Dealing with a stepchild who doesn’t like you can be difficult and even an uphill battle. But it is possible to win them over.
According to parenting experts, here are ways to deal with a stepchild who doesn’t like you.
Sabrina Shaheen Cronin
Family and Co-Parenting coach | Family Law Attorney | Founder and Managing Partner, The Cronin Law Firm
Communicate kindly and effectively
You have found yourself in love and wanting to blend families with someone who has children with a former partner. Many people underestimate the challenges that can occur with blending families.
Proceeding with care, compassion, patience, sensitivity, and awareness is crucial not only for the overall health of the new family unit but also for the health and happiness of the family members, especially the children, whether biological or stepchildren of either parent.
There are many complexities with living in a stepfamily. If you are dealing with a stepchild who seemingly does not like the stepparent, the situation can feel very intense. It can destroy even the most loving, passionate, and committed relationship between two partners.
- Being aware of the potential problems
- Communicating kindly and effectively
- Not being afraid to express your feelings and emotions in a positive and empathetic way
These are all important steps to take when dealing with the difficult situations of blended families and stepchildren who have shown animosity toward the stepparent.
Take the high road and always do what is right
Remember that when a stepchild does not like you, it usually has nothing to do with you. The child is dealing with all sorts of thoughts and feelings, and you are simply one element in their life equation, which to them could take on many different meanings.
What they may be feeling or experiencing, however, is that you are taking time away from their biological parent, and they may be resentful.
Perhaps they are comparing you to the other biological parent, or that person is influencing them negatively, and because they love and feel loyal to their other parent, they think getting close to you would hurt their other biological parent. The reasons for their behavior should not matter.
As the stepparent, you should act like the adult that you are, take the high road, and always do what is right. Do not react with hostility, anger, or resentment to their negative behavior, do not give up on your role as their stepparent or on loving them, and hone your interpersonal skills.
Remember that you are not the only one with hurt feelings
As a stepparent, you may often find yourself feeling isolated, alone, not valued, or made a priority, and that your feelings and your preferences are not considered. Ironically, your stepchildren often feel this very same way.
Your partner, the biological parent of your stepchildren, oftentimes feels stuck in the middle, anxious about pleasing their children while trying to understand you, their partner; yet sadly, they usually fail at both.
Try to see how everyone else in your family is experiencing their own feelings and emotions during this blending time. Put yourself in their shoes. Perhaps this will help you to know how to communicate with them better, and in a way, they can relate.
Allow this challenge to help you grow as a person.
Develop a bond with your stepchildren prior to moving in together
It is important to build a relationship or develop a bond with your stepchildren prior to moving in together. If this did not occur in your situation for whatever reason, do not fret; it is never too late to do this. In the same way that an adult needs time to settle into a new relationship, children also need that time.
Imagine yourself in their shoes. Would you feel safe and secure in a new environment with a stranger?
While the word “stranger” may sound harsh, you are effectively that to the child. The feeling of security, especially in a child who has had their world already taken from them no matter how many years ago, still needs time to build and develop. Time to mourn the family they once knew and time to create a new idea of family in their mind are also important steps to consider they need to make.
Additionally, if you have ever been in a situation where you were forced to talk with people you didn’t know well or who you may have ill feelings toward, you know very well that it can feel uncomfortable. Children often feel that way when forced to be around their stepparent. It can be awkward for both child and stepparent.
Children also do not like it if they, as the stepchildren, are “forced” to spend time with the stepparent, especially if it means taking time away from their biological parent.
Further, when it comes to disciplining the children, make sure you and your partner are aligned and show mutual respect for maintaining those boundaries and follow-through with the children. This is crucial to building a strong family unit and may also help the children not to have more reasons to favor their biological parent over you, their stepparent.
It is imperative that the children see the parents as united on all fronts related to them and their well-being. If you and your partner can align yourselves with the other biological parent as well, all the better. If there are both partners’ children living within the blended family, it is imperative that rules are enforced equally, and there is no disparate treatment.
Among other things, this will help bridge any uncomfortable feelings or resentment among the step-siblings and help achieve the overall goal of becoming one big happy family.
Remain friendly and kind despite being treated coldly
Everyone, whether a child or an adult, perceives things differently based on his or her own psychological make-up. Try not to push any agenda on them. Remain friendly and kind, despite being treated coldly, dismissively, or indifferently by your stepchild.
