Blended families can take a long time to work in a harmonious way as the years go by. As children age and parents remarry there are multiple adjustments. So how do the many parents involved help kids adapt early on to prevent future conflicts as the changes take place?
Openly Communicate the Challenges Ahead Keeping Developmental Levels in Mind
When the changes are anticipated, children are already aware that there is conflict among the adults whether these problems have been discussed openly or not.
The first step is to bring the expected changes out into the open in language each child can understand at their developmental age level.
This means not only open family meetings, but one-on-one private conversations with each child in a way they can understand what lies ahead.
Young children need brief explanations that reduce worry and insure they will be safely taken care of and frequently see the parents they are close to.
Older children are much more aware that changes are coming and need to be prepared for how these changes will affect them personally.
How to Prevent Feelings of Crisis
The best ways to prevent shock and crisis is to give detailed explanations of changes that will take place including who is going to live where, when visits will take place, how daily communication can be preserved through technology, and how everyone will take the time to answer questions as they arise.
If the multiple parents can prepare themselves together for the many questions they can anticipate, they will be able to handle the answers they need to decide upon. Children thrive on predictability and reliability. When they hear the same answers from each parent, they feel less anxious and prepared for what’s ahead.
Parents need to agree to be calm when children get upset and scared. Arguments invite feelings of fear and create crises that can be avoided when everyone knows they will have their say with each composed, unruffled parent. This sounds like a very difficult challenge and it is, but when children’s needs take priorities over parents’ squabbles, children feel more secure.Adult arguments need to take place away from the children’s sensitive ears.
Create Personal Relationships with All Children in the Family
It is very difficult for some children to accept that new kids are now part of their everyday lives. Each child needs to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Fitting in is a crucial milestone for each child.
Children fear sharing the parents they are accustomed to thinking of as their own with other children who soon become potential rivals for their parents’ affection.
Each parent needs to take the time to get to know each of the children they have not lived with before. This is a delicate task because their own children are watching closely how their stepsiblings are being treated.
Each child is at a different developmental level, has varying levels of adaptability, has different temperaments and various moods, and experiences different fears of the unknown.
Parents can’t expect all children to be resilient at the same time. The best way to help each child is to spend alone time with each child as often as is reasonable given the large task of parenting many children.
Priorities must be set. Sometimes household tasks get delayed because communication and affection are more important.
How Parents Get Along
The bottom line is how all the adults treat each other respectfully. This may take many years to accomplish but children don’t have time to waste: they are growing rapidly and learning how to empathize and treat each other.
The major theme is that children come first. If that is followed by all the adults, families blend much more easily and quickly.
Laurie Hollman,Ph.D., psychoanalyst, has a new book: Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior on Amazon now!