Kimberley Blaine, an author and parenting expert, shares her advice on how to develop a strong relationship with your stepchildren.
1. Spend quality time together
The first step to building strong relationships with your stepchildren is ensuring that the time you spend with them is quality time. This means doing more than just taking the kids grocery shopping with you or picking them up from school. "You have to intentionally go out of your way to plan some quality time together," says Blaine. "Children place meaning on things that aren't routine. It makes them feel special -- it gives them this special feeling inside when you go out of your routine to spend time with them."
She also states the importance of doing an activity that the child enjoys. So if you see a movie or go to a restaurant, have the kids choose what they want to see and where they want to go.
2. Listen well
One of the best ways of bonding with a child is by listening to her. But if you put your needs before the child's, it's not a bonding moment, explains Blaine. This means you should listen without distractions (no cellphone, laptop or TV) and you should focus on what your stepchild is saying to you.
"If the stepmom is not listening, the bonding moment isn't going to happen," says Blaine. "It's not going to come easily, and if you think it's going to be 50/50 -- that's not how it works with children." If your goal is to bond, make sure to not place your needs first and to let your stepchild know that she has your full attention.
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3. Go out as a family unit
Spend time as a family unit and show your stepchildren how much you love their father, says Blaine. Going somewhere fun or interactive is also important so the kids can see how happy you are with the family as a whole.
"Children need to know that their mom and dad are grownups who can be special friends. So do something child-centric like going to a movie or a carnival or going out for burgers," she says. "It's important for children to see that their parent can experience joy or fun with another adult."
Spending time together as a family enhances that relationship with a stepparent. When you spend time together, the kids see you enjoying that time as a family unit, which further strengthens your bond.
4. Attend monumental events
Attend important events (such as baseball games and music or dance recitals) as a way of showing your stepchildren you really care. Showing up goes a long way, and just seeing you there will mean a lot to them.
"Kids compare who is there and who is not, so your stepchild is looking at everyone in the room and notices whose parents are there. She'll notice when you don't show up," Blaine says. "Kids feel like they don't fit in if their parents don't show." To go the extra mile, Blaine suggests taking pictures at the event, bringing flowers and complimenting the child afterward.
5. Be respectful
If you show respect and give love, you'll eventually get the same in return, no matter whom you're dealing with -- but this is especially important with your stepchildren. "These children are human beings, not just kids, so when you respect them that will really go a long way," Blaine says. "Children need to know they're loved, so you have to show it."
Hear your stepchildren out and always let them know that you are there for them. Avoid putting the kids down, being sarcastic to them, ridiculing them or denying their experiences. "If you want to be their parent you have to love and respect them."
The key to strengthening a relationship with anyone is letting that person know you enjoy spending time with them and that you're interested in what they want to do and have to say. By committing to showing your stepchildren that they play an active role in your life, you can help strengthen the bond between you.
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