Many stepfathers emotionally distance themselves from their stepchildren and stop participating in daily routines that involve the children. Men pull away because being a stepdad can be difficult, especially when they don’t know how to do it.
However, stepfathers can play significant and meaningful leadership roles with their stepchildren. They just need a little guidance to know how they can be a supportive role model in their stepchildren’s lives.
To deal with the occasionally hostile or opposing attitudes of children in stepfamilies, it is essential to understand the child’s emotional scars and pains from prior losses.
Children in blended families have experienced loss, anger, and grief and are likely still mourning the family they had before their biological parents divorced.
Earning a child’s acceptance will take time, but once that trust is earned, it can be extremely rewarding.
The process of earning the respect and leadership of stepchildren takes time. It’s important to involve yourself in the child’s life from the outside in.
The child’s life must be entered by the stepfather as an outsider who gradually gains acceptance at the child’s speed.
If you are a stepdad who would like to be the best stepdad you can be, then these 19 tips on how to be a good stepfather are for you:
1. Communicate Your Commitment
Expressing your commitment to the mother of your stepchildren won’t necessarily be seen favorably at first by your stepchildren, but it’s a needed step forward in the right direction.
Affirming you are steadfast and dedicated to the new blended family unit will offer a sense of comfort and security to the mother and the children, even if the children secretly resent it in the beginning.
Many children still hold out hope that their parents will get back together, and they may view your commitment as a hindrance to living the life they secretly want.
Children frequently see their mother’s second marriage as a loss rather than a benefit. Be understanding while they acclimate to your marriage, but express your devotion to the new family nonetheless.
Over time, children will begin to develop a level of trust and will slowly accept the reality of their new life.
2. Learn Effective Stress and Anger Management Skills
Stress and conflict can happen even in the best of homes. Stepchildren are likely to test their boundaries and intentionally try to push your buttons.
It’s important to stay in control of your emotions, take deep breaths, and not let stress and anger get the best of you.
As you practice remaining calm during these trying times, remember that you are being tested. When stepchildren are allowed to be vulnerable around you and learn that they are safe to do so, they will slowly learn that you are indeed a secure, loving pillar that they can count on.
Being quick to anger will only increase any distance there is between you and your stepchildren. Feeling stressed and angry is natural, and those feelings are valid.
Just practice how you express those feelings of frustration in more constructive and loving ways.
3. Don’t Talk Down to Your Stepchildren
As parents, we often consider how our kids interact with us and behave, but we might not always give much thought to our own words and body language. We discipline kids when they need it, ensure they have appropriate manners, and keep them from acting rudely.
With so much focus on our children’s behaviors, it’s easy to overlook our own behaviors.
Be Mindful of How You Are Talking to Your Child
Even if you’re correcting a behavior issue, be mindful of your tone of voice and how you may soften it when you speak to your child.
Give your youngster your whole attention while listening to what they have to say. Don’t check your emails or send texts on your phone.
When a child sees that you are focusing 100% on them when they speak to you, you are communicating to the child that they are important and you value what they have to say.
Why Being Stern Doesn’t Work
According to research, shouting may be just as detrimental as applying harsh discipline. Your child may listen in the short term, but if you want him to acquire the skills needed to control their own conduct, you shouldn’t communicate like a drill sergeant.
When you shout at your child or use strong language, you’re less likely to succeed and might even sour your connection.
Speaking clearly and politely can gain you more respect and encourage the child to feel comfortable opening up to you.
4. Establish Your Role with Discipline
Discipline may be one of the most difficult situations for a new stepfamily to navigate. Who carries out the rules? Who sets the guidelines? Who is actually in control?
It should be expected that stepchildren will be pushing buttons and exploring the limits of the new family dynamic.
Knowing how the family will handle discipline within the home should be worked out before a blended family comes together as one.
You should concentrate on strengthening your relationship with the stepchild while letting the biological parent handle the majority of the disciplinary issues.
This takes the pressure off of you as the stepdad and allows you to focus solely on bonding with your stepchildren.
Let’s go over some ways a stepfather can contribute while the mother remains the disciplinarian:
- Allow your stepchildren’s mother to be the disciplinarian.
- Make it a point to reward good behavior by complimenting positive things the children are doing.
- Remain calm when you sense negative behavior towards you by your stepchild. Children in a new, blended family are likely confused, are suffering the loss of their prior family unit with both biological parents, and may resent you. The child may view you as a permanent roadblock to ever getting their old family unit back. Don’t take this behavior personally. Over time, this can pass.
- Stepchildren will test their boundaries with you. Communicate with your spouse anything that may need to be addressed.
- If you feel disrespected by your stepchild, it’s good to kindly communicate your willingness to do things for them so long as you feel respected. Expressing your boundaries will encourage the respect you deserve.
