Adjusting to a new stepfamily typically takes two to four years, says the American Psychological Association (APA). So it stands to reason that after your new family is formed, there will be a period of adjustment that is perhaps a little rough. However, dealing with a stepchild who hates you is at best difficult, and at worst destructive for the rest of the family. The Mayo Clinic expresses how important it is for parents to listen to the worries of the children involved. If you understand why the child hates you, it will be easier to choose a strategy for overcoming that problem.
Consider Your Stepchild's Needs
Younger children, typically those under the age of 10, may feel abandoned by one or both biological parents according to the APA. As your new marriage blossoms, young children can also feel as if they are in competition with a stepparent. HelpGuide.org suggests a good place to start in unifying the family is by considering the needs of the child. Younger children need to feel:
- Cared for
- Like what they say matters
Respect Your Stepchild's Feelings
The APA believes that adolescents have the hardest time adjusting to a stepparent. From the ages of 10-14, kids are going through a lot of developmental changes. Add major family changes into the mix and this can leave kids feeling overwhelmed and out of control. Try to accept the situation as it is instead of taking over in a controlling way. Encourage children to talk about feelings and opinions. You made the choice to create this family; the kids didn't. They may feel like what they have to say doesn't matter. Giving children acceptable ways to deal with emotions can keep them from acting out.
A stepchild might not ever respect a stepparent. However, children must be taught that acting disrespectful will not be tolerated. If you have not already done so, make sure everyone is clear on the rules of the house. The way you word things can really make a difference in how the message is received, so try saying things like:
- "I don't expect you to call me dad, but I do expect you to treat me with kindness."
- "You're correct, I am not your mother, but we are discussing when you will start your chores."
In displaying rude behavior, children teach adults what expectations to have. To stop this pattern, you can't let the child's behavior change your expectations of them.
Respect the Other Biological Parent
Both biological parents will play an important role in how well your stepfamily adjusts. Your spouse chose you, but the ex may be harboring some ill-will toward your new family. While you can't control how the child's other parent treats you, you can:
- Remain positive and kind toward the children and the disgruntled parent.
- Let the child know that you aren't trying to replace his mom or dad.
- Be honest about how you feel when the other parent talks badly about you.
Remind children that they can love both biological parents and a stepparent at the same time. It may also be helpful to share with children that finding things to like about everyone in the family will make the child happier too.
Have Fun as a Family
It may seem like the last thing your step child wants to do is spend time with you, however, still plan family outings. Reinforce the importance of these activities by making it a requirement to go along.
Encourage reluctant children to participate by:
- Giving teens the power to choose a family activity they would enjoy
- Allowing them to bring a friend as long as they join the family on the outing
- Letting them know you are there to listen, interested in hearing about their hobbies, or wanting to spend time together
Creating new traditions, such as the annual celebration of Stepfamily Day, can also help children adjust and bond with a new family.
One of the most common challenges in a blended family is the accusation that one parent is unfair toward his or her biological children or stepchildren. One way you can really tackle this problem is to ask for facts as opposed to feelings when a child challenges a parent on being unfair. Ask questions like, "If you were standing in the room, what would the situation look like?"
Psychology Today declares that teens strike a better bond with adults who are real with them. This means what you say has to be what you mean because they can read your intentions in facial expressions and body language. In trying to fix a broken relationship with a teenage step child you could:
- Examine any approaches you have tried and what results you got. Ask the teen to do the same.
- Decide to try something different and let the teen know you are actively working on the relationship from your end. Ask if they can try something different as well.
- Be honest and own your mistakes quickly and clearly.
- Apologize for your part in the problem rather than debating.
Ask for Help
Sometimes it is more beneficial to use an outsider to help things change in a harmful relationship. Seek the help of a therapist for themself, the child, or the entire family when:
- A child's anger is directed at only one family member.
- There is obvious favoritism on the part of a parent.
- Someone is feeling alone, isolated, or excluded.
- A family member is unable to enjoy activities he would normally like.
Changing the Things You Can
You cannot change others, you can only alter the way you think, act, and feel. Put in the work to create the best relationship you can with your step child and be prepared to accept the situation that results.
Building a happy blended family can be difficult for everyone involved. Dealing with a step child who doesn't like you is a common experience for many stepparents. It can be frustrating to deal with that kind of dynamic in the home, however, with time and a concentrated effort, there is hope to turn the situation around.