When you first come into a relationship with a man with children it is going to be hard for the children. They may not like you right away and the reason being is that in their minds they were hoping that their parents would get back together and having you (the stepmom) in the picture put an end to that. They also have a hard time because of their loyalty to their mother. It’s even harder if the biological mother is bitter about the divorce or separation and doesn’t get along with your spouse to begin with. Often times the biological mother will put thoughts into the children’s minds that are negative. For example: “Don’t listen to her, she’s not your Mom” “She took your Dad away from me”, “She’s the reason why I and your Dad are not together”, etc. Sometimes the children will have a hard time getting adjusted if they moved to a new home. They even have a hard time when there are other children in the picture. Everything takes time to get adjusted. The timing for this is different with every child. Some children take longer than other children do. Having children go through a divorce is hard enough then you add a remarriage into it, it makes it even harder for children. One thing I do recommend doing right after you move in together is established House Rules and Consequences if those rules are broken. Every child needs structure it teaches them respect and responsibility for their actions. To learn more about how to create House Rules, click here.
Then after House Rules are created, I suggest creating a chores chart especially if the stepchildren are living with you 50% of the time or more. To learn more about setting up chores, click here.
Another hard adjustment for the stepchildren is having step-siblings. It’s going to be hard at times for all of them to get along and that is why establishing House Rules will help. Just expect that all of the children will not get along that way when they do have issues you will not take it so hard. When they do get along praise it and make a big deal out of it. Sharing toys with one another is going to be the hardest thing for all of them to do especially if there was only one child. So expect there to be a few bumps in the road especially during the first five years of a blended family. Just remember it’s how you handle the bumps in the road is how you’re going to be able to recover. You can’t expect everyone to all get along all of the time. You have to remember that your stepchildren also take after their biological mother and that your children also take after their biological father, so when you put all of those personalities together, they are bound to not see eye to eye on a few things every now and then.
If you notice a lot of bad behavior from one child versus the other children, they may be lacking attention from their biological parent. They may need more undivided attention from their biological parent. Make sure the child is getting enough 1:1 time with their biological parent, you will see their behavior improve once they are getting that attention and love they need.
I found eight ways of helping your children adjust to hard adjustments through reading the book called: Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. I hope these eight ways help you with your children.
Be an Active Listener. When your child is talking to you, nod and acknowledge that you are listening to them. Another way to acknowledge that you are listening to them is giving nonverbal cues and then use words to show you are listening to them for an example “I see” or “go on” then recite what they said to show that you understand them. Active listening also involves asking questions about what they told you and then lastly offering to problem solve it. However, not everything needs to be solved or fixed; they might just need someone to talk too.
Give Encouragement and Praise. Try to find ways to encourage them. Then find ways to praise them whenever they do something right. Give them positive attention like hugs, smiles and words of admiration.
Use Nondirective Attention. Give them your undivided attention which means, no distractions when they are talking to you. That means put down the cell phone or turn off of the TV to show them that they have your undivided attention. As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that when you engage in nondirective attention, you’re as fully present as possible, but your child runs the show. Try to show your child nondirective attention a little every day, because it really shows the child that you are interested in what they have to say and it also makes them feel important.
Give Emotional Coaching. Anytime you feel an emotion talk about it with your child and label that emotion that way the child learns from your example and then will start to label their own emotions when they have them. Try to always validate your child’s feelings when they are expressed. Make sure they know it’s okay to have those feelings. An example of a validation is saying “It’s okay to feel that way right now. I would feel that way to if it happened to me too.” Model how to cope with their feelings of emotions. Always encourage them to label what kind of emotion they are feeling.
Give Training. Sometimes our children need to be trained on how to do something that is required of them to do. It could be a really hard adjustment when they don’t know how to do something and are afraid to ask for help.
Offer Choices. Instead of saying no to a request they made try to offer the child reasonable choices that you would like. For example: instead of asking “Do you want to take a shower”, ask this instead: “Do you want to take a shower before or after dinner”. If there is something your child must do but you don’t want to hear them say No to it, offer a choice in the question with it leading to doing the task you want them to do anyways.
Offer Inviting Cooperation. Providing an invitation to help out with something might be a great way of getting them to help out more with things without having to ask them directly. For example: “If anyone wants to help me make dinner, feel free to come join me now.” It’s a different way of asking for help and it might work with some children.
Hold Family Meetings. When children are having a hard time adjusting to things within a blended family. It’s good to have family meetings about things. Every new blended family should be having family meetings in order to help adjust to the family dynamic. As Amy Baker co-author of Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex states that having family meetings help build family cohesion which helps strengthen family bonds and prevent conflicts and discord. To learn more about family meetings and how to create them, click here.
A great way to parent that will help get through hard adjustments is to enhance your relationship with your children and to always keep the communication open, engage in active listening, always give them a lot of praise and encouragement, always invite cooperation, offer choices to them, give emotional coaching to them when they need it. Children really want to feel like they are being heard, understood and valued. Always try to encourage your child to speak their mind with you and always try to listen to what they are saying. You don’t have to do what they say, but just listen to what they may be feeling at that moment and somehow work through those feelings with them. Sometimes they don’t need something fixed, they just want to be able to vent and pour out their feelings to someone. Sometimes they just need you to listen, show care and just be present with them, so that they will feel like they are being understood and heard. Being a child in a blended family can be very difficult especially if they feel like they have no one to talk too. Having an open door policy with your children will help ease the hard adjustments they may be feeling and will help them adjust to your blended family better.
What ways have you found help children get through hard adjustments?
References:Amy J.L. Baker & Paul R. Fine (2014). Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex. What to do when your ex-spouse tries to turn the kids against you. New Harbinger Publications., Inc.