11.2 Reflective Practice

What Is It?

Home visiting is relationship-based work. There are no right answers in home visiting, and relationships can ebb and flow. Reflection, “stepping back from the immediate experience to sort through thoughts and feelings about what one is observing and doing with children and families”, is a crucial practice for home visitors. It helps you understand what you see, plan with families, and how you take care of yourself and the important relationships you build in your work during the course of home visits.

In the home-based model, reflective practices occur on three levels.

  • Reflecting with the parents about their own experiences and how they understand their child’s experience.

  • Reflecting on your own practice. Supervisors and home visitors engage in reflective supervision as a way to process and plan for the work.

  • Reflecting with parents and providing them with a way to talk about what they observe in their children and how they are feeling. This also provides an opportunity for parents to honestly discuss their thoughts about how it feels to work with you the home visitor. Talk with families about daily routines and experiences you suggest and how they see their children responding. Reflecting can generate ideas for expanding successful efforts, clarifying misunderstandings, and imagining different ways to approach moments that did not work out well. Families should be encouraged to share their reflections on working with you.

Reflection is an activity that takes time and should be built into the home visitor’s schedule. Programs may encourage their home visitors to use journaling for reflection, to have groups of home visitors meet in groups to reflect as peers, and/or to use reflective supervision.

This also provides an opportunity for parents to honestly discuss their thoughts about how it feels to work with you, the home visitor.

How To

You can reflect with parents by:

  • identifying a situation that deserves notice. It may be very positive; for example, immediately after the baby rolls over, he looks at his dad with a smile. Or it may be something less pleasant to address, such as a parent who says, “She’s such a show-off. What a pest.”

You might say, “What is it like to have him look at you, as if he’s saying ‘Look what I did, Daddy?’ You sure are important to him.” Or, “I wonder what it feels like to you when you think she’s showing off? What is she pestering you for? It sounds like ‘showing off’ is not a very good thing. Can you tell me more about that?”

It could be tempting to say, “She’s not showing off, she just wants you to be proud of what she can do,” but that would show a lack of empathy for something the parent is really trying to tell you. Head Start and Early Head Start are programs that serve both child development and the development of effective parenting. For children to thrive, they need parents who are invested and engaged in the process. Parents need to be heard.

You can help parents be reflective by:

  • inviting families to offer their observations first. For example, “Let’s watch Cade cruising on that couch. What does that tell you about her right now?”

  • helping the parent reflect on the meaning of their child’s actions; for example, “Do you notice how often he looks at you and watches you? Right now he wants to learn everything from you. When you respond and keep the play going, you’re really helping him to stay with something and keep learning from it.” Or, “She’s working so hard for you to notice what she’s doing. What do you think about that? . . . Are there some things you enjoy doing with her?”

  • providing parents of children with disabilities and special health needs with sensitive support as they respond to those challenges.

You can reflect on your own practices in the following ways:

Reflecting on the Visit

  • Dedicating time. You are busy! However, reflection is such an important part of what you do, it is helpful to schedule time to reflect. Plan it for a time soon after the home visit, so you can remember as much as possible!

  • Reflecting on your own responses to the visit. Did it feel productive? Were the parents and child comfortable and engaged? Was there anything of concern you needed to address—or wished you had addressed?

  • Considering family feedback on the visit. It can be helpful to set aside a few minutes for reflection on the visit at the very end. Some programs ask for parent feedback in writing. Sometimes, home visitors set aside time at the beginning of a visit to reflect on what happened the previous week. This can be a reflection on last week’s visit or just a check-in about how families used last week’s visit to move forward toward their goals. How are family reflections like yours? How are they different?

  • Being aware of the quality of relationship and the boundaries between the parents and yourself. Too much distance may make the experience feel clinical and official to the parents. They may feel as though you are in charge. However, not maintaining some professional boundaries (e.g., talking about your personal life) can blur the lines between a professional relationship and a friendship. A friend can do things with or for a parent that you can’t or shouldn’t do in your role.

  • Reviewing whether the experiences of the visit followed the child’s goals and interests, whether the parents had most of the interaction with the child, whether you helped the parents notice the link between their actions and their child’s responses, and whether the family recognized the ways in which they promoted their child’s learning in the visit.

  • Reviewing the joint planning experience. How did the parents’ observations and ideas drive planning? How did you bring in information from the assessment, the curriculum, and your own knowledge of the family’s interests, routines, and resources?

