Reflective Listening Exercises for Parents of Teens

Reflective listening demonstrates understanding.

It’s not uncommon for a parent to hear, “You never listen from me,” from the mouth of her child at least once during the teen years. Reflective listening is the act of demonstrating that you understand, or seek to understand, what your teen thinks and feels by repeating what she told you. By practicing reflective listening, you can help your teen clarify her thoughts and improve her communication skills as you understand her better, demonstrate empathy and communicate that you care about how she feels.


Have your teen tell you about a made-up scenario that’s likely to happen in daily life. If your teen is uncomfortable with role-playing, think about a hobby that he enjoys. As your teen tells you about a made-up scenario, mirror his facial expressions, gestures and the pitch of his voice. Feel free to communicate concern, if appropriate, but avoid adding your own opinions into the conversation. As your teen talks, repeat the important information he tells you, including feelings and facts. At the end of the conversation, have your teen grade you on the attentiveness cues that you used (e.g., eye contact and nodding your head), how well you echoed nonverbal cues like his facial expressions or body position, your overall expressiveness, how well you summarized or asked for clarifications and how well you avoided non-reflective listening behaviors such as talking about yourself or telling your teen what to do.

Interview Reading

Find a magazine or article where someone discusses her personal life. As you read the article, underline the parts where the interviewee discusses an event and link it to the emotion she was feeling. For every statement that you underline, write down an active listening response. For example, if the interviewee states, “I couldn’t believe it when I opened the door to find my whole family standing there,” your reflective statement might read, “It sounds like you were pretty happy and surprised to see so many people.” While the interviewee can’t respond to your statements, you get an opportunity to identify events that another person found important and practice formulating reflective statements and questions.

Intentional Watching

Watch a dramatic movie or a soap opera and pay close attention to the characters as they express their feelings or tell a personal story. During an intense moment, write down the character’s emotion and how you can tell what he’s feeling. Items that might give you cues about the character’s emotion include his posture, tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, overall body language and his words. After the scene or the character’s statement, write down a reflective response. For example, for a scene where a character enters the room after work and exclaims, “I can’t stand that guy,” your reflective response might be, “It sounds like you had a bad day at work. Want to tell me about it?”

Everyday Life

The act of reflective listening can seem unnatural because it’s something that most people don’t practice in regular conversations. The Skills for Life Support Programme, a work force development program that’s part of London South Bank University, recommends practicing reflective listening whenever you’re in a conversation with a person who doesn’t share your point of view. Instead of contradicting the individual or trying to prove why you’re right, reflect what she’s saying to you and ask the person if you understood her correctly. When you make reflective listening an exercise that you practice in daily conversations, it will come more naturally to you when you speak with your teen. Consequently, your teen may be more willing to have more open conversations with you and listen to what you have to say.