Tips for building a lasting relationship with your stepchild

Building and maintaining a positive relationship with your stepchild can be a complex task. As a stepparent, you’ll be keen to build a lasting bond with your stepchild, however, you’ll also need to find the balance between being a friend and being an authoritative figure. As a stepparent, your roles and responsibilities are the same as those that you hold with your biological children if you have any; your job is to be a figure who can be counted on to advise, protect, teach, and support them. 

Building a bond that cultivates trust and encourages open and honest conversation can be a difficult road to navigate due to anxiety from both the stepparent and stepchild. Often these anxieties revolve around the fear of replacing the biological parent. To help minimise these worries, and help you as a stepparent to build a lasting relationship with your stepchild, I’ve written this blog post with the hope of guiding and advising new stepparents. 

If you’re searching for ways to build a bond, maintain a balance, and ultimately create a happy family unit, keep reading.

Firstly, take a step back from your role and consider what the world looks like through your stepchild’s eyes.

Before you even attempt to dish out compliments, discipline, or unsolicited advice, I recommend you first take the time to view the situation through your stepchild’s eyes. Empathy is an important trait when it comes to blending families together and building any kind of lasting relationship with your stepchild. 

Friendship is the first step of any relationship. You wouldn’t jump into marrying someone without first becoming good friends and building up that trust, would you? With this in mind, the first step to gaining your stepchild’s trust and friendship is to consider how things appear to them. 

  • Have their parents recently divorced?
  • What details were shared with them during the separation process?
  • Do they consider one of their parents to be ‘to blame’ for their parent’s breakup? 
  • Does your stepchild think that you are trying to replace their biological parent?

Talk to your partner and establish exactly what details were disclosed to your stepchild. Although it’s recommended that when breaking the news of a divorce to children the parents avoid mentioning any incriminating truths or playing the blame game, this isn’t necessarily the case a lot of the time. Your stepchild may consider you the ‘enemy’ and harbour some resentment towards you, especially if they witnessed a particularly dramatic breakdown of their parent’s marriage.

How to approach your stepchild after establishing their POV.

It is likely that with any divorce or separation, the children involved will have unanswered questions. They may not have felt able to ask their parents these questions, or they may have thought about these queries after the initial discussion occurred. Your stepchild is likely to have complex feelings in regards to your relationship with their biological parent. 

Therefore, in order to start building a lasting bond with your stepchild, ensure they know that you are there for them whenever they need you and that they will in no way be ‘betraying’ their other biological parent by forming a friendship with you. 

Don’t smother your stepchild; instead, encourage plenty of one-on-one time with their biological parent.

It’s a natural instinct for us to insert ourselves into as many activities as possible in an attempt to build a bond with our stepchildren. However, by doing so, it’s likely that you’re actually hindering your chances of building a positive, lasting relationship with your stepchild. 

The initial thought process is that by spending more time with them, being nice to them, and taking them to do exciting things, is that they will like you more and therefore your friendship will grow faster. However, in some cases, this tactic may actually have the opposite effect. Your stepchild may feel suffocated by your presence and resent you for trying to ‘buy’ their friendship.

Why is it so important to encourage one-on-one time between your stepchild and their biological parent?

It’s vital that you respect your stepchild’s boundaries and allow them to have one-to-one time with their biological parent. There are a few reasons why encouraging one-on-one time with the biological parent is beneficial to you as a stepparent. 

Firstly, stepchildren will usually want to know more about their new stepparent. If the relationship is relatively new, they may have quite a few questions, including how long you’ve been together, where you met, and if you’re replacing their other biological parent. It’s likely your stepchild will feel more comfortable asking their biological parent these questions.  

Secondly, it’s vital that your stepchild understands that they’re still a top priority in their biological parent’s life. A new relationship, a new parental figure, and maybe even new living arrangements…these are all huge life changes; the reassurance of the biological parent will help to build the foundations of your relationship with their child. Your stepchild needs to know that they’re still important to their biological parent, so allow them plenty of time and space to go on day trips together and play together at home. 

Promote open communication between you and your stepchild.

Communication is the foundation of any good friendship or relationship. Without communication, how would anyone know what was needed of them, or what they needed in return? The same goes for when you are looking to build a lasting bond with your stepchild. 

It’s vital that you open up all communication channels between you and your stepchild.

It is absolutely imperative that you open up the communication channels between you if you are looking for a way to build a lasting bond with your stepchild. You may not immediately be the person that they turn to for advice, but ensuring they know you’re there for them no matter what is the first stage in establishing a lasting bond. 

Make sure that you clearly state to your stepchild that you are a person they can trust. You’re going to be there for them to offer your help, unbiased advice, or even be the person who is there to have a laugh with them when they’ve had a tough day. 

Listening is often more beneficial than talking.

Conversation is all about give and take. One person expresses their opinion whilst the other person listens. Learning to take the back seat when your stepchild is talking to you about their lives is something that will help you to form a lasting bond with them.

When nurturing a bond with your stepchild, encourage them to discuss their hobbies and their passions. Use this open line of communication to learn more about this new person in your life and understand what drives them and makes them tick. Depending on their age, this could be anything from an intense love of Peppa Pig, to drawing anime, reading, or participating in sports. 

Letting, and even better, encouraging them to discuss their hobbies, share their interests and express their passions is what’s ultimately going to seal your bond. Listening to your stepchild, relating to them, sharing passions, and learning new things about the world together is a journey that will contribute to who they become as they age, and leave them with positive, lasting memories of you as a stepparent. 

Lastly, but most importantly, don’t take things to heart.

Building a lasting bond with your stepchild won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t happen for several months, maybe even several years depending on your situation. If you find that building this friendship with your stepchild isn’t going to plan, don’t take it personally.

Your stepchild is just that – a child. For them, things are often complicated and messy, and emotions are hard to understand. Remember to see the world through their eyes and establish whether or not their behaviour towards you may be as a result of the things they’ve experienced in life so far. Your stepchild may be angry at you or one of their parents, and lashing out or being mean is a completely natural response to these complex emotions. 

These changes may not seem like a big deal to you, but to your stepchild, they are huge. 

Remember that in this situation, you are the adult. You are likely to have a say over anything that directly, or indirectly affects them from now on. From what they eat for dinner, to what school they go to, even to some extent, where they live or spend the majority of their time.

On the flip side, your stepchild doesn’t have a lot of say in what goes on. As a child, they are likely to have these things decided for them, and this can lead to unpleasant behaviour towards you and their biological parents. Regardless of their behaviour, however, you must remember that you are the adult and they are the child.

As an adult, you’re more capable of controlling your emotions and adjusting to suit new experiences and changes.

There will always be a period of adjustment where things may seem up in the air, and there will always be bumps along the road. Whatever happens, make sure to keep those communication channels open and ensure that your stepchild knows that you love them and that they’re you’re family now.

Rachael is a 31 year old mum to 10 year old Luke and 5 year old Oscar. She lives in England and writes about family life, crafts, recipes, parenting wins(and fails), as well as travel, days out, fashion and living the frugal lifestyle.

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