Except in rare situations, children don’t bond on contact. Even if you seem to be getting along well now, it takes time and effort to build the kind of strong bond that will allow you to be a successful parent long term. Yet many new stepparents aren’t quite sure how to go about the task of solidifying a strong bond with their stepkids. This chapter will take the guesswork out of things, giving you an easy-to-follow template that will win over the heart of even the most stubborn stepchild.
How long does it take to bond with a stepchild?
This can vary widely from situation to situation. As a general rule, younger children form attachments more quickly than older children. A 2- or 3-year-old may bond to you in a matter of days or weeks and never look back, whereas it might take a teen several years. The unique characteristics of the child also have a lot to do with this. Some kids are a little more guarded with their love than others, especially if they’ve recently endured an attachment trauma such as divorce, parental death, or parental abandonment. If a child has erected psychological blockades because of this (such as when a 4-year-old insists her mom and dad are getting back together) a healthy bond may not be possible until these defenses have whittled away.
How to bond with a stepchild
Many stepparents make the mistake of trying to bond with their stepchildren through special excursions or fancy getaways. While these can certainly help (and we discuss a number of creative bonding activities in our bonus e-book material), more bonding actually occurs through the everyday caretaking chores that adults engage in. It’s the kissing of boo-boos, listening to stories, getting kids ready for school, and all of the other grunt work that establishes parent-child bonds, not the trips to Disneyland. If you’re doing all fun and little of the other, you’re not going to form the type of strong attachments that stepparents need.
Everyday ways to bond with stepchildren
- Help kids with their homework. This can be a powerful bonding mechanism, and it’s easy for stepparents to slide right into.
- When it comes to younger kids, involve yourself in bedtime rituals. These are often an important aspect of bonding. So tag along when your spouse puts the kids to bed (so long as this doesn’t upset them) and ask how you can help. Try and come up with your own silly ideas for bedtime rituals, so that they desire something from you every night. Older kids may also have their own bedtime rituals they want every night, though they are a lot more self-conscious about them and therefore might not be too keen on you intruding on their space. But you should try to tag along here, too, assuming that it’s not bothering them. If you hang back at the doorway with a warm smile and express a complete lack of judgment (“I love the fact that you guys still take time out like this every night” or “I would have loved to do this with my parents when I was your age”) they’re a lot more likely to tolerate your presence. Then slowly work your way closer and closer night after night.
- When they get sick, care for them to the extent that they’ll allow you to. Don’t insist they rely on you in place of the other parent (when kids are feeling lousy, they want their comfort and security person, and this usually means the biological parent), but assist in whatever ways you can. Don’t just leave it to the other parent, even if all you’re doing is running to get things for the biological parent. A sick child is a vulnerable child, and we notice when others help us when we’re vulnerable.
- If the kids are young, bath times are another everyday caretaking chore that allows you to bond. Sit by the tub and talk it up with the kids while they take their bath.
- Make a habit of inquiring about their activities following each separation. Ask about their day when they come home from school. Ask about how their time went with the other parent, just be sure to keep a positive, nonjudgmental tone. Express pleasure when they say they had fun.
- Attend their little league games or drive them to sports practice. Again, don’t force yourself as a replacement to their biological parent if they want them there, but tag along whenever possible. Talk with them about it afterwards and give your compliments.
- Invite the kids along when you go grocery shopping or run other errands.
- Pick them up from school.
Bonding with stepchildren in your own special way
Many stepparents try to bord with their stepchild by copying what the other parent does. They figure, “This is what works for his father, why flip the script?” But you aren’t their other parent, and some stepkids may even view such mimicry as you trying to intrude on their relationship with a biological parent or “take their place.” It’s better to try and forge your own path forward.
As one remarried father attests, “I figured out that it could help if I did different things with her son than he did with his biological father. I was careful not to compete. His biological father loved taking him fishing, so even though I liked to fish as well, I always did something I knew his biological father did not enjoy. This helped by keeping me out of competition with his biological father.” (Frieman, 2005, p. 159)
- Looking for more ways to bond? Our stepfamily eBook is loaded with page after page of bonding advice, including ideas for family rituals, creative ways of bonding, and how to get stepkids to like you. You’ll get all this and tons more for just $4.99! Best of all, you’ll be helping out kids in need while you do it. Get your e-book today.