Forming a new step-family can be a challenge for everyone involved. Children have to get used to a new parent in the house and new brothers and sisters. Adults must negotiate their relationship with their spouse’s children without overstepping their role. Things become even more stressful when the children don’t get along and there is constant fighting in the home.
The following tips will help you to decrease fighting and move your newly merged brood in the direction of family harmony and peace.
1. Work together
Children sometimes fight simply because they are bored. Working together will give bored kids something to do, instead of picking at each other, and will create family unity. You will be amazed at the way doing dishes together can create intimacy.
2. Use negotiation
This is a great tool to use with bickering children because it forces them to work together.
Give the following instructions to both kids:
You may leave your chairs when you give each other permission to do so. You may not get up until your brother gives you permission and he cannot get up until you give him permission.
When you are both ready to grant permission to each other, then you can get up.
There is no time limit and I, your parent, will not be involved except to enforce the rule. Be prepared with consequences for the child who refuses to honor the rule. Stay out of the room while they negotiate so that you cannot be pulled in.
3. Prevent physical harm
If you sense that the argument is beginning to escalate, separate squabbling kids before anger turns into violence.
Send both to separate locations. Make them sit in separate chairs on opposite sides of the room or farther if necessary.
Do not allow them to speak to each other in order to keep the argument going.
Do not engage in a conversation with either of them regarding who started it or who is at fault.
4. Model appropriate behavior with your spouse
Do not have heated arguments in front of the children.
Do not say things like, you’re not my child’s parent. This sends the message that you do not view the family as a cohesive unit, but rather as two separate families.
If you disagree with your spouse in front of the children, do it calmly and fairly (as long as it is not about them – then you should talk in private).
If your children see you discussing your differences and working them out together, they will learn to do the same with each other.
5. Discuss discipline with your spouse.
Decide what you both feel comfortable with regarding each of you disciplining the other’s children. Let your children know what you expect of them in terms of respecting and listening to your spouse. If your goal is to eventually have no difference between "his" and "hers," then move in that direction and back each other up.
6. Reassure your children that they are loved
Children will often react with jealousy and fear if they think someone else is monopolizing your love and attention. Your children might worry that you love your spouse or your spouse’s children more than you love them.
Be sure to tell them often, I love youand praise them for their uniqueness, their accomplishments, etc. Make an effort to spend some one-on-one time with each of your children on a regular basis. This will help to prevent them from feeling lost in the shuffle of the new family.
7. Tell your children that they're gaining new friends rather than new siblings
Without the pressure of family ties, step-siblings can actually become close friends and bring different experiences to each other.
8. Be patient
Don’t pressure your children to accept their new siblings right away. It generally takes about five years for step-families to fully integrate. Allow time for your children to warm upto each other. Expect some conflicts. Most kids outgrow sibling rivalry and form close, loving relationships.
Blending a step-family can be a challenge. You can encourage harmony by working together as a family, by encouraging negotiation and preventing harm. It is important for parents to model appropriate behavior, reassure children of their love for them, re-enforce that the children are gaining friends, and above all, be patient.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.