Dealing with any kind of change during the tender age of childhood can be stressful. Children are still growing and learning to deal with different kinds of emotions. During the growing years, they have their own set of issues that they are trying to process. At this tender age, dealing with changing dynamics of the family can cause too much stress for the children. Adjusting in the stepfamily, or as it is increasingly called, blended families or bonus families is not as easy and as funny as it is shown in Brady Brunch.
Starting a new family comes with a pre baggage of stressful events. Children have either witnessed a very stressful splitting up of their biological parents or experienced a very dreadful loss/ death of either of the parents. Whichever is the case, this type of stressful environment can cause various kinds of behavioral problems in children. They tend to project their emotions in a hostile manner or slip into depression. Children sometimes even tend to blame themselves for the splitting up of their parents and are in a very guilt-driven state. This pre-baggage of anger and frustration can make blending into a new family more stressful.
Children even tend to blame the new spouse of their parents for the splitting up of their biological parents. They feel lonely and out of control. They see their parent’s new spouse as a threat to their safety and more often than not, resent them. They turn into a rebel and tend to show hostile behavior towards their step-parent.
How many times have you heard the dialogues like, you are not my real father or mother so you can’t tell me what to do? Their resentment towards you can stem from various reasons, but before we dive into finding the ways on how to make your stepchild like you better, let us first understand what might be causing their resentment.
Few reasons why your stepchild might dislike you.
1) Loyalty Issues
One of the major reasons why your stepchild may show resentment towards you, even if you are being warm and loving towards them, can be their own loyalty issues. Kids might feel that they are being unfaithful to their biological parents if they warm up to their stepparents. In this type of situation, children show resentment and hatred towards the stepparent, or as they say, bonus parent, to stay free from the guilt that might arise from liking their step-parent. They feel compelled to be faithful and loyal to their biological parent. There is an added trauma when their biological parent happens not to like you. They feel that by liking you they will be giving you the place of their parent and replacing their biological parent. They feel that it would be cheating on their own parents who they love so much and hence they act out.
2) Insecurities and Jealousy
Children tend to get extremely close to the parent who gets their custody. Living alone with a parent post a traumatic event gets them both tremendously close to each other.
Any newcomer in that circle is often met with resentment and hatred that arises from their own insecurities. They feel that the attention that they had only to themselves will now be divided. They see the new parent as a threat to their own safety. And they feel that the step-parent might take their biological parent away from them. They look at you like you are an intruder in their happy space. When they see you making their parents happy, they might see it as an attempt to take their parent’s love away from them.
Chances are they see you as a reason why their parents split up if the two of you met before the official divorce. Divided attention of their parent can be another reason why they might be misbehaving with you. They might blame you for their parent’s less attention on them. They charge you guilty for taking away and breaking their family. In case their biological parents had a bad break-up with lots of fights, they might also feel that because of you, their biological parents might stop liking them.
3) Badmouthing from your spouse’s ex-partner
Divorces between two people can sometimes get really ugly and resentful. Parents often bad mouth about their ex’s current partner in front of their children. They sometimes even try to turn the child against their ex-partners’ new spouse. The impressionable mind of the child might not realize the reason behind their parent’s hatred towards you. Children generally conclude that if their parent is talking ill about you, that might mean you are a bad human. This negative impression of yours caused by their parents can cause children to act out in front of you.
4) Behavioral Problems
Children tend to develop various kinds of behavioral problems when they go through a stressful experience. They turn into a rebel to hide their trauma. They don’t want to look weak or lame by showing their sadness, so they put up a face of being indifferent and turn to provocative ways to hide their emotions. The hostility that they project towards you might have very little to do with you. They might be acting out or being rude to you just to hide their emotions and pain of what they are going through.
As we can see the young mind of a child can be a very messed up place, they are in no capacity to process their own emotions. These emotionally stressful events can be too much for them to take, a child’s primary need for safety is only fulfilled by the family and when they experience a disruption in this safe place, they can develop various behavioral problems.
There are few things for you to keep in mind when you are trying to get a child to warm-up with you.
1) Don’t Try To Replace Their Parents
Don’t ever try to take the place of or replace their biological father or mother. Be friendly and warm with the child, but if they feel like you are trying to replace their biological parent’s place in their life, they might not like it.
Like we discussed above, kids feel a sense of loyalty with their biological parents. What we call conflict by proxy, a child thinks that it’s his/her duty to not like you because they see themselves as a proxy of their parent.
Make sure you never badmouth your partner’s ex-spouse in front of their kid. If possible, establish a cordial relationship with their parent. If they don’t see you as a threat or someone who is taking their parent’s places, then chances are they might warm up to you.
Let them take their time to open up to you, avoid saying things like I am your new mommy or daddy. Make sure they respect you as an elder but don’t try to dominate them like a parent.
2) Don’t Try To Force Your Affection
A child needs its own space and time to open up to people. Especially a child who has gone through some kind of trauma. If you try to force too much affection on the kid and compel the kid to share everything with you, chances are the kid my turn arrogant. Instead, make the kid feel that it is a safe space for him to open up. Share the details of your day with them. Make them feel heard. Doing these little things can help you gain the trust of the child.
3) Make Them Feel Secured
After going through trauma anyone, and more so, children tend to develop various kinds of insecurities. They might perceive you as a threat who might take away their parent’s attention from them. They might also feel left out and out of control. A sense of security that a kid gets from the family is very important for their wellbeing. So try your best to make them feel secure.
Instead of trying to be an important part of the kid’s life right away, make sure they get to spend some quality alone time with people who are already important to them. Involve them in the decision-making process and make them feel their opinions matter. Give them attention when they try to share things.
4) Plan Out Fun Things With Them
Plan fun family activities for your kids. If you feel that a child is reluctant to join the family, then you can also suggest them to invite one or two of their best friends. A little change in the atmosphere of the home and having fun together can go a long way in improving the bond. Spending distraction-free fun family time is very important. Figure out what the child enjoys doing and plan out your activity accordingly. Having fun together can provide for a temporary distraction from the stress that a child is going through.
5) Maintain A Healthy Relationship With Their Biological Parent
How their parents perceive you and treat you says a lot about how that child is going to behave with you. Even if you hate your spouse’s ex-partners’ guts, you need to try and maintain a healthy relationship with them. You can ask your current partner to intervene if needed. For the sake of the child’s wellbeing, try to maintain a friendly atmosphere that doesn’t cause any kind of additional burden to the child.
6) Get Help From The Expert
Sometimes asking for the help of an expert can be the best solution. Children sometimes can’t open up to their families. They sometimes think that they will cause more trouble if they share their feelings.
If you are trying your best and still can’t crack through the kid, then taking the kid to a therapist can be beneficial. Therapists are experienced and have usually dealt with 100s of such cases. They know how to get the kid to open up and can understand their problem better. They can even guide you better about the steps that you should be taking up as a family to get through this hard situation. Counseling can help the kid to process their trauma better.
7) Don’t Try To Buy Your Love
If you think you can get the kids to like you by buying them things, then you are wrong. Kids are smart enough to see through that. You need to show them genuine care and concern. Getting them expensive things won’t win their affection. Take it slow and respect their space.
Blending a family can be a tedious process, especially if the kids involved are grown enough to understand what is going on. It will take lots of patience from your end and in addition to that, you have to give sufficient time for things to fall in place. Don’t rush things and force affection – it will happen in its own time.