Establishing relationships with stepchildren can be long, hard work. It takes a few years, and sometimes longer, for a new stepfamily to adjust to life together. And even if you've lived together for years, there's no guarantee that you're going to get along all, or even most, of the time. Dealing with problems with stepchildren is inevitable, no matter how long your family has been together. With some effort and dedication, you can successfully handle, and hopefully overcome, problems with your stepchildren.
Adopt a team approach, suggests the Mayo Clinic. While this method might not work in all situations, it's often helpful to hold weekly family meetings to help address problems before they're blown out of proportion. Showing concern for their feelings, or issues they're dealing with, may also help your stepchildren feel supported and understood.
Avoid becoming too involved in issues of discipline. You may run a high risk of incurring resentment or anger from your stepchildren, especially if they are teenagers. The biological parent should always take care of disciplinary concerns in the beginning, says licensed clinical social worker Robert Tabbi in an article for "Psychology Today." Work on establishing bonds with your stepchildren before you venture into the role of disciplinarian.
Establish clear rules and boundaries from the get-go. Don't wait too long before setting up a system of house rules. Be consistent when applying the rules to your own children or stepchildren. According to Kids Health, rules can help children adjust to transitions and create a feeling of uniformity. If you have a double standard for each child or you don't enforce the rules consistently, the frequency of problems is likely to increase.
Address conflict positively, advises Help Guide. When problems arise, don't allow your temper or emotions to get the best of you. It's normal to feel angry or hurt if your stepchildren reject you or pick fights with you. Remember to take a deep breath and don't react right away, no matter how tempted you might be to do so.
Maintain an attitude of inquiry -- this can help diffuse tension and shows your concern. Ask questions like, "What makes you feel that way?" or, "Could you tell me more about that?" Once you understand the problem, you might be better equipped to address the underlying issue.
Display compassion and empathy for your stepchildren. This doesn't mean that you act like a doormat; you shouldn't let them get away with unacceptable behavior. But remember that the situation is difficult for them, too. They've also had to undergo a tremendous adjustment, and your compassion and understanding might help them adjust -- and possibly even help develop stronger bonds in your relationship.
Tips & Warnings
- A number of factors, like the age of the children or the circumstances surrounding their relationship with the other biological parent, can affect problems with stepchildren. Taking your family's unique circumstances into account might help you find the correct approach to handling problems.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in a March 2011 fact sheet on stepfamily problems suggests seeking psychiatric help if your stepchild exhibits serious emotional problems, such as anger directed toward one member of the family, or withdrawal. Consult your pediatrician for a referral to a qualified child psychiatrist or psychologist in your area.
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