- Maintain open communication with your spouse on a routine basis about any concerns you may have. Keeping things that bother you bottled up can backfire.
Instead of being the disciplinarian, you get to be the one who walks around complimenting and rewarding positive behavior.
5. Show Appreciation
The easiest way to boost someone’s confidence and make them feel at ease in your company is to express your gratitude. We all enjoy being around others who make us feel good about ourselves.
Here are some examples of how to show your appreciation to your stepchild:
- Step in to help your stepchild as they are doing a chore and tell them how much you appreciate their help with that chore.
- Say please and thank you on a regular basis.
- When the child does something positive without being asked, acknowledge the good deed.
- Compliment them on something they do well.
- Spend time with your stepchildren and communicate how much you enjoy their company.
6. Don’t Tell Them to Call You “Dad”
You will want to avoid telling your stepchildren to call you “dad” right out of the gate. Give your stepchildren the freedom to decide how comfortable they are around you. Instead, focus on becoming friends with your stepchild.
At the beginning of your new family journey, your stepchildren might secretly not even like you at first.
They may resent you for being the wedge that will prevent their mom and dad from getting back together.
Show respect and value the importance of your stepchildren having a relationship with their biological dad in an open and positive manner.
Soon, your stepchildren will see that you are not trying to take the place of their father.
In the end, patients will win. Focus on the bonding process by doing fun activities together.
Find reasons to laugh, play, and simply enjoy each other’s company void of labels and expectations.
7. Share with the Child What Your Role Is
Communicating with your stepchild about your role in the blended family should be done from the beginning so there are no misunderstandings.
Explain that you respect and encourage their relationship with their biological father. Make sure your stepchildren understand that you have no intention of taking their father’s place.
Stepfathers are viewed as less of a threat when the child feels they are not going to try to take over the father role.
Once you’ve communicated with your spouse that you will allow her to be the sole disciplinarian, share that information with the children.
Now you’re even less of a threat. Not only will you not try to take the place of their father and that you talk positively about their relationship with their father, but you also won’t be trying to tell them what to do.
Suddenly your stepchild’s walls have come down just a tad. With open communication, you’ve clarified things from the get-go which leads to a smoother transition into a functioning and happy blended family.
8. Being Approachable Matters
When it comes to communicating with a stepfather, every child is different. Some children are slow to open up, while others communicate very easily.
As you practice being approachable, keep the following in mind:
- When they come to you, stop what you are doing and give them your full attention.
- Do more listening and less talking. If a child feels lectured, they may be less inclined to confide in you.
- Ask open-ended questions to get your stepchild to open up even more. This will not only get your stepchild to open up more but will also show them they are important and you are making the time to listen.
- Whether you agree or disagree with what the child is saying, validate their feelings.
Trust is built when a child feels valued and that what they say is of interest to you. When you are approachable, it helps a child feel they can tell you anything and you’ll be a loving ear to confide in.
9. Prioritize One-on-One Alone Time with Your Partner
Being content in your marriage is the single most crucial element in raising happy children. Your children will feel safe if the two of you are connected and supportive of one another. Therefore, spending alone time with your partner is crucial.
We have some alone-time ideas below:
- Go see an afternoon movie and then go out for dinner.
- Go for an evening stroll which provides ample opportunity to talk.
- If possible, rent a hotel room on a weekend and enjoy some romance.
- Plan special time alone after the children go to bed.
- Swap babysitting services with another couple who has children.
The ideas are endless, so be creative and come up with what works for you.
10. Spend One-on-One Alone Time With Each Child
What better way to bond with your stepchild than by spending one-on-one time together? If you need to run to the hardware store, ask your stepchild if they would like to tag along and help you pick out some paint.
Driving anywhere together provides an opportunity to talk. Ask the child open-ended questions to get them to open up.
Has the child ever gone fishing? Would they be interested in going to a game with you? Maybe you need a helper to go buy mom some pretty flowers.
The ideas are endless and the list goes on.
Spending one-on-one time together is a wonderful way to bond and gives you both shared memories to reminisce about later.
11. Spend Family Fun-Time Together
One of the best ways to bond as a family is to do fun things together. When everyone is so busy laughing and having fun, the children might forget their resentments and instead see you, the stepdad, as a really fun guy to hang out with.
Enjoying a meal together at a local and lively restaurant is always fun. Or how about a carnival? Why not ask the children what they would like to do?
Whatever the occasion, doing it together creates bonding time.
12. Tolerance Should be Practiced
Being a stepdad in a blended family is not without its challenges. Stepchildren can test your patients, and the bonding time takes a while.
And what happens if, after what seems like a great effort of trying, you are still struggling to get along with your stepchildren?
Practicing tolerance and patience is important. Chances are, the perfect blended family you imagined is going to take longer to unfold than you had envisioned.