  • Considering whether this home visit was really individualized. Were you flexible and able to make changes if the parents or child were not engaged? How was it different from what you would have done at any other home visit?

Working with Your Supervisor

  • Using reflective supervision. Reflective supervision is a mutual process of exploring your work with families, sharing your understanding of each family, examining your own feelings and experiences, and developing ideas together about how you will proceed. Supervisors do not have all of the answers, nor should they be expected to answer all of your questions or concerns. What’s really nice is when the two of you can discover, develop, and create responsive strategies for working with families together.

  • Recognizing that you cannot do this alone. Home visiting can be very isolating. Look for opportunities to talk to colleagues about your work. Set an agenda: Make sure that you talk about the events and issues that are most important by developing your agenda ahead of time. List out what you want to discuss. If possible, send it to your supervisor before you meet.

  • Using the services of the mental health consultant. If you don’t have regular opportunities to talk with your supervisor, learn whether you can approach the mental health consultant. Often, their expertise can support you with the most difficult issues that you are facing.

  • Prioritizing supervision.

  • Being as open and honest as possible. It often takes time to build a sense of safety with your supervisor, but there is no such thing as a perfect home visitor (or even a perfect home visit!). By sharing mistakes, challenges, and questions, home visitors can make the most of this time.

Experience It

Reflective Practice with Parents

This video begins with a short overview of a family engaged in a home visit. Following this, separately the home visitor and the mother reflect on the success of the home visit and their feelings about the participation of Falcom, the child.


  1. What do you observe about the use of reflective practice in this video?

    • Both the parents and the home visitor step back and comment on what has happened during the home visit.

    • The home visitor uses her experience in the home visit to plan overall for the child, and also to plan for a specific home visit.

    • The home visitor reflects on her relationship with the parents, and her feelings about the home visiting experience.

    • The parents are encouraged to think about their experience in home visiting in general and with the home visitor specifically.

    • They videotape the home visit so they can go back and analyze it.

    • How could this kind of reflection enhance Falcom's experience with home visiting?

  2. How can you apply what you observe to your practice?


    Personal reflections

  3. How do you currently use reflective practice and where could you enhance your use of reflective practice?


    Personal reflections

Voices from the Field: Home Visitor and Supervisor 1

In this video clip, a home visitor participates in a role play about the challenge of a family not showing up for home visits. As the supervisor in the mock reflective supervision session, early childhood expert Rebecca Shahmoon-Shanok, LCSW, Ph.D provides feedback to the home visitor. In addition to the guidance in this particular scenario, the home visitor learns that she operates within the context of a team and must rely on them at times for advice and resources.

Voices from the Field: Home Visitor and Supervisor 2

Kraig Gratke, a program director, talks about how his program uses reflective practice to support his staff. The program has made a number of changes recently to better serve the home visitors and the families. Staff works jointly throughout the process of working with families to support each other and provide needed resources and information. The home visitors work in teams and share offices and the supervisor-staff ratio has been reduced. Reflective supervision is critical to supporting staff and the process pervades the program.

Learn More


In Early Head Start (EHS) programs, reflective supervision and reflective parenting practice can also be thought of as the circle of support, or the continuous relationships that allow caring for and supporting infants and toddlers to be the main focus. Readers will also learn strategies for sustaining relationships built through the circle of support, strategies and issues to consider to overcoming a breakdown in reflective practice, and suggestions for encouraging parents to reflect and build on parenting practices. EHS directors, supervisors, and staff will find the following edition of "News You Can Use" helpful in defining reflective supervision in practice.

Reflective supervision is a process through which supervisors and direct service staff work together to understand the children and families that they serve, as well as their own feelings about this often emotionally difficult work. This paper is designed to provide directors, administrators, and staff with a tool for relationship-based Early Head Start services and describes how some programs have implemented reflective supervision.

What you do and say matters! Explore and practice everyday strategies to develop a positive, goal-directed relationship with a family during an intake visit in a virtual Head Start Center. These relationships are key to our work with children and families, including the journey toward school readiness.

This edition of the News You Can Use e-newsletter outlines the important elements of comprehensive approaches to mental health services and provides strategies for creating a “mentally healthy"” atmosphere. Head Start/Early Head Start program staffers are facing increasingly complex family situations and behavior from young children and may require training and assistance to strengthen their skills and learn new approaches for supporting the mental health needs of infants, toddlers, and their families. This newsletter also highlights the stigma of mental health and offers suggestion to reduce the stigma and encourage parents and staff to use mental health services.