Tips for Step-parents

Forming a bond with a stepchild can be tough. Supernanny member Claire Thomas has this useful advice - learnt through personal experience!

Making the Connection

It’s that all-important first step: forming a bond with a stepchild. Your stepchild might be three weeks old, or forty; they might love you on sight, or hate you for years – each case is different, and takes its own time.

Ways to connect

  • Help with every day care. For babies, you could change nappies, give feeds or get up in the night.
  • Join in play - initiate games, comment or ask questions – “What’s teddy doing?”
  • Focus on a shared activity. Baking, shopping or gardening together is a great way to appreciate your stepchild’s skills while allowing a bond to develop in its own time. Ice-skating or bowling with a teenager may seem daunting, but if you look silly doing it, this can break the ice.
  • If your stepchild seems hostile, it can help to talk with them about the absent parent, or encourage them to think of you as a friend rather than a parental figure. No matter how hostile your stepchild is, don’t give up on ever forging a bond. Just keep being civil and friendly, and make sure your partner fully supports your efforts to keep the peace.

You’re Not My Mum

Your relationship with the absent parent – your partner’s ex – can potentially make or break your relationship with your stepchild, so try to encourage a civil relationship. This is often easier said than done, as unfortunately many stepparents have to deal with hostility from the absent parent. The best thing to do in this case is to remain calm as much as possible. Never badmouth the absent parent in front of their child, no matter what they have done. Doing so will only distress your stepchild as they try to choose between their parents, and is likely to damage your relationship with your stepchild in the long run.

A Fine Line: Step-parents and Discipline

It doesn’t matter how well-behaved your stepchild is; sooner or later discipline is necessary. And this is right at the thorny heart of the stepparenting issue – what role should you take? A good rule of thumb is to back up your partner. A united front is essential to successful discipline. If you disagree with the way your partner disciplines, or what they discipline for, broach this with them away from your stepchild.

Never be tempted to side with a stepchild against your partner. Even if this might improve your relationship with the child in the short term, it will damage your partner’s authority as a parent and make for ineffective discipline at other times – not to mention the effect it could have on your relationship. Sometimes you may feel that a child’s behaviour is better addressed by talking things through than discipline. In this case, there is no harm in providing a listening ear, but don’t encourage badmouthing of either parent.

Everyone needs support, but as a step parent it's easy to shut out by the usual parent support services. See Find Out More below for useful websites, books and helplines.

Related links

Discipline for Stepfamilies: Discipline can be a huge issue in stepfamilies. After all, the very fact that a stepfamily exists suggests that some tragedy – a death, divorce or separation – has happened, and that is sure to affect children’s behaviour. But what can you do to try and prevent matters getting out of hand? The Supernanny team offers their advice.

Being a Step-dad: There are millions of stepfamilies in the UK, but because of the tendency of children to stay with their mother after a relationship breaks up, over 80 percent of them consist of a natural mother and a stepfather. Kelvin Wright is one of those Step-dads. He talks about life with stepchildren Alex and Olivia, and his fiancé, Caroline

Divorce - helping the kids to cope: Around 300,000 children each year are affected by their parents splitting up. So what can be done to help them to cope?

Tips for Step-parents: Forming a bond with a stepchild can be tough. Supernanny member Claire Thomas has this useful advice - learnt through personal experience!

Divorce: Don’t forget the children: The estranged parents of Hollywood star Lindsay Lohan have been told "not to make disparaging comments" about each other in the presence of their children. It’s a comment which will be recognised by warring parents worldwide. When you’ve fallen out, just how do you try and remain civil for the children?

Divorce and discipline - how to stop matters getting out of hand: If their Mum and Dad are having relationship problems or going through a divorce it can bumpstart bad behaviour in children of all ages – but you can head off tantrums, aggression and backchat if you work as a team and reach a compromise when it comes to discipline.

Find out more

  • Many online networks such as LiveJournal have web communities and forums designed to help stepparents and these can be an invaluable source of support. Two good LiveJournal communities are Steps And Such and Wicked Step.
  • Family 2000 has some helpful articles on stepparenting.
  • Perdita Norwood’s The Enlightened Stepmother is a transatlantic take on this minefield which approaches the issues head on.
  • Ericka Lutz’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Stepparenting will have you laughing through the tears.
  • The clarity and courage of Stepparenting by Brenda Maddox may appeal to the more serious-minded.
  • Parenting charity Parentline Plus are currently campaigning to raise the profile of stepfamilies and encourage sensitivity on the part of official bodies in dealings with such families. Their Helpline is 0807 800 2222.

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