How to Deal with a Stepchild

Three Methods:Interacting Positively with Your StepchildCommunicating with Younger StepchildrenGetting Along with Older Stepchildren

If interested in developing your relationship with a stepchild, put your best foot forward by practicing patience and understanding. Certainly, there are challenges that are unique to interacting with children from a previous partnership. Nonetheless, stop thinking about your stepchild as someone to “deal with”! There are, of course, several further steps you can take to improve your relationship with the stepchildren in your life.

Method 1
Interacting Positively with Your Stepchild

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    Respect the child’s level of comfort with you. You want to make a positive impression on any stepchildren in your life, but be patient about doing so. The key to developing a positive relationship with your stepchild is allowing them to set the pace.[1]
    • Know that younger children will come to desire a closer relationship with you, even if they seem to resist you at first.
    • Focus on taking small, positive steps that let them know you’re interested in them and in their lives.
    • With older stepchildren or those that you may see less often, ask about their day-to-day lives, but don’t be intrusive.
    • Keep it simple, with questions like, “Hey ____, what was the best part of your day today?”
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    Treat stepchildren as you would your own children. If you have had children of your own, and especially if everyone is living together, treat any children you’re helping raise as your own.[2]
    • Always emphasize a familial approach to your interactions.
    • Assign younger stepchildren chores. Asking them to share household responsibilities will indicate that you see them as part of your family.
    • Don’t single stepchildren of any age out with special treatment, or treat them as though they are a guest, as this may make them feel like you don’t consider them to be a part of your family.
    • Older stepchildren, or those you see less often, may actively try not to bond with you. Based on their age and the larger context, you may have to accept this, at least at first. Treat your stepchild respectfully nonetheless.
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    Participate in your stepchild’s education. Participating in school events that involve your stepchild will show them that you care about them. Even if only by attending extracurricular events at first, demonstrate your interest in what they do.[3]
    • Attend parent-teacher conferences. Ideally, you’ll be able to do this with your partner, but if they are unable to attend, don’t hesitate to attend on your own.
    • With school-age children, offer to review homework. Don’t push if they don’t want you to do so; simply indicate that you are willing to do so.
    • Older stepchildren may not need – nor want – your involvement in their education. Especially if both of their biological parents are actively involved in a child’s education already, don’t be intrusive if your involvement is not wanted or otherwise unhelpful.

Method 2
Communicating with Younger Stepchildren

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    Stay in touch with your stepchildren. If you will be playing an active role in helping to raise a child, you need to be in tune with them and what they’re going through. The best way to do this, if you’re struggling to keep in touch via day-to-day interaction, is to have a weekly family meeting with everyone in the household.[4]
    • Staying in tune with one another is not only important, it can offer an opportunity for shared fun and bonding.
    • Make a habit of having one meal altogether each week, and follow it up with an age appropriate activity, such as bowling or game night.
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    Ask stepchildren how they’re feeling. Particularly in regards to life at home, ask them if they have opinions - either positive or negative – about how the family is doing.[5]
    • Ask for specific recommendations from your stepchildren about how things might go more smoothly, even before there are any issues or conflicts.
    • Write out a list of family values, rules, or goals with all of the family members and post it in the kitchen. Keeping a list will facilitate a collaborative method to address any issues, and will be a powerful bonding experience in and of itself.
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    Maintain a parental role by clearly articulating goals and expectations. Respecting a child’s feelings and beliefs is important, but it also important to provide a child guidance and discipline. Talk to your partner about your parenting approach together. Address the specifics, including chores, punishment, bedtimes, homework, etc.[6]
    • Establish firm agreements with your partner about rules and expectations so you can present a unified, cooperative approach in disciplining and guiding your children together.
    • Share your expectations about your stepchild’s participation in the family with both your partner and the stepchild.
    • This can be tricky, because people’s individual morals and values dictate how they see what a family should be.
    • Take care to specify some basic expectations about chores, responsibilities, and behavior.
    • Encourage them. Use statements like, “I see you’ve been studying for ______. I expect your hard work will pay off!” and “Thank you for helping setup for dinner tonight.”
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    Share your affection for your stepchild. Both in terms of body language and physical affection, make sure all of the visual and tactile messages you send your stepchild are positive and loving.[7]
    • While speaking with your stepchild, indicate that you care about what they’re saying by facing them and listening intently.
    • Don’t hesitate to rumple some hair or give your stepchild a hug if they are comfortable with it.
    • Recognize that comfort with even minimal physical affection, such as hugs, may take a while to develop. This is entirely okay.