If you feel as though you’ve been more than patient and are beginning to get discouraged, you are encouraged to seek counseling.
13. Be a Father Figure
You can be a father figure without being the dad. So what does that mean exactly? In this article, we explain that you need to make it clear to your stepchildren that you have no intention of taking their father’s place.
Being a father figure means being a pillar of strength and a role model to look up to and learn from. It doesn’t mean you need to be called “dad”.
A stepfather can be just as important a role model as a biological dad.
Here are some ways to be a great father figure:
- Being warm and affectionate
- Be a good listener
- Lead by example
- Establish respectable boundaries
- Provide a safe and loving atmosphere
- Promote healthy communication
- Be uplifting and encouraging
What are some ways you can think of that you could be a positive role model in your stepchild’s life?
14. Love Cannot be Bought
It’s tempting, I know. The thought of skipping all the timely bonding stuff and just buying your stepchild that new bike he really wants might get him to like you much more quickly.
Be careful with that mindset, because spending money in return for your stepchild’s positive reaction will send the wrong message.
True bonding establishes real, long-lasting relationships that can’t be bought. The satisfied look on a child’s face may make you the winner of the day, but it won’t have the impact you’re really wanting.
You also don’t want to end up being taken advantage of as the child begins to realize they can manipulate you by getting you to buy them things.
15. Don’t Rush the Bonding Period
It’s essential to take your time and avoid pressuring your stepchildren to bond with you. Always remember that developing a relationship takes time; thus, use patience and allow everyone to acclimate to the new household adjustments at their own speed.
16. Listen with Every Pore in Your Body
When your stepchild talks to you, listen with not only your ears but with your whole body. Stop what you are doing and turn to look at them.
If you are in the middle of doing something, ask them if they can give you just a moment to finish whatever you are doing. And then give them 100% of your attention.
Even when we are busy, we should never be too busy to take 60-120 seconds to stop what we are doing and listen.
When we juggle listening with typing on our keyboard or our phone, we give the message to the child that we are busy, and what they have to say is really not as important as what we are currently doing.
When the child sees us stop and focus on them while they talk, it makes the child feel valued and important. This in turn contributes to healthy self-esteem.
For small children, get down to eye level when they are talking to you, and you suddenly become less intimidating.
17. Open Up About Yourself and Share Your Interests
A great way to begin to bond with your stepchild is to share things about yourself. Maybe you used to go fishing as a kid, so tell a story about that.
Perhaps you have never been to a professional baseball game and would like to know if your stepchild has any interest in going sometime.
It could be that your stepchild is involved in sports or another activity and you express your interest in the pastime.
Or even better, share a story about yourself that makes you feel vulnerable. Maybe you were bullied as a child and it really had an impact on your life.
You get the idea. The more you initiate open dialog about yourself, the more comfortable your stepchild will feel with you.
18. Encourage the Relationship Between the Child and Their Biological Father
Be open and not afraid to talk about your stepchildren’s biological father. Your stepchildren may feel as though they should not mention their biological dad in front of you, their stepdad.
However, encouraging your stepchildren to feel comfortable talking about their biological dad begins with you showing them that it’s OK.
Always keep anything you say about their father positive and encouraging. It’s important for the children to have the best relationship they possibly can with their father.
Your stepchildren will admire and appreciate you for being an advocate as you express the importance of their father-child relationship.
Don’t go into the new blended family with the mindset that you will eventually be the new father to the children.
You can have a very close, nurturing relationship of your own with your stepchildren that is uniquely your own while they at the same time get to value and enjoy their relationship with their biological father.
19. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Children in a newly blended family have likely gone through loss, trauma, and grief. Many have lost the family they once had with their biological parents together as one family unit.
Trauma is experienced when the only family they knew dissolves. The feelings of grief are very real and run deep. When their mother meets and falls in love with someone new, that new love interest becomes a threat to the child.
Further, it’s common for kids to feel that accepting a stepparent will somehow betray their biological parent. They may be concerned that their biological parent would be upset or irate if they like you, accept you, or fall in love with you.
This could make them feel more pressure to ‘prove’ their love and commitment to their biological parent by rejecting you or being unfriendly toward you.
And then there is the boundary test. Expect your stepchildren to test your boundaries. They will probably disrespect you with their actions and how they talk to you. Or, they could show you rejection in other ways such as ignoring you and not talking to you.
Know that these initial episodes of lashing out at you in their own unique ways will eventually subside.
Stepdads can help the bonding process by remaining patient. When the child finally realizes you are not trying to replace their other biological parent and that you are not there to be a disciplinarian, they will begin to trust you and their guard will eventually come down.
About the Author:
Trina Greenfield is passionate about providing information to those considering growing their family. Trina does not run an adoption agency. Her website is strictly information-based, so she is able to provide unbiased, credible information that she hopes will help guide those along their journey.