5 tips for a more harmonious relationship with your step-children

By Liz Paul, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

Step-parenting is hard.  Really hard.  You want to support your partner by helping out with the parenting, but you also know you can’t over-step your position.

After all, you aren’t the biological parent…

As a result, it’s easy for the step-child, if they wish, to disregard your efforts to appropriately discipline them.  Or ignore well-meaning advice you give them.

In some cases, the step-children may feel they are entitled to be disrespectful to the step-parent.  They might treat the step-parent as ‘the intruder’ who has spoilt their family.

They might also feel that their place in their own family has changed for the worse… and that you are the cause of that unsettling feeling of displacement.

All of this can lead to serious conflict between you and your step-children.  And eventually with you and your partner (especially if they do not back you up).

So, how can you better navigate the minefield that is being a step-parent?  Here are 5 tips I often teach my clients to help them develop more harmonious relationships with their step-kids.

  1. Be respectful and loving to your step-kids… even if it is not reciprocated

If you are respectful and loving to your step-kids, it creates a model of behaviour that you in turn can expect from them.  That doesn’t mean you are a pushover if they are behaving badly towards you.  It just means you will treat them in the way you want them to treat you.  Even if you and they have to fake it in the early stages.  Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day; and neither are harmonious step-family relationships.  You all need time to build trust and respect.

  1. Regular and clear communication with your partner and your step-kids is vital

Start by talking to your partner about parenting styles, discipline techniques, who does the disciplining, rules of the house and expectations of the kids.  Get on the same page.  Then outline those expectations to the kids.  Then use that discussion as a framework for future discussions if the kids act out.  Further, always keep your partner in the loop regarding conversations you’ve had with the kids and vice-versa.  This limits the ability of the kids to manipulate one of you against the other in order for them to achieve a desired result.

  1. Acknowledge the things your step-kids do right… and less of the things they do wrong

Some step-parents find themselves always noticing the little things their step-kids do wrong, and then ‘chipping’ them about it.  This becomes tiresome pretty quickly for the kids… and the step-parent. It’s usually much better to ignore the inconsequential little things they do wrong, and instead try to see the things they do right and then praise them for that.  And then praise them to your partner, who in turn can pass on that praise to their kids.  This circle of positivity can become infectious over time.

  1. Do not try to take the place of the absent biological parent

Keep in mind that your step-kids probably have a very strong bio-connection with their real parents.  Plus they have spent years working on their relationship. That’s why biological parents can discipline their kids, but the kids will still love them.  They have ‘earned the right’ to discipline them.  You, however, are just a ‘blow in’ as far as the kids may be concerned.  You haven’t yet ‘earned the right’ to discipline them, advise them or be their best friend.  If your partner agrees, let them and/or the absent parent do the parenting… and then you support them in that regard. And certainly do not try to be a better parent than either of the biological parents. Just try to be ‘present’ in your step-kids’ lives and let the relationship build naturally. These strategies maintain the status quo from the kids’ perspective, and they let the kids know you have no intention of taking the place of the absent biological parent.

  1. Encourage your partner to spend time with their kids… without you

It’s important in a new-ish step-family that the children know they haven’t lost the love of their biological parent to their step-parent. A good way to reassure the children is for the step-parent to encourage their partner to spend one-on-one time with their children. Your step-children will appreciate the time with their parent, as well as your generous gesture. It may also be a relief to your partner who might be feeling over-stretched trying to give everyone (including you) the attention you all need.

Liz Paul

Clinical Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Sydney Individuals and Couples Counselling
Think Ahead Centre

Suite 5D, 5 Dee Why Parade
Dee Why NSW 2099

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Ph: 0422 306 679

[email protected]vidualsandcouplescounselling.com