Author: Alexis Anderson, LMFT-A
Are you a stepparent to a child who has struggled with the transition of your new family? This transition can be difficult for the entire family, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. The primary need your child or bonus child has during this time is love, so naturally our road to a better relationship with your child begins there.
Your bonus child’s world has been rocked by separation, divorce, death, or just by gaining a new member of the family. What your child needs most is to know and feel that you love them unconditionally, independent of performance or behaviors. This can be challenging, especially if your bonus child is really struggling with the new family. However, this is why starting with love is so important.
There are various ways to show your child they are loved. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages of Children and The Five Love Languages of Teenagers are two of my most recommended resources. His books highlight the importance of knowing your child’s primary love language and speaking to them in that manner, as well as the importance of using the other four love languages as a cherry on top. This provides your child reassurance that they are loved regardless of their performance or behaviors. It may not only improve your relationship and their behavior, but you may also see improvements in coping skills with daily stressors, school performance, and relationships with peers and other adults.
Second, be consistent and be present. Your bonus child’s hurt may come out in their speech or behaviors. Although their hurt may then hurt you, they need adults who can deal with personal hurts independent of the child. Focus on being consistent in your unconditional love for them because they need to know that your love is real. Being present no matter what will show your child that you will always be there, even when they push you away. You are their primary teacher. You are teaching them how to love others better and be a better friend, ultimately leading to better relationships in the future. Your presence through this difficult season teaches your child how to forgive others as well as how to love and forgive themself for their own mistakes.
Lastly, get creative with how you show your bonus child love and how you connect with them. You can do this by starting out with activities that include the entire family such as going for ice cream, having family prayer times or devotionals, or going bowling. After that, you can begin moving toward one-on-one time with your child. These activities, whether they are done as a family or individually with a parent, can be something that the family looks forward to together.