How to handle step-sibling conflict
Today, it’s not unusual for divorced parents to marry other parents and combine households. Although kids can be adaptable and resilient, going from being in a single-parent family to living with other children and a new stepparent can be a difficult adjustment. Children can get jealous and have conflict with each other under most conditions, but what do you do when you and your partner's kids are fighting in the same home? Here are some considerations on how to handle step-sibling conflict:
Prepare in Advance
Having to adjust to this new family dynamic is a significant change for your kids. In this situation, throwing everyone in together without meaningful discussions beforehand can make matters worse. Having an open and honest conversation with your kids about the upcoming changes to their life and home can help reduce stress and anxiety. For instance, if there are going to be physical adjustments such as sharing a room or bathroom, letting your kids know about them ahead of time can help avoid unfair surprises and prevent emotional outbursts.
Stay Out of it When You Can
No matter how many talks you have about what it will be like to live together, kids who share a home are going to fight. Step-siblings are no exception, and having conflict is a normal part of being children in the same family and house. Getting through disputes is part of how your kids will form their own relationships and set critical boundaries. If the kids are old enough to manage their own disagreements, let them find a way without making you and your new partner take sides. When children are younger, you and the other parent may have to intervene to help them resolve issues, but it's essential to do so in a manner which is neutral and does not appear biased.
Establish House Rules
Boundaries and structure are important in any household. When you create and consistently uphold family rules, kids feel safer because they know they can rely upon them. As you are preparing to form your new family, you and your partner should discuss permissible and impermissible behaviors for your home and the appropriate means of discipline for your children. By establishing and following house rules from the beginning, you can help promote stability for your family and a sense that everyone will be treated equitably. When your children all feel they are being treated fairly, it can help minimize resentment and alleviate concerns about favoritism.
Take Time for You and Your Children
Your kids may be overwhelmed when new children and a stepparent are introduced into their lives. They may also feel distressed that they no longer have your undivided attention. Kids can struggle with these emotions and they may express their frustrations through step-sibling disputes. Making an effort to spend time with your kids on your own, sends a message that your relationship with them is a priority and can help make them feel more secure about their new situation. With this added sense of security, your kids may feel less threatened by their new situation and have fewer conflicts.
Adjusting to stepfamily life is probably going to involve a few bumps, but with open communication, clear boundaries, and time, your children can get used to one another and find their own ways to co-exist. At First Look Family Law, Attorney and mediator Karyn Youso understands the challenges of becoming a family after divorce. Call us today to set up a consultation and allow us to take a “first look” at your situation and determine what kinds of resources may be helpful.