Inside this post: Connecting with teenagers can be tough for anyone, but being a stepparent to an adolescent can be especially challenging. Here are some great ideas to help you create a positive relationship.
How to Stepparent a Teenager or Tween
Telling a child you are getting a divorce is one of the hardest things any parent has to do. Establishing a new family unit with a new partner has to be a close second.
Being a stepparent is a really complicated job, mainly because there are so many dynamics that are involved with raising kids in general. When children have their world turned upside down when their parents split, the issues can be complex. Add a new person into that mix, and it can be a real struggle to have everything running smoothly.
Tweens and teens in particular are at such a difficult and emotional stage in life that it can be extra challenging for a new parental figure to bond with them. If not handled correctly, the situation can become volatile and complicated–and can take years to repair.
However, there are ways to create a strong relationship with a child that’s not yours. The process takes time, but creating a solid bond in a blended family can happen if you know what steps to take.
Six Tips on How to Establish a Bond with an Older Stepchild
Wouldn’t it be nice if blending a family was as easy as it was on The Brady Bunch? Unfortunately, real life doesn’t work like that, so we have to work a little harder to create a positive environment for our kids in these types of situations.
There are some basic principles stepparents should use when trying to establish a bond with their stepchild. These include:
- Do Not Rush Things – Natural Pace Is Crucial
It’s essential to respect the stepchild’s rhythm and move along with it. Think of it this way – a teenager is most likely living in two different worlds and spends time with each of his legal parents separately. It’s important to recognize that these circumstances can be stressful for any kid.
A stepparent inserting themselves into a busy and emotional tween or teen’s life can confuse things even more. That is why rushing a relationship is a bad idea. Instead, follow the child’s lead. Patience is the key because kids need time to adapt, depending on the situation and age.
This is especially applicable to teenagers. Teens are going through a hormonal storm and are often aggressive when it comes to change that they didn’t initiate. They are also desperate for some sort of control over their lives.
In this case, it is best to avoid imposing your company because this can lead to turmoil. Be available to your new stepchild in a natural way. Invite them to join you when it makes sense, but don’t take it personally if they reject most offers. Your relationship can grow organically over time.
We like this post for perspective on getting teens to open up: Want To Get Your Teen To Talk To You? Ask These Surprising Questions.
- Talk with Your Partner About How You Will Parent
One of the greatest complexities of being a stepparent is how to address such issues as house rules and discipline, so it is important to discuss what type of relationship you would like to have with your significant other’s child.
A good rule of thumb is to leave the discipline to the original parent. You can be firm when it comes to health and safety issues, but leave any punishment to the parents in the beginning. This can be difficult in a blended family where each partner has their own kids, which is why it’s even more critical to make sure you are clear with how you will approach important parenting issues.
Teens often act out and create conflicts to show their independence. You are a new addition to their lives, but they did not choose you. Therefore, it is essential to tread carefully and avoid punishing your stepdaughter or stepson before they consider you a family member.
That doesn’t mean you should hide your personality from a teen. or let them think you are a pushover. But keep in mind that they may believe you are playing a role that is not yours, and you should expect some pushback.
Make sure you are on the same page with conflict resolution and ensure that as the stepparent you are not expected to play the heavy when it comes to enforcing rules. For example, if you catch a tween watching something they are not supposed to be on their device, you should ask them to stop, but you shouldn’t be the one taking their iPad away.
It’s also important that your partner sets some ground rules with the kids at the onset that you should be respected and that you are a member of the family–not just a spectator. Setting the right tone from the beginning–one that talks about mutual respect, boundaries, and expectations–can make all the difference.
Also, ask your partner about what works and doesn’t work when interacting with their child so you can gain some valuable insight. Even if you have your own children, don’t assume that your parenting style will work immediately on your stepchildren.
But even more importantly, if you want to establish a bond with your new stepkids, make sure you treat them all the same. Nothing is worse for a teen than feeling slighted in their own home.
- Start with the Basics of Getting to Know Each Other
The slow process of getting to know each other is the key to bonding with a stepchild. As time goes by, you should learn about the child’s hobbies and interests, and support them whenever possible. Just being available and offering to help if needed is a non-intrusive way is a great way to show you care.
