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Reflective Parenting, as explained by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, “is a model of parenting which focuses on the application of theoretical ideas from mentalization, attachment theory and reflective functioning in promoting positive outcomes for children’s emotional and behavioral wellbeing, where there are difficulties in the parent-child relationship.” The theory of Reflective Parenting was originally developed, by Peter Fonagy and his colleagues at the Tavistock Clinic in London, for children struggling with behavioral difficulties and/ or emotion dysregulation. Emotion dysregulation is a term used within the mental health field to denote irrational, poorly modulated emotional responses, which is highly common among children. The theory suggests that a parent with reflective capacity and high reflective functioning can see their child as a separate, autonomous individual. Reflective capacity has three core elements, as indicated by Psychology Today:

  • Parents and children have separate minds with their own unique perspectives.
  • Behavior has meaning and is dictated by what is going on inside our minds.
  • Misunderstandings and conflict are normal and common.

Research indicates that children whose parents are reflective, “meaning that they recognize there is more going on inside a person than simply what is seen, are happier, more successful, and more resilient.” Reflective Parenting teaches parents to understand and respond to a child’s motivations instead of his or her actions.


As teenagers learn to navigate and interact with the world around them, they are simultaneously grappling with intense pressures, surging hormones, and are faced with countless lessons thrust upon them during adolescence. There are myriad benefits of Reflective Parenting for both child and parent, some of which include the following, provided by Huffington Post:

  • Improving self-regulating emotions
  • Reducing stress
  • Regulating the child’s emotions
  • Parents feeling more confident
  • Children become more cooperative
  • Reducing depression and anxiety

Children are designed to test limits, push boundaries, and engage in behaviors that help them discover their true selves as they begin to cultivate a moral compass. The teenage brain is not yet fully developed, and will not reach full development until age twenty-five, at the earliest. A teen relies heavily on the amygdala (the area of the brain associated with impulses, emotions, aggression, instinctive behavior, and plays a role in sexual activity and libido) when reacting to certain stimuli whereas an adult relies on the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain that is involved in planning, self-control, and decision making) when reacting to the same stimuli. Hence, teenagers instinctively react to stimuli emotionally and often without any consideration of foresight or rational thought. While the natural maturation process provides a young person with a plethora of opportunities to learn, implement and practice various coping mechanisms and life-skills that arm him or her with tools to lead a successful, healthy, independent life, integrating additional strategies, such as Reflective Parenting, to help them thrive can be advantageous.

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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