As a stepdad, you naturally want to develop a close relationship with your stepchildren. You’ve been told to expect awkward silences that need to be weathered. You will need to get to know the children and let them get to know you before a bond can form.
However, sometimes these things take longer than expected and developing open communication can feel difficult and strained. So when things are moving more slowly than you’d like, what is the best way to go about it?
Read on for five ways to make open communication more of a reality with your stepchildren.
Take Communication Slow
You may be chomping at the bit to share deep dark secrets, but the kids may feel safest circling in the pasture far from the corral. Take your cues from them and allow them to slowly approach you. If you rush at them with questions or declarations, your stepchildren are likely to gallop into the hinterlands and question your motives – think, “He wants to replace my real father.”
This advice is deeper than it seems. Even after the children approach you, a few words go a long way for building a trust bridge.
Every conversation lays down the groundwork for a closer connection with your stepchildren.
As their trust is built on repeated, consistent interactions, do your best to be patient and go at their speed.
Teachers call this suggestion “meeting the kids where they’re at.” Discover your stepchildren’s interests, especially ones that involve “doing.” If you engage with your stepchildren while participating in an activity they love, the conversation will flow much more naturally. These shared moments are the building blocks you need for growing your relationship.
If your stepson takes piano lessons and loves jazz, you might offer to bring him to a performance. The car ride is an optimal space to chat, first about music and later about more. If your stepdaughter runs track and jogs every morning, even if you don’t run with her, you can make her breakfast afterwards to share the early morning ritual. These regular interactions allow for more natural conversations.
Watch Your Language
Take a page from family therapists and avoid statements starting with “you,”
because children can feel attacked or invaded – even if a compliment follows. Offer a story or comment about yourself before asking questions that may seem intrusive.
You can say, “I tried taking music lessons myself, but I wasn’t very committed to practicing.” Your stepson might respond with ideas about his commitment – and you need to be satisfied with one or two-word answers. With your stepdaughter, you might share being an avid fan of the summer Olympics as a kid – but don’t tell stories about your own athletic prowess to compete with her achievements.
Understand Where They’re At
Here’s the bold truth:
don’t expect to have the same intimate conversations with your stepchildren they may have with the parents who raised them.
But, you can and should expect your stepchildren to treat your verbal interactions politely and respectfully. If you speak to them with kindness and honesty, they should respond with the same courtesy. You and your partner need to agree on this point if any attempt to talk with the children will be effective.
You can start by agreeing on what the children will call you, respecting their comfort levels.
Also, assure your stepchildren you won’t try to replace the other parent and you won’t try to be a buddy.
Give them space – with their friends, in their social media circles online, and even at home. Let them know you desire to be a responsible adult in their lives and talk like you mean it.
Accept the reality – things will go wrong. We say the wrong things to children, even those we raise from birth – biological and otherwise. In addition, children abandon reason, give in to drama and scream at adults – especially ones they feel safe with. Model calm and resilience. Avoid blame and criticism, and leave the discipline to your partner (unless you already share that tricky duty).
Wait for a more serene moment, preferably the shared space you already created, and relate a mistake you’ve made communicating and the steps you took to help reclaim the chatty chemistry you had before the rift. You’ll be paving a way for the kids to get back on the path to the constantly developing discussion between you and your stepchildren.
Finding the right balance between you and your stepchildren is tricky.
While it’s inevitable mistakes will be made, use them as an opportunity for growth.
The more honest and open you are with your stepchildren, the more comfortable they will feel opening up in return.
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