Working with and on behalf of infants, very young children and their parents/caregivers is rewarding, but it can also be emotionally taxing and stressful.  Professionals across all systems and disciplines can benefit from developing and practicing a way to slow down and carefully examine their attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions.

Demystifying Reflective Practice:  Defining Reflective Supervision and Consultation for Infant and Early Childhood Professionals was developed by a group of Wisconsin experts, chaired by the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health.  This guide provides an overview of Reflective Practice,  including such information as:

 – What is Reflective Practice

 – The Benefits of Reflective Practice

 – Essential Elements of Reflective Supervision

 – Building Reflective Practice through Reflective Supervision

 – Who can provide Reflective Supervision or Consultation?

Click here to view/print the guide.


What does it mean to practice reflectively?

Reflective practice is a way of practicing in which the professional is able to step back from the immediate, intense experience of hands-on work and take time to consider what the experience really means.  What does it tell us about the child and family, or about ourselves?  Through reflection we can examine our thoughts and feelings related to our work and identify the strategies or interventions best suited to the needs and experiences of the family (Parlakian, 2001).

Reflective practice considers the parallel process, which describes the interlocking network of relationships within a system, such as those between a supervisor, staff member, caregivers, and children.  Reflective practice also recognizes the value of slowing down, building self-awareness, considering multiple perspectives, staying attuned with ourselves and others, using a collaborative stance and maintaining a sense of curiosity.  Building reflective capacities is an important skill set for any one because it strengthens resiliency and helps maintain a balanced outlook, but it is critical for professionals working with young children, parents and families.

Reflective practice recognizes that the work we do with families is relational, and that children develop, and people continue to strive and do their best, within the context of healthy relationships.  By gaining and practicing reflective skills, professionals carry forth these qualities with families—using the relationship to bring out the family’s strengths and resiliency.  Likewise, when supervisors or leaders practice reflectively this “way of being” contributes to a healthier, more supportive environment where staff can grow and develop.   We know this partly from lived experience, but also through neuroscience research which tells us that the “mirror neurons” in our brains contribute to the influence of relationships and our sense of safety, motivation and overall well-being (Iacoboni, 2009).

How are reflective capacities developed and maintained?

Reflective capabilities are developed, supported and maintained through intentional practice and supportive relationships.  Regularly engaging in reflective consultation or supervision is one way to nurture this skillset in infant and early childhood professionals.  Reflective supervision/consultation (RSC) supports the professional’s growing understanding of themselves in relationship with the young children and families with whom they work.  RSC consists of three primary characteristics:

  1. It is collaborative between the supervisor or consultant and professional,
  2. It is regular and takes place at a regular, scheduled time, and
  3. It is relationship based and reflective—the supervisor or consultant helps the professional to step back and consider the situation and the relationships from multiple perspectives.

The relationship between the reflective supervisor or consultant and supervisee sets the tone that echoes throughout the system, and therefore must be experienced as safe, open and trusting.  The reflective supervisor works to create a respectful and thoughtful atmosphere where staff members feel comfortable discussing information, feelings, and thoughts (Shahmoon-Shanok, 2006); (IL Children’s Mental Health Partnership).

An essential competency developed through RSC is the ability to engage in shared exploration of the parallel process.  That is, both the supervisor and supervisee attend together to all of the relationships, including the ones between supervisee and supervisor, between the practitioner and the parent(s), and between parent(s) and child and how each of these relationships affects the others. (Shahmoon-Shanok, 2006).

Reflective supervisors and consultants listen carefully and wait thoughtfully, allowing the supervisee to discover solutions and explore concepts and perceptions without interruption.  Through this way of being, a holding environment is created.  That is, there is a space created where it is safe to explore accomplishments, insecurities, mistakes, questions and different approaches to working with children and their families.  The supervisor or consultant does not take on an expert stance; rather, they use empathic inquiry, collaborative exploration and shared capacity building to guide the professional towards increased self-awareness, compassion and understanding, which in turn, the professional internalizes and carries forth in their work with families.

reflective practice quote

Endorsement & Reflective Supervision/Consultation

Endorsement Applicants will want to explore how Reflective Supervision/Consultation has contributed to competency in:

  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Working with Others
  • Thinking
  • Reflection
  • Other domains

Note:  Reflective Supervision is recommended for all applicants, however only Level II, Level III, and Level IV-Clinical Endorsement applicants are required to receive it. Reflective Supervision is NOT required for Level I, Level IV Policy and Level IV Research/Faculty.


Additional Resources:

Early Head Start National Resource Center™ A Collection of Tips on Becoming A: Reflective Supervisee


Early Head Start National Resource Center™ A Collection of Tips on Becoming A: Reflective Supervisor



If you have questions about Reflective Supervision/Consultation, or would like to learn about opportunities to connect with a Reflective Supervisor/Consultant, please contact Carrie Finkbiner ( or call WI-AIMH at  608-442-0360.