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The Reflective Parent


Written by Regina Pally

Reviewed by Molly Wilder

Some say that it takes a village to raise a child into a well-functioning adult and it probably does. But without an entire village of free childcare, we are often left with books to fill in the gaps. Today hundreds of books claim to outline the “right way” of parenting. This often leads parents to listen to conflicting advice which is not only confusing to the parents but also to the children. Author of The Reflective Parent: How to Do Less and Relate More with Your Kids, experienced psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Reflective Communities, Regina Pally, comes from a more ground up approach to parenting. She argues that “there is a lot more leeway in parenting” (xi).

As a young parent raising her three children, she had read all the parenting books and was left “feeling less confident than before” (xi). Through her pediatric, psychiatric and psychoanalytic training, clinical work, studies in neuroscience and personal experiences, Pally “learned that a parent’s reflective capacity is the factor most closely associated with healthy child development.” (xi) Throughout this book, ideas and skills required for reflective parenting are interwoven with what we know today about child development, the neuroscience of human social relationships and parent-child relationships. The Reflective Parent is a practical and easy-to-read guide for anyone looking to build stronger relationships with their children.

The “Brain Basics” section at the beginning of each chapter is provided to highlight the aspect of brain function being discussed in the following chapter. For those who are a bit more skeptical of Pally’s main ideas, they may want to refer to the “Science Says” boxes that are scattered throughout each chapter that aim to present scientific experiments that support the concepts being discussed in more scientific detail. At the end of each chapter, Stories of Parents and Children “provide shorts examples of parent—child interactions that illustrate the points being made” (xxii); Putting Into Words section gives a few examples of reflective language a parent can use when talking with their child; and “Take Home Lessons” gives tips and suggestions that parents can try at home to strengthen their own reflective parenting and their relationship with their child” (xxii). There are a total of nine chapters in this book along with sections for the Introduction, Epilogue and References.

Chapter One: 10 Principles of Reflective Parenting, outlines 10 guiding principles to follow when interacting with your child. The principles are “derived from what science has shown helps parents to be as reflective as possible and to give their children what they most need for all aspects of healthy development” (5). One guiding principle, “#2 There is no perfect parent, and there are no “right” or “best” answers or ways of parenting” encourages the reader to be more confident when handling a situation with their child and to never take parenting books as gospel. She writes, “You are the best judge of what your child needs” (5). In this chapter, Pally also focuses on the skill of reflective capacity and breaks it down into five steps. She notes that, when following these steps, it is important for “parents to be reflective about their child but also reflective about themselves” (13). At the end of this chapter each of the 10 principles is accompanied by a real-world example which may help some readers to better apply these principles in their own relationships.

Chapter Seven: Calming and Coping, aims to explain the stress response and recovery, describe scientifically backed coping skills and tools for parents under high stress. She includes antidotes for stressed parents like “being present in the moment as much as possible and staying focused on what needs to be done now, not on worse things that might possibly happen in the future” (155). Although, some may claim that the phrase, “be in the moment,” is overused. Pally argues that in this context being in the moment is especially important. She claims that “A stressed parent’s weakened prefrontal cortex makes them more likely to misread their child’s intention, to react more on impulse than to act rationally, and to be less able to assess when they are off the mark in regard to their child” (157). Later in this chapter Pally outlines the ways in which parents can respond to children’s stress in a more reflective way, as Pally believes that “Your child’s main stress regulator: YOU!”

Pally reflects that “the main point to keep in mind is that more than ever, reflective parenting requires you to see your child as independent, competent, and able to decide for themselves to run their lives” (230). She believes that through a greater understanding of one’s own stress and barriers and an ability to listen and observe, the parent-child relationship is likely to thrive. This book serves as a guide to help build upon and strengthen these relationships through reflective and introspective processes backed by research and experience.


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Regina Pally is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. She has been in private practice for over 35 years, with a special interest in parents and couples. For 25 years she studied and wrote about neuroscience for mental health professionals. Most recently she has dedicated herself to working in the community to improve the lives of children and their families. In 2008 she founded the Center for Reflective Communities, whose mission is to ‘promote healthy child development, by strengthening the relationship bonds that children have with all those who care for them through an emphasis on reflective thinking’.


Molly Wilder is currently a Junior at New York University majoring in Applied Psychology. She is a research assistant for the Transgender Identity Formation Study (TIFS) at NYU Steinhardt, a grounded theory study aimed at understanding how transgender and gender-non-conforming people who identify as LGBQ perceive fluidity in their sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition to reviewing books for the IJP, she writes reviews for Somatic Psychotherapy Today.






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