Building a strong relationship with your stepchildren can be a bit like walking a tightrope. You need to find a balance between being another authority figure and being a friend. At the same time, it’s imperative you don’t try to replace the parent.
Here are a few tips to help you build that strong relationship:
- Build a Friendship
It isn’t unusual for a stepparent to accept the role of being a friend to his stepchild. That’s a good start, but realize that if the child has been through a divorce, he may feel as though he is being disloyal to the other parent if he admits to liking you. So be patient and take it slow — building a strong foundation based on friendship is the first step to gaining a stepchild’s trust. Relationships take time to build, and this relationship is no different. Read A Helpful Guide to Divorce and Children for more insight.
- Give Them Some Space
One-on-one time is essential — not with you and your stepchild, but between the child and his biological parent. Allow them to go on outings alone together or have special time together at home. This doesn’t mean you have to fade away into the background, but it does show the child that she is still important to her parent. You won’t push her out of the picture. With time, you may be able to enjoy some one-on-one time with the child as well, but let her take the lead and let you know when the time is right.
- Share Their Enthusiasm
Take an interest in your stepchild’s hobbies and passions. If he enjoys art, ask if you can see some of his work. If he plays guitar, ask him how long he’s been playing and what his favorite song is to play. Make sure you are sincere, though. Kids are smart enough to know if you are just patronizing them. If you “oh” and “ah” over everything the child does, it will get old quickly and he will not respect you.
- Recognize Everyone’s Role
Respect the other parent. Even if you can’t stand the other parent, never let the child see that. When she wants to tell you about her mom, smile and listen without judgment. Remember, your stepchild loves both of her biological parents. It isn’t your place, or anyone else’s, to make her feel like that’s wrong, and it’s not your place to replace the other parent.
- Leave the Discipline to the Biological Parent
It’s a good idea to set up a list of house rules and consequences together, but let the biological parent lead the discussion with the child. Establish the consequences that will follow certain behaviors, and make it clear that this is the case even if the biological parent isn’t home. That way, if you do have to discipline, it’s something the child already knows will happen. As you build trust and respect with the child, you will also gain more authority.
For more tips on discipline, check out 10 Tips for Setting House Rules for Kids.
- Be a Family
Treat him like he belongs. That means he is entitled to his own personal space and time to himself. It also means he should have responsibilities that are age-appropriate (this is another time your spouse needs to lead). Discuss what the child’s normal responsibilities were at home before you were together, and figure out how to incorporate something similar. If you expect him to do his own laundry and he has never turned on a washing machine, you might run into problems. And of course, ask him what kind of responsibilities he would like to have so he knows you care about what he thinks, too.
- Laugh a Lot
Have a sense of humor, even if it isn’t always fun or funny. Don’t think that you have to create a perfect little life for your new family. Things will happen, and not everything will run smoothly all the time. The more you can laugh, the faster everyone will adjust in a positive way — and you can be proud that you helped make that happen.
Are there any tips you can share to build a stronger relationship with stepchildren? Share them with us in the comments below!
And check out The Joys of a Blended Family and the Challenges.
Kathleen Marshall is the mother to five kids. She also has two stepkids, so she’s seen all sides of the challenges of blended families.