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How to deal with your partner's children?

How To Deal With Partners Children
Who should you be when you are around your date's children? Besides the obvious answer 'You should be yourself', there are some other things to consider, and to strive for. You are now a parent, but how much of one? It's confusing. Are you a real parent, or should you try to just be a friend? First of all you need to decide what role to take. This depends a lot on the age of the child and the level of the other bio-parent's involvement.

Winning over your partner's child
As you think about your role as a stepparent, remember to turn the tables, and consider your own kids' needs and your partner's relationship with them.
Don't scold the child. That is not your role.

Don't ignore the child. Nobody likes to be ignored, and ignoring children doesn't work anyway. They just get more insistent and whiny.

Consider the child's feelings, wishes, and plans.

Hold back. Let the child come to you. There's lots of time for intimacy.

Treat the child like a friend-a young friend, but a friend.

Hope and wait for the kids to realize that they can't and won't scare you away, that you are not trying to replace their parent, that you are not trying to steal their parent, and that you are respectful of them. Over time and with the right treatment, the kids will see the joy you bring to their parent.

Child's point of view
Being able to see things from the children's point of view may make you more accepting of the situation. There are a number of things children may be thinking. Perhaps you've heard some of the following:
"I was here first" - hidden beneath this statement are strong feelings of insecurity. Often said by children who're scared they're being replaced by a new partner and need reassurance they're still important to you.
"They're not my real dad/mum" - a very common statement from a child who's missing their other parent. Remember, they have a point and what they need is lots of comfort and support.

Communication with partners children
A step-family's identity is built slowly, through effective communication and shared experiences. Communication can happen in family meetings (and we'll go into those later), but primarily it happens every day, each time family members interact with each other. As a stepparent, your daily communications with your step-kids should involve three points:

Communicate respect
It's simple: You gain your step-kids' respect by showing them respect. People respond to being treated well, and kids learn by imitation. When you model respectful behavior, they learn appropriate modes of behavior. You can communicate your respect for a child's body and personal space, temperament, privacy, needs, and opinions by listening to them, observing carefully, and taking them seriously. Respect is not a hands-off policy (the child still needs your guidance), nor does it mean agreeing with the child's every opinion, belief, or action. Respect is an acknowledgment that a child's feelings and beliefs are valid. Respect is a starting place.

Communicate affection
Communication is not just what you say; it's also how you say it, and it involves your body language. Not all people are comfortable expressing their deepest thoughts and emotions with words. Even for those who are, words are not always enough. A kiss, a rumpled head, a smile across the room, a wink when things are rough also form communication, sometimes better than words.

Remember, when you communicate
Lose the lectures Nobody wants advice.

Use active listening Remember that active listening means listening to and trying to understand the child's thoughts and feelings. Listen silently and then paraphrase, say back again as closely as possible without interpretation what has been said.

Don't let your disagreements escalate. Try to keep to the specifics.

Use "I" statements Saying, "I feel..." is more effective than saying, "You make me feel...." Being affectionate with your step-kids shows in a very tactile way that you care about them.
Dealing with grown-up children
It can be awkward getting to know a new partner's grown children, especially if you aren't used to young people to begin with. Keeping a few basic principles in mind can help things go more smoothly.
Be friendly but not overly friendly. Your partner's children have lives of their own and want to keep it that way. Treat them like the adults they are.

Recognize that they may be jealous of you at first. After all, they share a strong bond with their parents and may feel threatened by your presence in their lives.

Stay somewhat detached. At the best of times, children and parents have complicated relationships. Don't get too involved in their problems or issues.

Respect your partner's relationship with the children, whether you agree with it or not.

Be discreet. Discussing the children with your partner can be tricky, and if a child trusts you enough to confide in you, the reverse will also hold true.

It's important to keep your boundaries clear. Although you may grow close, you will never be the child's peer. Your primary relationship is with the parent.

Obviously, you need to avoid any hint of flirtatiousness or sexual innuendo.

As with getting to know anyone, showing a genuine interest in the children will make your relationship more satisfying for all of you. The children may indeed become new friends.

Story first published: Monday, August 20, 2007, 17:37 [IST]
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