How to ease your children's tension when two families merge
In this article, you’ll find answers to questions like:1. How can I tell how my kids are doing?
2. How can I improve our communication?
3. How do we help our kids get along?
Approximately 70 percent of second marriages end in divorce if both spouses bring children to it. One recent study put “interfering exes” and “children from previous relationships” as two of the top three marriage busters, according to a StarTribune article, written in 2018 by a mother of a stepfamily with six kids.
Local counselors say the best ways to beat the odds and solve conflicts in a blended family are to be patient, communicate often and support each other.
1. HOW CAN I TELL HOW MY KIDS ARE DOING?
Children in blended families may not be openly negative about the union because they don’t want to anger their parents or new stepparents, says Michelle Rodriguez, supervisor of Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P, at the Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County. So it’s up to the adults to initiate important conversations.
“Demonstrate that it’s OK to have negative feelings and that negative feelings can be painful things to talk about,” Rodriguez says. “Children express themselves so differently. Some are verbal, some are non-verbal, some are aggressive, some are passive. You have to be patient.”
2. HOW TO IMPROVE OUR COMMUNICATION?
Rodriguez suggests parents schedule one-on-one time – or create a safe space without their new spouse – to encourage their child to open up.
Nityia Lathan, Triple P supervisor at Community Partners of South Florida, uses role-playing in her counseling sessions to help parents understand their children’s feelings.
“I have the child act out the parent’s behavior, just so the parent can see how they come across to the child. Sometimes it’s the way the parent communicates with the child that starts the problem,” she says. “Oftentimes, the parents are doing things they don’t know are triggering the child.”
Other tools she uses to help children express themselves are letter-writing and confiding in a trusted person outside the family.
“Sometimes that person can bridge the gap between the child and parent because they are not part of the dynamic,” Lathan says.
3. HOW DO WE HELP OUR KIDS GET ALONG?
New stepparents should not force their blended children to immediately bond. Instead, allow relationships to form naturally by planning family activities. Another way to foster unity is to establish new routines.
“Set up little experiences that are uniquely yours. Maybe it’s a game night or a session of high-low around the dinner table, where everyone shares a high and low point from their day,” says Lauren Scirrotto, chief program officer at the Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach Gardens. “These little routines build cohesion and a sense of belonging.”
Also, parents should avoid making comparisons, as it can lead to competitive or resentful behavior.
“Be aware of how and who you praise and include to the determent of another child,” Rodriguez says.
Counseling may help if a newly blended family is encountering constant conflicts.
“You want to have a relationship with your children and stepchildren where they come to you, whether you like what they have to say or not,” Lathan says. “But everyone is not a communicator, especially if they are not used to sharing their feelings. That’s where therapy comes in handy.”
• Michelle Rodriguez, Triple P supervisor, Center for Family Services of Palm Beach County
• Nityia Lathan, Triple P supervisor, Community Partners of South Florida
• Lauren Scirrotto, chief program officer, Center for Child Counseling
• “The link between stepkids and divorce — and how you can beat the odds,” Jan. 28, 2018, StarTribune