Posted by: Sue Atkins
Peter and Helen came to see me because as a newly married step family they were having some problems with Helen’s older children of 13 and 15 listening to Peter when he told them to tidy their room or to help around the house. The kids were angry and shouted, “You’re not my real Dad”
We talked through how stepchildren have to come to terms with lots of new and often confusing situations – their “new” family, their parent’s new partner, their new stepbrothers or sisters and a whole new way of life, different rules, different schools, and different routines.
I helped them see, that from their kids point of view, the whole “newness” of the situation left Helen’s children feeling isolated, confused, anxious, and slightly resentful. I also helped to dispel the pressure for them all to be a instantly ‘perfect family’, as I explained that it takes time and patience to get to know one another and build up trust.
We looked at practical ways Peter could spend time relaxing and doing things with Helen’s kids that were enjoyable. So they started to go bowling every Thursday and after a month Peter said things had really improved naturally and they were all feeling more positive.
I also helped Peter notice the way he spoke to Helen’s children. I told him to imagine that he had a camcorder on his shoulder observing how he spoke to the children – his tone of voice, his body language and his attitude when he spoke to them. He noticed that he was nervous and came across rather abruptly so we practised ways he could speak to the kids, and things he could say that would make him feel back in control and more relaxed yet still focused on the goal of getting their rooms cleaned up.
Peter gave them limited choices of when he needed their rooms tidied by and it worked!
From these very simple, yet practical tips Peter’s relationship with Helen’s children really improved. The kids began to trust, like and have fun with Peter and when he spoke to them about tidying their bedroom – they smiled and reluctantly tidied their room so everyone was happy.