How to Listen so Your Kids Will Too: The Art of Reflective Listening

Parenting- reflective listening

Written by Dr. John Carosso

You get into an argument with your spouse. You know your point is valid but you’re having trouble getting your mate to acknowledge your view; instead, he just wants to “move on” and “forget about it.” So, he tries to change the subject and you’re left feeling unheard and misunderstood. You’re simply not ready to “move on” and you feel ‘stuck’ and frustrated. As you’re stewing over the problem, you think that, if only your point of view was acknowledged, even in disagreement, you’d feel more at-ease and prepared to move-on. Well, the same thing happens every time you want to “move on” past your child’s disappointment, frustration, anger, or problem.

Okay, here’s the scenario: your child complains that he does not want to stop playing that new video game, you just purchased for him, to empty the trash. You abruptly respond, in irritated fashion, for him to follow your direction “NOW” and ignore his obvious frustration. Okay, I know what you’re thinking; there are situations when there is simply no time for discussing the matter; nevertheless, you may find that, just as with your prior argument with your spouse, that a simple ‘reflective’ comment, acknowledging your child’s feelings, would help him to more quickly move beyond his feelings and carry-out the assigned task. For example, a comment such as “I understand it’s frustrating to be taken away from your new game. After you finish the chore you can return to playing” may prove to be quite helpful. Feeling ‘heard’ is extraordinarily powerful; it bolsters a sense of comfort and then allows for moving beyond, and past, the problem at hand.

Otherwise, we tend to feel ‘stuck’ in the argument. Reflective listening is vital in all relationships, for topics that are both positive (“I’m so happy for your accomplishment, you worked so hard…”) and negative (“you’re feeling sad that your friend didn’t show-up, that can be disappointing”). In regards to this latter situation regarding the friend not showing up, the child will sense his feelings were acknowledged and more likely be willing to move forward to problem-solving, e.g. “why don’t you call your friend Timothy and see if he wants to come over instead.” In the absence of reflective listening, there is a tendency for your child to become argumentative (“I’m not calling Timmy, I wanted Jim to be here…”).

You can more readily avoid such conflicts with your child, and with any other person in your life, by listening for, and acknowledging, their feelings. Try it; you may find yourself feeling happier too. God bless.

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Dr. John Carosso

Dr. Carosso has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed Child Clinical Psychologist and Certified School Psychologist working in private, inpatient, outpatient, residential, school, and home settings. He is Clinical Director of Community Psychiatric Centers (, a licensed Behavioral Health Outpatient Clinic, and operates both the Autism Center of Pittsburgh ( and the Dyslexia Diagnostic and Treatment Center (