Reflective Pareting: Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern

Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern, co-authors of Reflective Parenting,  have developed a  way of parenting that will improve your relationship with your child, bringing you closer whilst allowing you to improve their behaviour and how they feel. Read our exclusive interview, browse their reviews and learn more about their fantastic new book!

Have you ever wondered what’s going on in your child’s mind? Reflective Parenting shows how reflective parenting can help you understand your children and build your relationship with them. It is filled with practical advice showing how recent developments in mentalization, attachment and neuroscience have transformed our understanding of the parent-child relationship and can bring meaningful change to your own family relationships.

We caught up with the authors, Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern, for a quick Q&A..                                          

Ali: In 2010 I was on a mentalization based therapy training course, hearing about the importance of the early parent–infant relationship and how this can hugely influence a child’s development. I had the thought, “This would be so helpful for all parents to hear this. Why do you have to be an academic or clinician to hear about the brilliant research and thinking around something so important?” So, the inspiration was to try to get a really important message about parents’ relationships with their children into the mainstream.

Sheila: The impetus came from working with so many families where the parents’ focus was on trying to change the child’s behaviour but without thinking about the importance of the relationship between parent and child in influencing this behaviour. I had done a PhD on the theoretical ideas behind reflective parenting and had been using some of these ideas in clinical practice. I wanted to make this into something that was straightforward and accessible to as many parents as possible.

Sheila: Reflective Parenting is about improving connection without correction, leading to better outcomes for your child.

Ali: It's a practical parent’s guide that not only aims to bring better outcomes to your child’s development, but at the same time brings a greater understanding, connection and warmth.

Ali: About eleven years ago I began working with children in foster care, on the edge of care and who had been adopted. I initially found this work puzzling and daunting. In my need to understand some of the young people I was working with, I found it helpful to look at research and theory looking at the impact that parents can have on their children’s development and what particularly helps and disrupts this process. The field of attachment theory and associated concepts has been so important in our understanding of these processes.

Sheila: I had studied attachment relationships and mentalizing for many years as a clinical psychologist, primarily because secure attachment is the foundation of so many positive outcomes for children and adults. Disruptions to this security is associated with a whole range of mental health problems. So it seems logical as a clinician to do whatever possible to try to promote secure attachment between parents/carers and their children, at any stage of their lives.

Sheila: I would hope that they realise that if they can build a secure foundation with their child, based on being reflective in their relationship, that they will be helping their child to achieve the best outcomes possible.

Ali: Rather than a focus or concern on external behaviour, especially with trying to correct behaviour, I hope parents take away the importance of really connecting with what goes on inside their child’s mind and really see and feel the benefit of doing this.

Ali: I feel quite proud that Sheila and I have spent time to try and translate this theory into something useable, which I hope all parents can connect with and importantly be helped by. I think it is important that professionals and academics bring current thinking into the mainstream.

Sheila: It feels important to highlight the fact that history is not necessarily destiny, and so parents with the most difficult backgrounds can still learn to become more reflective in their parenting and help their child to have a different experience from their own. What is important is to start to think about all the things that influence parents, including history and current circumstances, and to form a Parent Map to guide them through what is often a challenging as well as joyful journey for the majority of parents.

Sheila: Reflective Parenting is not about being a permissive parent. It is also not about trying to make parents into therapists to their children.

Ali: Reflective Parenting is not about being your child’s therapist. Trying to connect with what your child is feeling, and helping them think through and understand situations, is not the same as being a therapist. Instead, it is an incredibly helpful role a parent can take in relation to their child, and actually a role most parents take on naturally at least some of the time without necessarily thinking about it!

Ali: A seven year old boy, Billy, is expressing to his dad that he often gets frustrated with a boy in his class who has developmental difficulties. His dad is worried that his son is being unkind and suddenly reacts in a critical way and says “Don’t you realise that he can’t help how he talks to his friends? That’s really unfair talking like that!” Billy becomes upset, is quiet and withdraws. His dad, however, is able to step back from how he is feeling and think, “Maybe Billy was simply exploring how he felt? Billy is generally kind to his friends and that conversation might be important to continue with anyway”.

He turns to Billy and says “I’m sorry Billy, I think I may have got that wrong. Were you just telling me that it is frustrating sometimes being on his table? That’s important to talk about, sorry it probably sounded like I was telling you off or something”.

By being able to connect with his own feelings first, Billy’s dad is able to separate out his own worries from his son’s intentions and therefore connect with other possible reasons why his son was expressing his frustration. The result is that Billy feels a bit better and the conversation can continue. Billy and his dad both agree that Billy is a kind boy most of the time, and feel close to each other during the conversation.

Sheila: One example that springs to mind is where a six year old child is having an angry outburst about not wanting to go to an after school club. He is shouting at his mum and kicking the door of his bedroom as the mum tries to get him to hurry up and get his kit on ready to be driven there. Taking a ‘reflective parenting’ stance to this situation, the mum might stop rushing the boy to get his kit together and sit on his bed and ask if there is anything that he doesn’t like about the club or is worried about. She might first say she is going to give him five minutes to calm down so that they can talk, but let him know that she is interested in how he feels and why he feels so angry about going to a club after school. She might also take a few guesses once he is calm. For example, that he is too tired to go, or that after a day of being at school and not seeing his mum he doesn’t much feel like another time apart. These guesses might not necessarily be the correct ones, but the mum is showing curiosity in her child’s state of mind. She would try to maintain a connection with her son whilst showing empathy for how he feels, and validate these feelings, i.e. let him know it’s ok to feel angry and upset.

Ali: Going back to my point about crossing the academic / mainstream divide, Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt is a brilliant example of this and a fantastic read!

Sheila: I keep going back to Minding the Child by Nick Midgley and Ioanna Vrouva.

Ali: I am very much looking forward to co-running two training courses at the Anna Freud Centre which are both related to the themes of our book. Also there is the possibility of a symposium next year at an international conference presenting the ideas from the book along with other experts in the field!

Sheila: There is an opportunity to present our work as part of a symposium at an International Conference in 2016. We also have two training courses for clinicians working with children, including those in foster care, in 2016.

Red Magazine (28th January, 2016)

Featured Book

  • Reflective Parenting

    A Guide to Understanding What's Going on in Your Child's Mind

    By Alistair Cooper, Sheila Redfern

    Have you ever wondered what’s going on in your child’s mind? This engaging book shows how reflective parenting can help you understand your children, manage their behaviour and build your relationship and connection with them. It is filled with practical advice showing how recent developments in…

    Paperback – 2015-09-16

Reviews for Reflective Parenting

"The results are powerful: not only will it help you feel closer to your children, at the same time it will help bring about a change in how they behave and feel." – Red Magazine

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Reflective Parenting by Alistair Cooper

Reflective Parenting

by Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern

Giveaway ends February 29, 2016.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

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