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Reflective Listening Helps Parents Communicate with Children

Ask the Experts by Teresa Sandner

Q: Why do I have to tell my children something ten times and then threaten them with punishment before they actually do what I say?” 

A: Most children tune out because they don’t feel listened to or we say way too much.

Reflective listening is a way to let children know their feelings are being heard and

understood. I-Messages are a way to let children know how their behavior affects us without shaming or blaming which helps to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation where listening is a valuable outcome.


Reflective listening requires a person to turn into what the speaker is saying and feeling by paying attention to the content, watching body language and listening to tone of voice. At that point they reflect back the speaker’s feelings by saying, “It sounds like you feel…” Even if you’re wrong, your child feels that you are at least making an attempt to understand.

I-Messages help you to express yourself without setting up the inevitable defensive reaction. It has three parts, “When… (the action the child is exhibiting), I feel… because… (why you feel the way you do)” Remember to model respect when listening and speaking to your children. It helps them to learn how to speak to you.

If your children aren’t listening and talking to you, then who are they listening and talking to and whose morals and values are they learning? Creating an atmosphere of caring and respect when talking to your child helps them to want to seek you out when the big concerns come along.

Teresa Sandner is the Parent Education Program and Conference Coordinator for CARE of Southeastern Michigan and has been teaching parenting classes for 24 years. Teresa can be reached at or 586-218-5280. CARE of Southeastern Michigan is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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