Getting along with step siblings in your blended or step family

You and your new spouse each brought children into the blended family and now that your kids have step sibling. Learning how to live together as brothers and sisters is often the most challenging aspects for blended family kids. Children who are brought into the same household with little or no preparation can hardly be expected to bond right away, and it can take a long time for step siblings to begin to function in a congenial, loving way even when groundwork has been carefully laid.

No surprises, in my step family please

One important way you can help your own children accept their new step family situation is to talk about the coming changes beforehand.  Children deal with big life changes reluctantly and with trepidation. Based on the ages and developmental stages of your kids, decide how far in advance to tell them they are going to have step siblings.  Begin talking about it regularly. Be open, matter of fact, and encourage them to talk over their feelings about having new brothers and sisters, and to ask any questions they have about their new life and new family. Knowing what is coming can really help your children accept their step siblings, and their new step family.

One-on-one moments are essential in a blended family

Even though you are all a new blended family and you want to do things together as a blended family, be sensitive to the major changes your own children are experiencing. Obviously, you want your step family to enjoy group activities like any other family, but be sure to set aside one-on-one time each month or every other week or so with your biological children. For many blended family kids, sharing their parent with step siblings can be the most difficult part of blended family life. One-on-one time can help minimize feelings of resentment between step siblings, further helping them accept each other.

Rivalry among step siblings

How you manage your blended family may unwittingly create problems among step siblings. While some kids relish taking charge, giving too much responsibility to the oldest child, to serve as an example, to babysit, or to negotiate and explain house rules to younger siblings, is both unfair and ineffective. Further, if one child bends or breaks rules with impunity, but others are expected to obey, rivalry and resentment are sure to follow. When you and your spouse disagree on something – anything at all – chances are that your kids and his or her kids will stand firmly behind their parent on the issue. Do not give step siblings an excuse to take sides against each other and against their step parent. Discuss your conflicts in private.

Blended family household rules

Forming a blended family means that everyone will have new rules to follow. After agreeing with your blended family partner on your household rules, explain them to all of your children. The rules may contain anything you deem important, but be sure to include a requirement that everyone be treated with respect, even if there is no real feeling yet of love or kinship. Keep the lines of communication and discussion open, but make sure they know you and your spouse are a team, in charge, and expect that household rules will be obeyed by everyone, even by step siblings who do not live with you full time.

Personal space and privacy

Privacy and personal space can be important issues, especially when step siblings must share space. If possible, children should have their own rooms; if they share a room, however, each kid should have his or her own toys and other possessions, and not be forced to turn everything into community property. Visiting step siblings need a secure place for their belongings when they leave; no child should have to pack personal items like tooth brushes and pajamas to spend time with mom or dad.

Blended family growing pains

Expect growing pains.  Even the happiest blended family can face resentment, confusion, anger and jealousy. Children cannot be expected to accept new step siblings overnight. With time, effort, and a little patience, you can hope to see your children accept their new step siblings, and vice versa.

Consider consulting a blended family counselor if things are particularly rocky despite your best efforts. Your main goal is for your children to have a good relationship with their step siblings. Discussing issues with a neutral third party can often resolve conflicts and restore peace more quickly than trying to do it on your own. Do not be afraid to ask for help by contacting The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching or other resources.