Talking should be functional: It must clearly convey your wishes in a way that is easy to understand and doesn’t attack the other person or put them on the defensive. Here are some tips for talking with stepkids that will bring about better results:
- Clear the air
If you’re just now becoming a stepparent, follow the advice in this section of our book for a sit-down talk with the stepkids that will help get things started on the right track.
- Be precise when talking with stepkids
Parents often have different communication styles when it comes to their own children versus the way they talk to stepkids. Biological parents tend to be more direct in their requests (“I need you to clean your room – now”) whereas stepparents are more indirect (“I think it might be a good idea to pick up some of the toys in your room”). They do this hoping the child will make their own decision and they won’t have to sound so authoritarian. But this also frames your statement as a request, and one the child can easily choose to ignore.
You can be polite without being weak or open-ended. State what you need in a concise yet affectionate way: “Jamie, love, I need you to pick up your toys before you move onto something else. Do that now please before somebody trips over them.” If they ignore you at first, come back with something like: “Jamie, I asked you nicely to pick up your toys. That’s a responsibility you have. If you don’t do as I ask, I’m going to have to get less nice about it.”
- Give something sweet to help the medicine go down
Whenever you need to talk to your stepkids about something they are doing wrong, try to deliver the guidance with a little bit of sugar:
- I appreciate how much you do around here, but I really need you to…
- I love the fact that you’re trying, but I would really like it if you could.. .
A simple compliment like this to go along with the rebuke will make it seem less like an attack, making children more likely to cooperate.
- Watch your “I” and “You” statements
This is a rule that will help everyone, but it’s especially important for stepparents, since your stepchildren are going to be extremely sensitive about the tone in your statements. So avoid the more accusatory “You” statements (you never listen; Why are you always doing that; Are you trying to make me angry?) and instead state your issue by explaining your own frame of mind without projecting these ideas onto your children:
- Sometimes I feel like you never listen to me
- It puzzles and frustrates me when you do things like that
- Such behavior makes me wonder if you’re trying to make me angry.
The difference between “Are you trying to make me angry?” (an accusation) and “When I see such behavior, it makes me wonder if you’re trying to make me angry” (a statement of your feelings) could mean the difference between another argument and a constructive conversation.
- Don’t fight other people’s battles
Stay out of discussions whenever emotions are high, unless you’re specifically asked to mediate things. Don’t jump into arguments on behalf of your spouse, either, especially at first. A united front means you support each other’s decisions and don’t undermine the other’s discipline attempts. It doesn’t mean you insert yourself into arguments that aren’t your own.
Additional tips for talking with stepkids
- Be yourself. Don’t try to come off as hip or be something you’re not.
- Do more listening than talking. Let them tell their Good communication is as much about good listening as it is good speaking. If you’re doing most of the talking, you’re not going to communicate well.
- Every parent – whether stepparent or biological – could stand to improve their communication skills. For much more in-depth guidance on how to talk and get kids to listen, get our e-book Better Parent Child Communication ($2.99)