As a new stepparent, you may want to jump into the relationship and do all the things, but you have to keep in mind that this situation is different for the tween/teen. Many adolescents are already extremely self-conscious and feel awkward when something feels strange or makes them stick out, so there may be a wide variety of reasons they want to keep their new stepparent in the background for a while.
As you get to know the tween or teen’s likes and dislikes, you can then suggest ways you can spend time together, whether it is attending a sporting event or concert, watching a movie, or going out for a meal.
Teenagers can be highly territorial and will resist intrusion into their personal space. If you feel like your tween/teen stepchild is extremely resistant to including you in their activities, then it’s okay to back off and give them time. It’s okay to let them dictate the terms in the beginning. Just keep staying available and letting things take a natural course. They will let you join when they feel comfortable.
Some stepparents often face a situation where they interact with a teen for only one or two days per week, which can make it hard to bond. If a teen/tween comes to your house and is not doing anything at all, embrace this! Showing that you like to veg out on the couch sometimes too– just like them–is a great way to connect, but it takes time.
Keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s impossible to bond with a teen in just a few days. Make it natural, and don’t push your company – being there is a good start.
- Give Your Stepchild Alone-Time With Their Parent
While tweens and teens often have the maturity to want to see their parents happy that doesn’t mean they want everything in their lives to turn upside down and change.
Let your stepchild and partner have time to themselves–and don’t make them feel guilty about it. While it’s always nice to feel included, the most important thing is the health and well-being of the child during this challenging transitional time.
Be willing to take the backseat at times in order to build trust with your stepchild. It will also reduce any lingering resentment or blame for the changes in their life.
- Give Them a Window into Your World (But Don’t Push Them Through It)
You can connect with stepchildren by inviting them to take a look into your life. This can be achieved in lots of different ways, including:
- Talking about your family traditions (maybe they will like them enough to implement them in their lives);
- Going through your family’s old photographs together;
- Present your family to the child to show that you really care about your them and consider them part of your family.
Getting to know you on a personal level can help you find ways to connect. Consider sharing your grandma’s secret spaghetti sauce with them or taking them for ice cream at the same place your parents took you when you were their age. You may be surprised at how meaningful these small gestures can be.
That being said, don’t try to buy your stepchild’s love or do anything drastic without receiving permission from both parents first. Things like buying a hoverboard or getting their ears pierced may seem like a great way to get the tween/teen to like you, but these types of decisions should come from the primary parents. Always ask before doing anything that could change their appearance or may warrant additional discussions on rules and safety.
- Understand Your Role
It is important to understand that you aren’t a new parent or a replacement for one. You are not competing with the other parent, and you will respect them When appropriate, communicate this to your stepchild. You may think it’s inferred, but hearing it come out of your mouth can put your stepchild at ease.
If you show your stepchild how much you love their parent and how you have a healthy, stable relationship with them, the rest will normally fall into place.
And always keep in mind that it is not your job to express negativity about the other parent, no matter what (even if your partner and stepchild are complaining about them.) This is a red flag and causes tremendous problems down the road for all parties involved.
Bonus tip on connecting with your older stepchildren
The most important tip to getting through this challenging time is to stay positive and keep a sense of humor. While this may be a challenging time for you, an adult, it most likely is an even bigger struggle for the kids. Resist the urge to blame all the problems on their behavior (or the co-parents), turn the other cheek as often as possible, and recognize that your actions today will bring a more peaceful tomorrow.
Being a part of a blended family is complicated, but you can create that bond if you have patience. All that’s needed is to respect your teen stepchild’s boundaries and follow these tips to develop a relationship naturally.
This is a contributed post by Natalie Maximets
Natalie Maximets is a certified life transformation & relationship coach and a freelance writer at OnlineDivorce.com with expertise in mindfulness, sustainability, and building healthy relationships. She is a published author focused on the most progressive solutions in the field of Psychology. Natalie is proficient in CBT, REBT, Trauma Recovery, Mindfulness Meditation, Storytelling, and Wilderness Therapy.
Are you about to create a blended family (or looking for support for one in progress)? We think this book can help. In Blending Families, eighteen successful stepfamilies will show you how they’ve learned to overcome their everyday challenges.
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