships should look for them moving forward.


Leave a Comment

sensory overload - over stimulated - highly sensitive person - sensitive Call Us