Waln K. Brown, Ph.D.
William Gladden Foundation

If you are having trouble building a relationship with your stepchildren, do not despair. You are not alone. Nearly 50% of all families in the United States are stepfamilies. Many of these stepfamilies have overcome difficult challenges and grown into strong family units; and yours can, too.

Stepchildren may be unable to accept, trust, or love a stepparent immediately. This may be especially true with teenagers, children with confused emotions, and kids who have a strong relationship with the absent biological parent.

Children of divorced parents often hope that the natural parents will re-unite. This is normal and does not necessarily mean they dislike the stepparent.

Good communication is the most important ingredient of successful family life. Patience, commitment, and resourcefulness are also necessary in building a relationship with stepchildren. Some other important considerations for building trust and acceptance include the following.
• Avoid competing with your spouse for the affection of the stepchildren.
• Avoid pressing the stepchildren for shows of affection or loyalty.
• Be firm, fair, and consistent in the use of discipline.
• Be sure to agree upon the use of discipline with your spouse.
• Be steady and consistent in your own behaviors.
• Develop mutual interests, activities, and hobbies with your stepchildren.
• DO NOT tamper with their affection for the absent biological parent.
• Help with homework and household chores, guiding and encouraging, but not doing their tasks.
• Let stepchildren who are not comfortable calling you "Mom" or "Dad" find their own special name for you.
• Let them know they are loved and valued members of the family through words, gestures, and deeds.
• Meet their friends and teachers.
• Refrain from criticism of the absent biological parent.
• Set a good example through your own behaviors.
• Support and encourage their positive activities, interests, and goals.
• Take time to talk with each stepchild - and listen attentively.
• When bewildered, frustrated, or angered by an inability to "connect" with stepchildren, you may wish to seek professional help. A family therapist or counselor can help you deal with troubling emotions and offer possible solutions. DO NOT take out your frustrations on the members of your stepfamily. This can harm the process of building trust and respect with your stepchildren.
• When you think your step-parenting problems are unique or unsolvable, check around for a step-parenting support group. Other stepparents have dealt with the same or similar problems that you face. Their support and guidance can be especially helpful.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Waln K. Brown is Founder & CEO of the William Gladden Foundation, a nonprofit organization that conducts research and publishes information about a variety of youth, family and parenting issues.