Reflective parenting: parenting from the inside out

Reflective parenting: parenting from the inside out

Knowing how your child’s mind works through reflective parenting can help you be the parent you want to be


Sheila Redfern and Alistair Cooper, authors of Reflective Parenting, explain the method of reflective parenting and the reasoning behind it.

The familiar scene

Rushing out of the door on a Monday morning, already running late, your three-year old suddenly decides now is the time to tell you that he’s not going to wear the shoes you bought him for nursery and flings himself on the sofa in floods of tears.

You lose the plot, already stressed from a poor night’s sleep, and an appointment you’ve got to be at straight after the nursery drop-off. How do you get your three-year-old to get his shoes on without everyone ending up on the sofa in tears?

Your normal instinct might be to resort to bribes or even shouting, but experience tells you that this doesn’t always go so well. There is another way of getting the behaviour you want from your child, while getting to the heart of what was really wrong in the first place. And the end result of this different approach will be a stronger connection between you and your child. Sound too good to be true? Read on.

The method

Reflective parenting is based on two main skills: being aware of what is in your own mind as you interact with your child (and especially the impact of this on him) and paying particular attention to what might be going on his mind. Reflective parenting helps you see yourself more from the outside and your child from the inside.

You might ask what might be the reason behind your three-year-old’s strong wish to stay on the sofa rather than put his new shoes on for nursery? Simple willfulness? A desire to just wind you up? Or a strong feeling that results from it being hard to separate from you after a weekend of family time and a wish for a bit more of your attention (albeit at a time when it’s hard to give)?

The research

The research behind reflective parenting shows that how parents interact with their babies and toddlers shapes their development: a parent’s mind shapes the developing mind of her baby. This is especially so during the first three years of his life. Most importantly, babies and growing toddlers can only learn how to manage tantrums, which after all are just hard-to-manage feelings that explode as behavioural outbursts, if they are helped to understand what they are feeling and why.

Use the parent APP

Using something we call a Parent APP can help you, which stands for Attention, Perspective and Provide empathy. Start with A: paying attention to what your child is thinking, feeling and doing. Then P: take their perspective (or point of view) to let them know you can see how it might look through their eyes. And finally P: provide some empathy for how they feel and what the behaviour might be all about.

By doing this, chances are you might now know, or be able to make a good enough guess, either way your child will certainly appreciate you being curious and trying to find out, rather than just correct or punish their behaviour, which often just leads to an escalation of feelings and behaviour. He will definitely feel closer to you, much more likely to listen and comply, and strong outbursts can de-escalate surprisingly quickly. Reflective parenting can bring both immediate and long term benefits to your toddler too.

The benefits

When you start to see the world through your child’s eyes – how it might feel to be scared about going to nursery or bored when he was lying in his buggy and mum was texting her friend – you can start talking to him to show him you are curious about how he feels, and you can help him with this feeling.

Reflective parenting can help your child develop into person who can understand how he feels and manage these feelings in a healthy and secure way, helping him to navigate his way through life confidently and securely with some resilience against life’s adversities. And all this can start by just wondering why he wouldn’t put those shoes on!

Find out more from Reflective Parenting by Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern (16.99, Taylor & Francis).


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