Remember that children need their privacy too. Show them you are stable and present for them, but you must have healthy boundaries for yourself as well.
Children are very smart, and consistency in your behavior, both toward them and in general, matters. If you receive a great deal of resistance, let the child dictate the relationship. Many children will test you and see how committed or serious you are about sticking around. Perhaps they had seen a lot of loss or changes in their life before you showed up.
Most importantly, do not speak ill of your partner or the child’s other parent in front of or within earshot of the child. Remember, trust takes time to develop, and actions speak louder than words.
Love them in a way they want to be loved
No matter how hard you as the stepparent try to build a bond or a relationship with your stepchild, it may not turn out the way you desire. Do not give up. Your actions have meaning.
Start small by doing little things in which the children are interested. Sometimes leaning back in your approach after your attempts and efforts have not worked may allow the child to feel some space and come to you on their own and in their own time.
Showing them love in the manner in which they need to feel it may be different from your idea of love.
Each person, no matter the age, has unique emotional needs. Sometimes being a good listener is a great start. Sometimes simply knowing you thought of them one day by picking up their favorite treat or an object they mentioned they liked is enough to break the ice.
What matters most is that you care enough to figure out what they need. It may take months or years, but eventually, most stepchildren realize the value their stepparents brought to their lives and will reciprocate with gratitude and love when they are ready.
Manage your expectations
- Try not to impose your ideas of love on them or what the perfect blended family may look like.
- Try not to force yourself on them as a hovering or controlling stepparent.
- Do not force them to be someone different from who they are.
- Do not force closeness or your preconceived notion of a perfect family unit.
Nothing is perfect. You may find that your blended family is not what you imagined it would be over time, but there is beauty in the imperfections of life. Be patient with yourself, your situation, your stepchildren, and your partner. Manage your expectations of everyone and everything; do not give anything more meaning than it deserves.
When you invest your whole self into this blended family, you are more likely than not to see the rewards. There are several resource materials on this subject and many good therapists and counselors. If you find you need some support, it is always a good idea to find others who can guide you through the process.
Most importantly, try to remember to laugh at yourself and laugh with each other.
We are all human, and we all have our own challenges. Life is too short and too precious to allow circumstances or people you cannot control to take over your life. All you can control is yourself and how you show up and react to different situations. Try to do your best and be kind and respectful always.
Lastly, know that in everyday, ordinary life, extraordinary moments and miracles exist. Open your heart and mind to the beauty of your blended family, no matter how messy. Everything will fall into place as soon as you believe and trust that it will.
Aniko Dunn, Psy.D.
Doctor of Psychology, EZCare Clinic
Develop friendship with your stepchild
Do a lot of open discussion with the children and talk about their emotions and opinions. Always remember you have the option to make a family, not your kids. Provide them healthy ways to discuss their emotions and remain friendly and optimistic.
Connect with them
Spend time with them. Make an effort to know them, take an interest in their hobbies and favorite things they like to do, and encourage them to spend time with their biological parent alone and altogether as a family.
Younger children tend to adapt quickly as compared to older ones but keep trying, remain patient and continue to maintain a healthy relationship with them.
Encourage respectful family rules
If you feel that your stepchild doesn’t like you. Discuss it with your partner to bring some house rules, and if you both decide that it is important to convince your children to follow them, then never force them but remain calm and consistent.
Never allow your child to be against you; always remain calm. Though it is difficult, it will demonstrate your role as a parent.
Create family rules and discuss with the children together. Tell the rules in a calm way. Do not hide anything from your partner and make deals with your step-kids if they break the rule. It will take you out of the parent role. If your stepchild breaks the family rules and hurts you upon asking the reason, be patient and say something validating and empathetic.
Be honest and ensure them that you will treat all of them fairly
One of the major challenges is sometimes one of the parents is unfair to his or her biological children or stepchildren. One way to solve this problem is to ask your kids about the facts and their feelings when a child challenges a parent on being biased.
Discuss the issue, listen to them, validate their feelings, and ensure them that you will treat all of them fairly and everyone follows the family rules equally.
Give them space and ensure them that you respect their boundaries. Be respectful and develop a healthy attitude with them. Children want to be with those who speak the truth. So be authentic and truthful with them as they can read your intentions and body language.
