Build a healthy step-family
A psychologist offers solutions for step-parents and step-kids.
(Getty Images)
Moving on from divorce or the death of a spouse can be a challenge for any parent. Meeting someone new, falling in love again and then trying to start a new family only adds to this challenge, especially if there are children from both sides. However, by approaching these inevitable difficulties in the right way, a strong and healthy step-family can be formed.  

New rules

Each spouse’s parental style should be discussed and some agreement reached between the parents. The biological parent should ideally then explain any changes to the child.  Possible topics of contention include: should the child sit at the table to eat or sit on the floor while watching television? Should there be a time for bed every night or should this move according to circumstances? Try to find the middle ground in your parenting styles and set the rules firmly in place.  

Disagreement between the parent and step-parent may be used by the child to their advantage. All children will seek out the parent from whom they think they are more likely to get what they want. Remember to be consistent.

A new home

When step-children move in or come visit it’s not enough to say there’s space in the wardrobe and empty drawers for their things. Redecorating bedrooms and letting children have a say in the colour scheme goes a long way to establishing that “this bedroom is mine/ours.”  

Children who are part of the step-family but who only stay some of the time need to feel welcome too. Help them feel included by giving them a space of their own with everyday items such as toothbrushes, pyjamas, spare clothes, toys and books.

We are all the same

It is very important that all the children are treated as similarly as possible, whether they live most of the time with the family or not. Conflict arises between the couple and between the children if some of the children are favoured more than others with clothes, toys and outings.

It can be tempting to treat visiting children differently, allowing them more latitude because the parent has less time with them. This doesn’t help the child to feel part of the family if they are always treated as a guest. Resident children will resent any favouritism and may transfer this resentment onto the visiting children and their parent. Arrange special family times where everyone participates and feels a part of the family.  

Building a healthy step-family isn't easy, but if you stick it out the rewards will certainly be there. You gain a larger family, you may gain a child of a different sex to that of your own, you can enjoy having a busy family home and you can share in wide-ranging conversations around the meal table – just to name a few.

Tips for happy step-kids

How have you adapted to having step-children?

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