Method 3
Getting Along with Older Stepchildren

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    Listen and respond gently to unfair accusations. Communicate respect for your stepchildren by remaining calm and being honest with them, especially about your relationship with their biological parent.[8]
    • Understand that stepchildren may be frustrated that their biological parents are not still together.
    • Accept that you cannot control what your stepchild thinks. Avoid getting defensive about any unfair accusations – such as blame for splitting up a child’s biological parents.
    • If they express frustrations with your presence in their life, thank them for their honesty. Say things like. “I’m really glad to you told me that. It means a lot that we’re able to be open and honest with each other.”
    • Respond by clearly stating that your relationship with one of their parents has nothing to do with the relationship between their biological parents, and that all three of you are adults who make your own decisions.
    • Follow up by saying something along the lines of: “I’m glad to be a part of your life, and I hope we end up getting along.”
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    Give older stepchildren space. Relationships between stepparents and stepchildren can be particularly complex, and at times, especially challenging. Don’t complicate this by becoming frustrated or irritated with what you may perceive to be a lack of interest on their part.[9]
    • Model respectful behavior whenever possible. Be respectful even when a stepchild openly disrespects you. Indicating your respect and interest in your stepchildren will encourage them to develop the same for you.
    • While older stepchildren may have less interest in getting along with you, and may even be vocal about that lack of interest, do not take this personally.
    • Offer to spend time with an older stepchild if and when they would like to do so, but don’t push it.
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    Be clear and direct. Even if an older stepchild, or a stepchild who is not often at your home, does not initially welcome your presence, you can still clearly state your expectations about their behavior.[10]
    • Rely on “I” statements such as: “I expect all of us to treat each other with love and respect.”
    • Explain specific reasons why you might see something different than your stepchildren. This is always based on context, but be clear when you put your foot down about why you’re doing so.
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    Communicate with your partner about your parental role. With older children, especially those for whom parenting responsibilities may be split more so between the biological parents than between you and your partner, discuss your role.[11]
    • For instance, clearly establish boundaries regarding who should be disciplining children – and how.
    • Understand that your role in parenting older stepchildren may be more “hands-off” than you might expect or want.
    • Avoid conflict and unnecessary tension with older stepchildren by taking care not to overstep agreed upon boundaries.
    • If you’re struggling to get along with a stepchild who may resist your presence in their lives, ask your partner to speak with the child about it privately.
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    Try to establish a workable relationship with your stepchild’s other biological parent as well. If possible, ask a stepchild’s other biological parent for help. This will indicate that you trust them, and that you’re taking your involvement – in whatever capacity – with the child seriously.[12]
    • Be willing and ready to express concerns, and to listen to theirs.
    • Consider initiating or attending events where everyone will be in attendance. A great option may be an extracurricular event in which the child is involved, such as an athletic match or school play.
    • If the other biological parent is unwilling to speak with you, do not let this affect how you interact with a stepchild.
    • Never criticize either of a stepchild’s biological parents in front of the stepchild.
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    Encourage stepchildren to have one-on-one time with all of their parents. Never feel threatened by a child’s desire to spend time with their other biological parent. Whatever the context, be supportive of a child’s interest in and love for their other parents.[13]
    • Say things like, “I’m glad you were able to spend time with _____.” This will indicate that parenting is not a competitive endeavor and should not be treated as such, which is a good reminder for everyone.
    • More importantly, encouraging your stepchild to have positive relationships with all of their parents indicates that you truly care about their happiness, and are glad to take part in their lives in whatever capacity they are comfortable with.

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Categories: Parenting