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Five Ways to Connect with Your Stepchildren

Five Ways to Connect with Your Stepchildren

Connecting with your stepchildren is one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive. I say this from experience. I have three amazing stepkids and they have brought more joy into my life than I had ever deemed possible. If you are not connecting with your stepchildren, then you are missing out on one of the utmost sources of joy in your life right now.

There is something to be said for choosing to love a person as a parent loves their children. You do it, not because you have to, but because you want to and because they are beautiful people that you are happy to have in your life.

Being a stepparent has certain complications that regular parents do not have and that many people are unaware of. For a stepparent it is necessary to stride into a parenting role and even then realize that being a stepparent and being a Mother or Father are totally different. You should never try to take over the role of Mother or Father, EVER. Your job (and in time you will find it to be a blessing) is to find your own relationship with them, not to steal someone else’s relationship. Remember that you are an addition to their lives; you did not give them life/are not their primary caregiver. Once you can accept this fact, then you will find that in this place of acceptance you will be much happier. There will be less power struggles, less misery, and more energy focused on the positive aspects of your relationship.

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Except for their safety, getting to know them is the single most important job you will ever have. How can you be a parent to a person you don’t know? Moreover, how can you expect them to connect with you if they don’t know you? If you do not connect with them, how can you assist their parents in giving them better lives and in making them better people? See, a real parent cares about giving their children better lives and it should be no different for you. I want my stepchildren to look back on their childhood and think I made a positive impact on their lives. It is not my fault that their parents decided to split, but that maybe—just maybe—I can be a small joy that came after it. Here are five ways that allowed me to connect with my stepchildren. I have no doubt that they will work for you too.

Show them lots of love and affection

All kids need love and affection, not just from their Mom and Dad, but from everyone in their lives that is important to them. Make them feel loved. Laugh with them, compliment them, cuddle up with them while you watch movies. Even if you have other children in the picture that demand your attention, make the time to be affectionate with them. If you don’t show them that you love and respect them, you can’t expect them to show it back.

Spend time together doing activities you both love

My stepson loves video games. My stepdaughter loves art. Some of the best times I have with them are sharing in these activities. Sunday morning Mario Kart, Saturday evening roller skating, pulling out the paints and paper and painting together are all times I treasure with my stepchildren. Are you spending quality time with your stepchildren? Are you talking to them, loving them? If not, then that may be why you are not connecting easily with them.

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Make sure they know they’re family

This goes especially for stepmothers. I say this because we are the ones who typically decorate the house, cook dinner, and go grocery shopping. This is not meant to be stereotypical and it’s not always the case; however, in my household my husband and I don’t show love in the same way. I hang up pictures of my stepchildren throughout the household so when they come home they know this is just as much their house as it is ours. I try to buy them food that they like (OK, well, maybe not as much junk food as they would like…), and go out of my way to do things they specifically request the weekend before. If my stepson asks for pizza, for example, I make sure the next weekend he comes over we make pizza. They should know how important they are to you and your life. They are family, you love them, and they should never question that.

Connect and show respect for BOTH parents

I know what you’re thinking, but STOP it! It does not matter what conflicts your current spouse has had, if any, with their ex husband or wife. It does not involve you. Don’t be judgmental. You know as well as I do that there are two sides to every story and it takes two to make or break a marriage.

Now you are a stepparent and it’s your responsibility to put your stepchildren first just as it would be to put your own children first. Because you love you stepchildren it is your duty to go out of your way to respect BOTH their parents. Trust me, you will never regret this. You might even find yourself liking and working well with their other parent. It is the responsibility of all of you now to make sure your stepchildren have the best possible lives. If you put out vibes of conflict then how can you achieve that?

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Make yourself an active part of their life, but realize and accept the fact that they had a life before you

If there is one piece of advice you take away from this article, I hope it’s this. As mentioned earlier, it is important to spend time with your stepchildren doing activities that you both like. Just as important, though, is to acknowledge the fact that they had a life before you. They once had another family that was with their Mom and Dad and that did not include you. This is a time that is important to them and that they love to reminisce about. I’m not going to lie; it can be tough sometimes. You may feel like an outsider. You may feel like what they had before is better than what you have to offer them now. Stop. Turn it off. This is not about you; this is about them and their parent(s).

You should be thankful that they love you enough that they want to share these stories with you. Try enjoying in their enjoyment. Be happy that they have happy experiences with both their parents, encourage their happy memories, and ask lots of questions. Basically, take an interest in the memories that are a part of who they are. It is a blessing to them and it should be to you too.

I have come to know my stepchildren quite well. I love them, they know that I love them, and I know they love me. They go out of their way to do amazing things for me. They show me respect, kindness, and they even remember my birthday and get me Mother’s Day gifts. Their Mother likes me and respects me. Their Father loves and respects me. I have a life full of love, joy, and respect. I am blessed to have them all in my life and I know with work you can find the same gift from your relationships that I have. Trust me when I tell you, you will treasure your relationship with them forever. You will never regret it. Good luck to you and your family.

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Featured photo credit: by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater via imcreator.com

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Published on November 12, 2020

How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

How to Identify And Play to Your Child’s Strengths

As you sit there, perhaps on a sofa, maybe a lounge chair, or while you’re sharing a meal at the table, you glance over to the pride and joy you are happy each day to call your child. They smile back, running around the table they learned to stand up using or kiss you on the cheek as they snatch your car keys for their first (or second, but what feels like hopefully the last) errand using your car. You watch as they take their plate from the table, ask if anyone needs anything on their way to the sink, and then finally meander towards the living room saying to you, “Bed fort after dinner?”

How respectful! How creative! Such initiative!

