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Winning Their Hearts: A Stepparent’s Guide

April 25, 2024
Parenting Tips, Tips
A Stepparent's Guide

Whether you’re just beginning to blend your family or have been in a blended one for quite some time, stepparenting has its challenges. It can be hard to relate to a stepchild. Even biological parents can find it difficult with their own children.

Stepchildren can be reluctant participants in a family they weren’t ready for. A relationship like that requires solid, steady communication and trust. And one more ingredient: time.

We’ll give you the trust and communication tools to help you build a loving, blended family.

Baggage and Barriers

One giant barrier a stepparent could face is the emotional baggage a stepchild brings with them after their parent’s divorce. It’s possible they experienced turmoil during the process. Furthermore, preconceived notions of how a “stepparent” acts could further solidify those barriers.

Overcoming Obstacles

As a stepparent, you must overcome the obstacles to bond, starting with building a rap sheet of good communication and trust. Here’s how:

  • See From Their Perspective

    As we aged and matured, many of us found it harder and harder to relate to those younger than us. The first thing to do is remember what it’s like to be a kid.

    Every generation faces unique challenges, but remember that small things can be huge for a little kid. Don’t discount their feelings.

  • Don’t Rush or Force It

    Approach relationship-building with your stepchildren as you would an adorable wild animal–cautiously optimistic. You wouldn’t try to befriend your neighborhood squirrels by rushing straight at them. You would lovingly provide them something valuable, like food or shelter. You would move slowly and speak sweetly.

    It’s the same with a lot of people. Rush straight at them, and they’re likely to distance themselves from you. Give them time and space to see that you aren’t threatening, and they’ll come to you.

    Developing their trust will take time. Depending on the child’s disposition and what they’ve been through. Don’t be surprised if it takes years.

    Keep at it. Show you’re a willing listener. You might tell them every day after school, “I’ll be ready to listen whenever you’re ready to tell me about your day.”

  • Become a Good Listener

    Often, our listening skills need improvement. Sometimes, we’re caught up in our thoughts instead of actively listening.

    Think about some of your favorite adults as a child. I bet they let you talk without judgment, lecture, or cryptic sayings. Listen as if you two are friends.

    Listen with the intent of showing empathy and creating a bond. You don’t have to solve their dilemmas or tell them what they should have done differently. Just prove you’re always there for them.

    Your stepchildren will seek you out when they feel you can talk as friends and you aren’t some looming authority figure. They’ll consider themselves on an equal playing field, making opening up to you less intimidating.

  • Follow Through

    You might recall some instances as a child when the adults in your life were less than truthful. Perhaps an adult let you down after saying they’d do something with you, for you, or take you somewhere fun but never made good on their promise.

    The best way to build the relationship between you and your stepchild is to establish trust. And the best way to do that is to do what you say you’ll do.

    The same goes for setting boundaries–stick to them. If you say nine o’clock is the bedtime on a school night, enforce it.

  • Share Control

    Carefully consider household rules. What matters most and makes things run smoothly?

    Have your spouse and stepchildren help set rules and regulations. Your stepchildren (who might have come off a whirlwind of uncontrollable changes) will feel empowered at the chance to help.

    A divorced family app can help you schedule chores and other obligations. Kids will love their own color-coded blocks of time.

    Some apps for divorced parents include expense tracking capabilities. Part of sharing control can consist of family lessons on budgeting for fun things.

    Let each parent deal with disciplining their child during the early stages of blending a family. That way, you won’t look like the evil stepparent whose sole purpose is barking commands and handing out punishments.

    Dealing with a particularly headstrong child? Describe why specific rules are important and give them options for what you will allow. For example, a child having trouble sitting at the dinner table can help you set an acceptable time limit for being in and out of their seat.

  • Assign Chores

    Chores can boost a child’s self-esteem and help them feel like part of the family faster. Plus, they learn the joy of serving others. Without chores, kids can start to feel entitled or resentful.

    Think of ways everyone can pitch in. Take it one step further and get involved in community service projects together.

  • Allow Natural Consequences

    Sometimes, there is no better teacher than a natural consequence. Establish the rules and limitations. Then, let your stepchildren deal with the result of breaking those rules as long as the price they pay isn’t too great.

    For example, a child who leaves dirty laundry on the floor of their room will soon find they have no clean, wrinkle-free clothes to wear. We all had to learn some lessons the hard way. It’s part of growing up.

  • Show Empathy

    Approach conversations over consequences with empathy. Don’t get it mixed up with sympathy, which means feeling sorry for the child. Instead, agree that what they are going through is tough. Perhaps tell them a relatable story from your youth in which you did something similar.

Keep Trying

There are many other wonderful ways to show your stepchildren you care and build a trusting relationship with them. What works in each situation will be different. In addition to the tips above, consider the following suggestions:

  • Eat meals together
  • Give respect to get it
  • Stop yourself from blaming your stepchild for too much

Blending families can present challenges. With considerate communication and trust-building, you can improve your odds of living in a peaceful, blended household. Every family looks different, so don’t judge your progress or timing by anyone else’s experience or outcome.

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