Help Your Children Adjust to a Step Family
Introducing your child to a new step-parent or even step-siblings can be a challenging process, especially when your child is resistant to change.
Therefore, it's important that you approach the situation with a certain amount of delicacy and understanding and that you take the time to see things from your child's point of view.
Over time, your child will adjust to their new family circumstances and hopefully grow to love the new additions.
Telling Your Children about Your Plans to Re-Marry
- Be open with your children about what is happening. Nothing beats resolving potential difficulties ahead of time. Therefore, it's a good idea to be open and honest with your children from the outset and make them aware of any possible changes in family structure.The more information they have, the more prepared they will be.
- Present the idea of having new relatives to your kids. This will help you to gauge their responses and how they feel about the possibility of having a step-father, step-mother or step-siblings later on.
- Create an open dialogue with your children. Initiate open and regular communication with your kids. This will enable them to open up to you about any concerns or reservations they might have.
- Keep certain things in mind when telling your children about your plans. Usually, there is no "ideal" time to tell them about your plans to re-marry. You just need to do it as gently as possible, when the time feels right. Just make sure to remember the following factors:
- Surprise announcements won’t work. You have to break it to your kids slowly and gently to make sure that you have the ample time to talk and listen to each other’s opinions.
- Make sure that your kids and your partner have already met prior to your engagement. They're likely to digest the news much more easily if it's someone they've met.
- A one on one discussion or spending a day with your kids is probably the best approach when it comes to telling them about your plans. You can take them out for dinner or spend a day out-of-town, this allows you to have quality time alone with your children where you can explain the situation.
- Set up a time for your biological children and step-children to spend some quality time together. Allow your kids to spend some time with their future step-parent and step-brothers and step-sisters. This is an important part of the process of getting to know each other.
- Blending two families together is not an easy task. It is important to find the right time to introduce your kinds to the future members of your family. As soon as you inform your kids about your plan to re-marry (or before this, if possible), you may start planning their first meeting. Remember, first impressions last so be sure that the timing is perfect for everyone.
- Pick a fun place where they can bond and get to know one another. You can choose to take them to their favorite amusement park for a perfect day of bonding together.
- Let your future partner and your own kids spend some time alone together. Allow them some bonding time to get to know each other’s personalities. Eventually, your kids will find some common ground with their future step-parent.
Allowing Your Children Time to Adjust
- Be prepared to experience some bumps along the way. When you and your children move in with the new additions to your family, expect them to need some time to adjust to the situation. Common issues kids in this kind of situation may experience include:
- The feeling of being isolated or left out.
- The feeling of being replaced.
- The feeling of being restricted and given ultimatums.
- Lacking trust or respect for the new family members.
- The feeling of being pressured to accept these huge changes before they are ready.
- Make yourself available to listen to your child’s concerns. The blending of a family is an emotional time for children. Take a moment and put yourself in the child’s shoes—are they mourning the loss of a deceased parent or grieving after a difficult divorce?
- Listen to each child’s fears and concerns and make their emotions a central part of your new family bonding plan. Don’t expect each child to adjust or accept the change at the same time, and don’t push them to love their new life right away, but rather let them adjust and heal at their own pace.
- Recognize that your child is going through a major change and that they might react differently to it — accept that and slowly motivate them to become integrated into their new step-family.
- Try to avoid rushing your children to become close with their step family. Give each of your children — biological and step — enough time to adjust to each other’s personalities.
- Each person has different ways in coping with changes in the family, so give them room and allow the situation to sink in. Respect their feelings and show them that they are important, loved and appreciated.
- Changes should be made gradually. Don’t force or expect them to accept any changes instantly. That may just put extra strain on your relationship.
- Spend quality time with your biological children to reaffirm your own relationship. A common fear of children joining a step family is that their biological parent will love their new stepchildren more than them.
- Take time to maintain a strong connection with your biological children and do things with them one on one. Make them feel special and loved by taking the time to listen to them or to do a special activity that they love.
- If your child loves art, take time to go to an art class together, or take a trip to the arcade if your child loves video games. You may feel the need to establish strong relationships with your new stepchildren, but don’t forget about the kids you already have.
- Be patient. A new stepfamily doesn’t become a perfectly blended family overnight. There will definitely be ups and downs for everyone during the adjustment process. Practice patience and keep trying to bring the family together in natural ways.
