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Blended Families: Your New Children: Their New Siblings

When two families combine, and each adult partner has children from a previous relationship, there is a big shift in family dynamics for the parents, and especially for the children. After all, your kids suddenly have new siblings they didn't know before and your family is suddenly bigger. And this is real life, not a 1970s sitcom.

Here are some helpful tips for bringing two sets of children together and working toward developing a new family:

Introducing children to their new stepsiblings

  • Observe the children - especially the younger ones - as they meet each other and begin to interact.
  • Praise all the children for positive behavior. In general, positive reinforcement is always preferable to negative and it lets children know what behaviors you want them to continue using.
  • ​​ Identify skills the children need to learn and focus on teaching those skills. These might include getting along with others, sharing, using manners (saying "Please" and "Thank you"), being considerate and showing respect.
  • Understand that the children of both parents may not get along right away and may struggle to develop sibling relationships. It may not feel like one big happy family right away, but patience and consistent teaching and parenting will help everyone make progress.

Learning to love your stepchildren as your own

  • First, you must understand that this will take time. You've loved your own children from the moment they were born. You don't have that same relationship with your new children. So don't be too hard on yourself if you don't feel love for them right away.
  • Try to spend a lot of one-on-one time with your new stepchildren, without anyone else around. This will help you get to know each other better and begin the bonding process that will help bring the whole family closer together. 
  • Try listening rather than talking. This not only shows respect for a new stepchild, but also gives you insight into how he or she thinks. After all, these are the children of your new partner, whom you love, so you must have something in common. Find out what that is!

Making your blended family feel more like a single family

  • Preparing and eating meals together are great opportunities for every family member to be involved and to provide input. Whether it's choosing the food, helping to cook it or talking at the dinner table, kids will gain a sense of belonging and being part of one family. 
  • Try to establish new traditions that are unique to your "new" family. These might include playing cards or board games together on Friday nights, going to a matinee movie on Saturday afternoon, taking a walk after dinner during the week or doing something special for birthdays or holidays. In time, these activities will become part of your new family's identify and help bring everyone closer.

Setting new expectations and rules for a blended family (especially if the other children have been disciplined differently)

  • Before you blend your two families, have many serious conversations with your new partner about both of your basic approaches to parenting and find common ground for setting house rules, using discipline and consequences, teaching children skills and supporting each other in your parenting decisions. Also, discuss your differences regarding parenting and find a middle ground you both can agree on and live with. 
  • Make sure you parent your new stepchildren and your own children the same way. Don't show favoritism and don't be harder on one set of children than the other. 

If you give all your kids the skills, time and space they need to come together as a family, everyone will benefit. Remember that everything you do as a parent, whether it's for your own children or your new stepchildren, must be done with love and that children thrive when they know they are loved and valued.