The One Surprising Strategy to Create Connection Between Kids and Step-Parents
You know your new spouse is an amazing person. You know they care about your kids and want the best for them. You know they're going to influence your kids in positive ways and contribute awesome things to their lives. But…your kids probably don't know any of this — yet.
We hear about the frustration parents often feel when their kids don't seem to warm up to their new partner, or they flat out reject them: "If they'd just give him a chance, they'd see how great he is". Unfortunately, telling kids how awesome their new step-parent is, doesn't seem to have much of an impact.
With many kids, warming up to a new step-parent is a process. I believe they need to discover some things on their own. Rather than being told what they should think of this new person in their life, they really need to figure it out for themselves. This will take time and patience and as parents we can influence the process and help our kids discover for themselves, what we already know.
Seeking the 'Sweet Spot'
It's a universal truth that kids love hearing good news and they seem to light up when things go their way:
- "Guess what kids…we're going to the water park today!"
- "Hey, we're gonna go get some ice cream later."
- "We were able to get those new basketball shoes you've been wanting"
- "All of your friends are coming to your party!!"
The moments when this kind of news is delivered are 'Sweet Spots' for kids - all is good with their world! And most importantly, their walls come down making them more open to internalizing positive influences and interactions.
Delivering Positive Associations
Early in our stepfamily journey, we discovered the power of the 'Sweet Spot'.
As the biological parent, I chose to use this power to help my daughter discover what I already knew…that Mike was a caring and wonderful step-dad for her! Since there is always a positive association with 'Sweet Spot' moments, every time I allowed Mike to be the one who delivered good news to Annika — she received a positive message about him.
The message she received was this: 'My step-parent wants good things for me…he is on my side and I can count on him'. Verbally telling Annika how great Mike is wouldn't convince her, but by creating opportunities for her discover it for herself, through positive associations, she was able to get the message pretty quickly!
Negative Associations Matter
The flip side is vitally important too.
I intentionally shielded Mike from being associated with the delivery of bad news or negative consequences. When it was time to call Annika on poor behaviors or convey things that would lead to her feeling disappointed, I was the one to step up.
As her parent, I already have authority and a long-standing relationship that's secure. Even something with a negative association wasn't going to disrupt our bond. This isn't the case with step-parents and step-kids. Step-parents cannot afford negative associations, especially early on while they're working to build a trusting bond with their step-kids.
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An 'Easy Wrong Turn'
Parents, what I've just shared may sound a bit over the top. I get it - when single parents remarry they're looking forward to having a partner to help carry the load with parenting and discipline. But don't make this 'easy wrong turn'!
Putting your partner in a position of having to be the bad cop is setting them up for relational strain with your kids and it could impact their willingness to accept their step-parent. If you want some ideas about how step-parents can build healthy bonds check out Mike's article Step-Parenting 101.
Of course being the bad cop all the time wasn't much fun for me, but I realized that my daughter was able to accept bad news from me more easily because I was the one with established authority and she already trusted me. And the truth is…it was my job to discipline her.
Hard Choices Lead to Big Wins!
This stuff is NOT easy. Always letting Mike be the good cop was hard for me, but I wanted Mike and Annika to have a strong, healthy bond so I was able to step back and allow Mike to shine in her eyes (I still got to be part of it…but I let him take the lead). The outcome of my choices were worth the sacrifices - Mike and Annika now enjoy a close, loving relationship and she has greatly benefited from his influence in her life…everyone has experienced big wins!
Children living in stepfamily dynamics need to discover that their step-parent is FOR them! And parents, you can send this message loud and clear by choosing to promote positive associations. Help your kids to see for themselves, all the wonderful qualities their step-parent has by elevating them and handing over those 'Sweet Spot' moments. It won't be easy, but it will be worthwhile!
QUESTION: Parents, how can you elevate your spouse and promote 'sweet spot' moments for your kids with their step-parent? Leave a comment below…