- Don’t pressure your children to be best friends with the members of their new step-family, but do encourage respect and teamwork among family members.
- Not every family is perfect, and trying to corral everyone into thinking they are instantly one big, happy family can cause major resentment from the children.
- Take things slow and find natural ways to bond with each member of the new family.
- Consider trying to find some common ground. Encourage relationships within the step-family, but don’t push anything before children are ready. Try to find similarities between members of the family and encourage them to explore those interests together.
- For example, if you have a biological daughter and a stepdaughter who both love soccer, take the entire step-family to a soccer game that the girls will enjoy and that will hopefully foster a new relationship between them.
- New step siblings naturally feel some competition with each other, so don’t push instant friendships. Pay attention to each child individually and point out their similarities and opportunities for friendship.
- Set up a time for your biological children to spend some one-on-one time with your new spouse. Allow time for your child to spend one on one with your new spouse. #*Some children have a difficult time adjusting to a new parent and may not know how to best handle the situation. Others may worry that they are betraying their biological parent by bonding with their new stepparent.
- Allow the relationship between child and stepparent to grow at its own pace, but encourage both sides to communicate and spend time together at whatever pace they need.
- If your child is comfortable, encourage them to go on an outing or do an activity individually with their new stepparent. This can be as simple as a walk to the park or a trip to get ice cream, but can allow a new relationship to grow and for both parties to become more comfortable with each other.
- Keep your child’s biological parent in the picture if possible. Children adjust better if both biological parents are involved. This isn’t always possible, but when it is, make a conscious effort to involve both parents.
- Allow your child’s other parent to come to major events, like recitals and graduation, and let them have regular one-on-one time. Make sure your child knows that their new stepparent isn’t there to replace their biological parent, but to be another person you loves them.
- If you are sharing custody with the other parent, try to have regular check-ins where you share information and updates about the child so that everyone is on the same page.
Creating a Cohesive Family
- Hold regular family meetings. Listen to each member of the family and make sure each child’s voice is heard. Holding regularly family meetings creates an open environment to discuss progress and problems and to work through issues as a team.
- Make sure the opinion and feelings of every child are heard so that no one feels overlooked or invisible, which can easily happen in a blended family.
- Encourage open and free communication and work to create a calming and supportive environment where children feel free to discuss their feelings.
- Work together to create rules for the whole family. As a family, create a list of family rules and display them in a prominent place.
- Discussing the rules as a new family helps everyone’s voice be heard and gives each child a buy-in to follow the rules.
- Children from different backgrounds and upbringings may have different ideas of rules, so do your best to mediate the situation and find a compromise without playing favorites.
- Create roles for each parent. Create a safe environment for your new family and have roles for each stepparent. Be aware that your biological child may react differently to guidance and discipline from their new stepparent.
- At the beginning, it may be helpful to maintain control as the main disciplinarian to your own child instead of risking your child alienating their stepparent.
- It can be helpful for the stepparent to fill the role of friend or counselor, at least at first, in order to build a strong relationship with your child.
- Spend quality time with the whole family. Use your already established routines to bond with everyone. Examples of fun bonding activities include:
- Cooking weekend breakfasts.
- Having family dinner together.
- Monthly hiking or biking trips.
- Going on your annual summer vacations together.
- Create new traditions together. Creating opportunities for all members of the blended family to participate in an activity together will help each child feel welcomed and accepted.
- Many new blended families go on a vacation together to celebrate their new life. This can be beneficial to some families, but the key is to establish routines and rituals in everyday life, not just in vacation mode. Find a tradition or activity that works for your family, such as weekly game or sports nights, eating a special food each week, or a monthly trip to the zoo, and follow through.
- Getting the input of each child when deciding the activity can also help with a smooth transition. Regular family activities give children something to look forward to and help them feel that they are part of something bigger. It also creates a fun environment for the family to connect on a more casual level.
- Try to incorporate your biological child’s traditions. When it comes to holidays and existing traditions you may have with your biological child, don’t throw them away or disregard them now that you have a new family.
- Children crave consistency and having a tradition from their old life can be a comforting reminder of how things were while also strengthening your bond with your child.
- If you and your child have always baked sugar cookies together around Christmas, make sure to keep that tradition alive even after you join a step-family.
- Adjusting to a new step-family is difficult for everyone involved. Take things slowly and listen to your child to create as smooth a transition as possible. With time and a little love, you and your child can be enjoy life with a new blended family.
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