How to Show Your Teen You're Really Listening

Reflective listening is one of the best ways to improve your communication with your teen.
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Whether your teen is upset about the latest friendship drama, or she's convinced her science grade will keep her from getting into college, it's not unusual for teens to react in an overly dramatic manner. The key to effectively communicating with your teen however lies in the way you listen.

Reflective listening involves simply reflecting back what you hear to show your teen that you understand what she's trying to communicate.

Reflective listening can encourage your teen to keep talking to you, and it's an effective tool to de-escalate an angry teen

Hold Back Your Opinion or Judgment

Instead of adding your own opinion or reaction, repeat your teen’s message first. If there's a misunderstanding, reflective listening gives your teen a chance to clarify what was meant. It can be hard to refrain from expressing your opinion or adding to the conversation, but it can be the best way to encourage your teen to keep talking.

Wait until you’ve really heard your teen and fully understand what your teen is trying to say before you offer anything new to the conversation. Use reflective listening to show that you want to fully understand your teen’s point of view first.

Example of Reflective Listening

Here's an example of how to use reflective listening:

Teen: “We had a substitute teacher in science class today. She didn’t know much about biology so she just let us talk the whole time.

But, we were supposed to review today because we have a test tomorrow. I don’t know if we’ll actually have the test tomorrow or not so I’m not sure if I should still study.”

Mom: “So, your substitute just let you talk during class instead of reviewing for the test and now you’re wondering if you should study because you aren’t sure if you will still have to take the test tomorrow?”

Teen: “Yeah, so I guess I’m going to study tonight, just in case, but I think if Mr. Clark is back tomorrow, we’ll tell him we didn’t review and maybe we won’t have to take it.”

Instead of jumping in to tell her child to study, this mom kept the teen talking simply by reflecting back what she heard her teen say. It showed she was listening and trying to gain an understanding of what her teen was communicating and kept her teen talking.

Reflect How You Think Your Teen Feels

Reflective listening can also include a reflection of how you think your teen is feeling. It helps validate your teen’s feelings. Here are some examples of how to reflect what you think your teen may be feeling: 

  • “Sounds like you feel really angry about the way your teacher talked to you today.”
  • “So you are feeling really guilty because you didn’t treat your friend kindly.”
  • “Is it fair to say that you’re feeling disappointed because you can’t go to the party?”

Listen to Your Teen’s Reaction

Listen carefully to your teen’s reaction to your reflections.

If you have communicated a clear understanding of what your teen has said, you’ll likely get a positive reaction. If your teen says something like, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m trying to say,” you’ll know that what you’ve reflected is accurate.

If your teen thinks you misunderstood the message, you’ll likely hear something like, “No, that’s not what I meant.” If that’s the case, invite your child to explain further. Make it clear that you really want to understand what is being communicated.

Why Reflective Listening Works

Teens often insist their parents don't understand them. Reflective listening shows that you're genuinely trying to gain understanding.

When you make reflective listening a habit, it can greatly improve the quality of your communication as well as the quality of your relationship. It takes practice, but once you get used to it, reflective listening is an effective communication tool. 

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