Step-Parenting – Communication

Patience

As a step-parent you can inspire trust by showing that you understand.  Be calm and treat your stepchild’s confusion or misunderstandings with patience. Reassure and set the records straight.

Many kids believe that they had something to do with their parent’s divorce; recalling times they argued with their parents.  Your words, actions, and ability to remain consistent are all important tools to reassure your children of your unchanging love.

Truthful but not hurtful

Speak with care. Children are sensitive to what you say and how you speak. Be truthful but not hurtful.

  • Children learn from your actions, behaviours, how you handle situations, what you say and how well you listen.
  • Become a proactive listener where your children recognise you are making an effort to be aware of what they are saying.
  • Give children freedom to talk and your active listening could put fears away.

Modelling

  • Children learn through modelling and demonstration, which are more powerful tools than punishments and rewards.
  • It is easier to teach values, morals, kindness, and responsibility through modelling.

It is also often assumed that children have to learn now or the chance will be lost. In a tense moment, it is difficult to remember that empathy, respect, and responsibility are skills that require certain levels of development to be learned.

It is possible that the skills are present at an early age, but just like throwing a ball in the air does not make your tennis serve a weapon in a match, an ability to make a judgment about fairness does not mean that you will act and behave fairly in a complex situation.

There are no perfect parents and we should not blame ourselves or punish ourselves and we should not punish our children either.

Help Children Find their Own Voice
Sometimes parents assume that children wants to get away with as much as they can, and that parents need to teach children what is bad and good in life.

  • Our job as parents is to guide children and help them to find their own voice.
  • Children want to succeed and to do the right thing.
  • Life is like a labyrinth and it is easy to feel and get lost.

Improve Your Understanding 
There are a couple of things you can do in order to improve your understanding.  Point out what it is you want the child to do, considering that a child might experience different set of rules.

  • Be clear.
  • Ask the child how he or she sees to world.
  • Look at life with the eyes of a child.

Children of divorce grow up knowing what it feels like to feel left out. As a step-parent, it is easy to insist that everyone gets along fine and then point out flaws with the biological parent. It is vital to see this from the child’s point of view. I believe that it is important to be honest, and in some cases, the biological parent might not have acted in the best way. But great care be taken when using a less positive description of a biological parent.

Often when the tension level rises, the communication level tends to drop. Too many feelings can make things even more painful. Instead of raising our concerns and exploring them it is easy to internalise them, and hope that the bad things will disappear. The acknowledgement that divorce hurts may start the road to a more meaningful dialogue.

  • Stepfamilies tend to engage in less destructive communication.
  • But this does not necessarily mean that the communication patterns are perfect.
  • Rather, conversations in stepfamilies are often characteristic by withdrawal from conversation.
  • Everyone is afraid and avoid discussing difficult and sensitive issues.
  • Without constructive and effective communication, a stepfamily will never function.

Circle of communication

A blended family lacks a foundation and it is vital to make up for lost time and knowledge. A child grows up in the first family, in an atmosphere filled with familiar faces, sounds, and ways of acting and being in the world.

  • Communication requires practice and experience.
  • We need to help our children to identify their concerns to express themselves in an assertive and respectful manner and to stand up for what they think is right even when they are not understood or when their feelings are not taken into account.
  • We must be willing at times to advocate for our children and to help them make sense of the difficult situations they sometimes find themselves in.

Feelings Count
So many conflicts and misunderstandings can be avoided if children sense that their feelings count, and that there is an attempt made to understand their point of view, that the adults are sympathetic and inquiring rather than judging and closed.

  • Love is expressed and shown in how we spend the ordinary day –   share breakfast, say good morning and good bye.
  • Everyday kindness and understanding, the quality of our attention and caring.

New opportunities

Some of the goals with the communication with children:

  • To enable children to deal with their painful experiences.
  • To enable the child to feel good about themselves.
  • To enable the child to achieve some level of congruence with regard to thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

The way a blended family communicates says a lot about the level of trust between family members. When communication is clear, open, and frequent, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstanding and more possibilities for connection whether it is between parent and child, stepparent and stepchild or stepsiblings.Uncertainty and worry about family issues often comes from poor communication. Children like to know what to expect. When they feel empathy and understanding from their parents and stepparents, they are more likely to be resilient to the normal ups and downs of adjusting to new family members and a new living situation.

“House Rules”

  • Listening respectfully to one another.
  •  Positively addressing conflict.
  • Establishing an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere.
  • Doing things together – games, sports, activities.
  • Showing affection to one another comfortably.
Photo: Dandelion Clock by Tina Phil

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