Listening Skill #3: Reflecting

Listening Skill #3: Reflecting

What I mean by saying that “reflecting” is a listening skill is. The parent acts like a mirror verbally stating the emotion that she (the parent) thinks the child is experiencing, or the meaning she thinks the child is expressing. Example: “So, you are feeling angry.” Or, “I think you are saying you don’t want to go, is that right?” Or, “Gee, that must have been embarrassing.”. More examples are given below.

This technique is eferred to as “Active Listening” by Thomas Gordon, who really emphasizes it in his writings and training classes. I prefer the term “reflecting” because my two other listening skills (acknowledging and asking questions) require the parent to actively communicate with the child.
This “reflecting” technique or skill is the most unusual and therefore perhaps the most difficult of the three listening skills. At first, it seems like a very unnatural way to respond to somebody, but the effect it often has is to encourage the child to say more about what they just said. This is what you want–that the child gets the idea that you are “tuned in” and want to hear more of his ideas on the topic being discussed.
Reflecting statements always mirror back to the child what they said or seem to be communicating non-verbally. They are always statements. They are not to be delivered as questions. If you choose, you might follow the statement with a question to verify accuracy of what you said.
Reflecting statements are not opinions of your own. They are you, simply mirroring what the other is communicating, verbally or non-verbally. They do not mean you agree with what the child said! They only mirror back what the child communicated.
Reflecting has three levels.
Level 1: Parroting.
This means repeating back the exact words that the child said, even if you don’t agree with what he is saying.
  • Example A: He yells, “You’re wrong, mom!”
    You parrot back, “I’m wrong.” Or, you might say “You think I’m wrong.” THEN STOP! Don’t say anything more. See what the child comes back with.
  • Example B: She says, “I feel lousy.” You parrot back, “You feel lousy.” THEN STOP! Don’t ask, “You feel lousy?” Just say it: “You feel lousy.” See what the child comes back with.
Level 2: Paraphrasing.This means summarizing in your own words a group of ideas expressed by the child.
  • Example A: He says, “I keep on telling you you don’t know what you’re talking about. You always get on my case whenever you can and never give me credit for doing anything right. You’re so stupid I can’t even believe it.”You paraphrase back to him, “You  think I’m really stupid because I’m always on your case and don’t know what I’m talking about.” THEN STOP! Don’t ask a question here. Don’t ask a question, unless it is, “Is that right?”  See what the child comes back with.
  • Example B: She says, “I just don’t know what to do with him. He’s always trying to make me mad. He takes my toys away and then swears at me and calls me names when I try to get them back, and he never apologizes. And still he always says I’m the one who treats him bad. He’s so stupid!”You paraphrase back to her, in your own words: “He’s really disrespecting you a lot and you don’t know what to do.” THEN STOP! Don’t ask a question here, unless it is, “Is that right?”  See what the child comes back with.
Level 3:Interpreting.In this case you verbally reflect back what you think the child is feeling or what he meant by what he said or did. Again, it is a statement that identifies the feeling or the meaning that the child is communicating.
  • In example 1A above, where he’s yelling angrily, you might say, “You’re mad at me.”
  • In example 1B above, you might say, “You’re feel hurt (or bad).”
  • In example 2A above, you might say, “You’re really upset with me.”
  • In example 2B above, you might say, “You’re really frustrated and confused about what to do.”
Reflecting is an excellent way of ACKNOWLEDGING what the child said. It is a powerful technique that literally invites the child to say more about what they are communicating, verbally or non-verbally, because it shows:
  • You have accurately heard them (even if you don’t accurately understand their meaning);
  • You have not judged them;
  • You’re inviting them to say more;
  • You’re open to them correcting you if you are wrong;
  • How to behave respectfully toward others (including you).
Reflecting is not a question. It’s a statement, but it’s NOT ABOUT YOURSELF.It’s about your child.
With a question you are asking the child to give you something, or do something: give a response. They can refuse. In Reflecting you are asking for nothing. You’re just making a statement about the child. It’s not an egotistic or defensive explanation justifying you, your actions, or your reasons.
When the child refuses to speak or to answer questions, use the reflecting.
  1. If other listening techniques do not elicit an informative response from the child, your Reflecting response is a statement that YOU make about THEM, that requires no response. It indicates you heard and acknowledge what they said. For example, she says nothing at all, or she says, “It’s none of your business,” or “I’m not going to tell you.” You make an interpretation that puts no demand on her. Instead you just communicate your understanding of her state of mind at that moment by saying something like, “You’re done talking,” or “You don’t want to talk about it.” Since you can’t force her to talk, you might as well let her know that you understand she doesn’t want to talk. Chances are good that she’ll feel more like talking with you later on, when she’s feeling less angry or stressed or fearful.
  2. If she refuses to play ball with you, and walks away instead of talking, your response could be, “I understand. You don’t want to talk now” You are simply aknowledging that she doesn’t want to talk to you right now. Let her go. You can bring up the subject again later, when she and you are both in a better mood.
Reflecting is a very unsusual way to respond to someone. Howevere, it is highly effective as a listening technique because it invites the other person to say more. It is also non-judgmental, conveying the idea that you are willing to listen to what s/he has to say.


3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book  that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model.  Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.

     Learn more.    Buy Now.   Table of Contents & Intro