Before I proposed to his beautiful daughter my future father-in-law shared with me what I considered to be the secret in successfully relating to his grandchildren. In his wisdom, he knew as a bachelor with no children of my own I would need help all the help I could get in connecting with a 10 and 14-year-old.
Here’s the secret he shared with me:
His advice was profound. Up until that time, I was thoroughly brainwashed in the old school philosophy of children should be seen and not heard.
This combined with a belief my Air Force leadership experience had thoroughly prepared me for the responsibilities of step-parenthood made me an accident waiting to happen.
If you’re an aspiring stepdad who’s never had to relate to children, it might be a bit intimidating. By applying my father-in-law’s advice, you would connect to your future stepchildren the same way you would connect to any adult you want to establish a meaningful relationship with.
Like connecting with an adult, relationships don’t happen on their own. This is particularly the case with children since they are rarely initiators of relationships with adults.
Here are six tips for helping you make those connections:
- Be Yourself. Be genuine and real. Kids can sense a phony faster than you can say, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. Be open, friendly and happy – the same way you are with your future stepkids mom. Trust the kids with age-appropriate information about yourself to build trust.
- Be A Man Of Integrity. Do what you say you will do. Show up when you say you’ll show up. Call when you say you’re going to call. Be a man they can rely upon. This is especially important if their bio dad is unreliable and flaky. Trust is easily lost and almost impossible to regain especially if you’re a stepdad.
- Remove Any Distractions. Any form of distraction typically prevents understanding. If you’re in the car turn off the music if you’re at home shut off the TV, iPod or Android. Another source of distraction is your head. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by what you want to say.
- Listen. Listen to what they have to say. Regardless of their age, recognize they’re saying what they’re saying because it’s important to them. As an adult, every single thing a child says, reveals what they value. When you can get a glimpse of what a child values, you can see the humanity in them.
Be sure to reserve any judgment you may have about what they’re saying. Confirm you’re listening and interested by your follow-on questions and statements.
5. Respect. Respect yourself and respect the child. You can communicate this by getting down to their level, keeping good eye-to-eye contact and focusing on what they’re saying. Be sure to listen.
6. Be Honest. Lies will eventually catch up to you and when they do they will almost certainly damage your reputation and the connection. Not to mention keeping up with ongoing lies is hard work.
Click here to learn five tips for opening communication lines between you and your stepchildren.