What you may not realize is that because we don’t often think about this in the day-to-day of parenting, your child’s strengths—the initiative, creativity, drive, passion, and introspective nature that turns other people off—are cultivated daily!

If you’ve never given thoughts to your child’s inherent strengths, that’s okay. As is all too common, you’re conditioned to only look at what they need to fix.[1]

Turns out, identifying, cultivating, and managing your child’s strengths isn’t very difficult. In fact, much of those three steps can occur during a visit to the park. Let’s discover simple and effective ways to highlight your child’s strengths.

Identifying Strengths

Now, I know what you may be thinking: between office meetings, Zoom sessions, laundry, and grocery shopping, when exactly do I have time to become a psychologist?

I get it. But really, identifying your child’s strengths is not difficult. In fact, a simple exercise usually suffices—participate in their play!

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Participate in Their Play

Play can take many forms and is usually defined as an activity that does not bring extrinsic value to be enjoyed—us adults typically refer to these activities as “hobbies.” Whether your child is two or thirteen, children are children, after all, and play is essential.

According to a report from the University of Utah, play is a way for children to practice “problem-solving, self-control, and learning how to share.”[2] Aren’t those powerful strengths that we should identify and cultivate in our supportive role of helping children thrive as adults?

When children engage in play, they naturally show how they lead, how they empathize with others, and how they work with others (or not) to solve problems. If you spend time being present with your children during play, you will be able to see how your child’s strengths manifest in the simplest of activities. Seeing your children play allows you to see how they make mistakes, too, which is a powerful indicator of their sense of self.

Allow (Supported) Mistakes—and Often!

Identifying your child’s strengths has nothing to do with demanding them to be perfect. Far from it, actually. Remember—you are guiding them to becoming a self-sufficient and nurturing adult, and there aren’t many of us out there that are perfect!

Highlighting moments when your child has made some mistakes and working through how to bounce back or fix that mistake can be wondrous when they are working towards understanding their effect on others, themselves, and the world.

Just like parents that tend to focus too much on the negative, children too often learn more from their mistakes than their successes. Catch your child softly during a mistake, and work through a plan to get themselves out of it. Your goal is not to fix their issue, of course, but to build within them the capacity to make a better choice next time.

When you take on this mindset of an engaging and present parent that is looking for ways to build your child’s strengths, you’ll be surprised at what you see them able to do.

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Some solid examples of inherent child strengths to look for include:

These are the soft skills that are being developed as young as preschool and even before. In today’s global workplace environment, ensuring that your child is developing in these (and other) areas will set them up for success.

Okay, great. You’ve watched your children at the park or tag along with your teenager to a volunteer event and notice how gracious they are. How do we keep that going?

As is normally the case, you’ll see that cultivating strengths is no more difficult than identifying them.

Cultivating Your Child’s Identified Strengths

Imagine this scenario: Thursday evening, and you’ve worked your fourth ten-hour day. Your partner is late getting home from work, and your three kids are all wanting different things for dinner that should have been made yesterday.

At the exact moment you’re about to snap from the pressure, your middle child says, “Hey, maybe we can all act like chefs tonight and make our own dinners? Might be fun!”

Um, yes, please?

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As you settle in bed later that evening and reflect on that exchange in the kitchen, you start to highlight other times that child—and, as you doze, your other children in their own ways—stepping up and leading. You know this cannot be by accident, so what’s going on here?

Provide Many At-Bats

Just because a child can take their plate to the sink doesn’t mean they are responsible enough with Grandma’s China set. But when you provide the “at-bats” for children to build capacity using their strengths, you see the road to them handling more difficult scenarios becoming less and less cluttered with obstacles.

There will come a day, and perhaps soon, that your child will be able to navigate that China with extreme grace. Today just ain’t that day, but with some work, it’ll come!

Providing opportunities for your child to build on their strengths is a great idea. Everyone likes to feel competent, and your child is no different! Setting up scaffolded opportunities for them to showcase their budding personalities decreases the stress and increases the chance that, next time, they will perform even better.

Teach Them to Trust but Verify

Good leaders don’t have all the answers. Neither should you and of course, we don’t expect our children to know everything. But we should build within them the capacity for understanding what they don’t know and figuring out ways to get the information they need to work through their situations.

You cannot always have the answers, either. So, what should you do?

Exposing them to the world of information that exists is a good start. Great, you’ve identified your child is empathetic, but must they assist and provide supportive care to everyone they encounter? Or should there be some healthy boundaries established?

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Working with your children to mold and curate these more nuanced approaches to their strengths will provide them with a good road map to use when they ultimately leave you and lead their own lives.

Turning Weaknesses Into Opportunities

While not exactly the elephant in the room, I can’t possibly write an article about child strengths without also addressing the fact that our children aren’t possibly capable of being good at everything.

Perhaps one of your most important roles as a parent is to decide what strengths your child has and to inspire them to cultivate those strengths using the tips and suggestions in this article. However, there will be a wide variety of opportunities for you to work through the challenges your child experiences.

I don’t want this to sound too harsh but the fact is, everyone has competencies on a spectrum: you can work, hustle, and grind to develop parts of your personality or skill set to whatever gain you set for yourself. Allowing children to operate with a mindset of progress, not perfection, will help their journey. You cannot be weak, after all, if you are constantly striving for improvement.

So, the next time you take your kiddo out to the park, attend a professional sporting event, or perhaps when you’re playing cards in the living room on a cold winter night, pay attention to how they maneuver around.

How are they asking for what they need? How are they offering support? How are they handling conflict? How are they bouncing back from missed opportunities or mess-ups?

In each of those moments—and many more—the opportunity to cultivate strength in your child is just around the corner!

More Tips on Developing Your Child’s Strengths

Featured photo credit: Nathan Dumlao via unsplash.com

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