In order to build a relationship with a step kid which is a challenging task, you can do the following things:
- Analyze any approach you’ve applied and what results you’ve got from it?
- Be unique and try something different and whole heartily and tell your stepkids how you are working actively on the relationship.
- Be fair and responsibly own your faults.
- Apologize for your mistakes rather than explaining them.
- Work on opportunities where they can connect with you. Make an effort to be there in their lives and if they feel hesitant, understand their feelings as they can take time to be comfortable with you.
Turn a skeptical step-child into one who adores you using partnership parenting techniques
Are you a new step-parent with a child who is behaving suspiciously toward you, as if you are the enemy?
Whether you already have your own biological child going into this marriage or whether this is your first parenting gig, there is a quick parent mindset shift that will help you turn this uncomfortable situation into a cozy one.
It helps to first wrap your mind around the understanding that parenting is about you, the parent. Parenting is not about fixing the child. We can’t change anyone’s behavior; we can only modify our own.
Thinking this way is a fresh approach to gaining trust from skeptical children. By examining our own behavior or reactions to the child, it will help us reframe every interaction we have together. When we put our egos on the shelf and meeting the child where they’re at, we better understand their skepticism, fear, uncertainty, or dislike.
It most likely isn’t personal. Once we allow ourselves to understand the situation from their perspective, we are ready for the mindset shift with ego removed.
Looking at parenting as a partnership is a mental pivot that gets us closer to our goal of being adored. Parents who are partners use words like “we” and show respect by asking the child’s opinions, thoughts and feelings. Once their inner sentiments are revealed, the partnership parent never responds with judgment or makes any of the child’s statements about themselves.
All problems or concerns are solved from the perspective of a partner who is on the same team as the child. A partner walks side-by-side with the child, not in front or in back. A partner strives to problem-solve, so both achieve something.
When we approach parenting as the child’s partner, we talk with them rather than at them. When talking at a child, typically demand statements are made. Whereas, when we embrace the partnership method, statements are more collaborative and win-win.
Try statements like:
- “How can we solve that together?”
- “What if we both pick the one thing we’d like the other to work on?”
- “How would you like my help with this situation?”
These invite collaboration, honest feedback, and a together-we-can-do-it spirit.
Using partnership techniques, the parent more easily achieves accountability and honesty from the child, with no retribution for honest communication. The child receives respect, understanding, and the ability to have freedom within established boundaries.
Cheri Timko, M.S.
Relationship Coach, Synergy Coaching | Licensed Professional Counselor, Timko Counseling Services, LLC
I grew up with the Brady Bunch as a model for blended families. They had difficult scenarios, but they made step-parenting look easy. For most blended families, nothing could be further from the truth. Bringing together two families, even if it is only adding a parent, is one of the most complex family structures.
- The parents have a longer relationship with their own children than they have with each other.
- As a couple, they don’t have time together before having kids to work out differences between them.
- They are merging two sets of family rules without even clearly understanding the rules they bring to the table. (And let’s face it, our partner’s families always look strange as an outsider.)
- There are often third parties involved who make the relationship harder. Exes and inlaws will have their own impact into your relationship with your stepchildren.
- A couple is left to navigate all of these challenges in real-time with the constant pressure of kids who have needs of their own.
Sometimes this goes smoothly. More often, there is a pretty rocky transition. And how you handle it will affect how things look when you get to the other side of the transition. Usually there is a time period when at least one stepchild does not like the stepparent.
Here are some tips for navigating these turbulent times:
Know your role
Be very clear about what your partner wants from you and what you are prepared to do. If your partner wants you to only intercede as support and you want to be an equal partner, you need to work through those differences before you step into that role.
Once things are clarified, stay in your lane
Even if you think you could do it better. You can go back to your spouse and clarify or tweak your role, but don’t just change it.
Always be the adult with the kids
Even if they are being unreasonable or unfair, always be the adult, especially if they have unfairly targeted you. That means watching your words and temper. You are better off stepping away from the situation and coming back with a cooler head than doing or saying something thoughtless out of anger.
Understand that your stepchild is probably going through something
Even if their life has gotten better, they have lost something that they will have trouble putting into words. Something that you can’t fix. Their issue may have nothing to do with you. So be patient with them. Things will inevitably change, even if it feels like it is taking forever.
Remember that you don’t have to fix your stepchild
You can offer a lot as a bonus parent, but that is supposed to enrich both of your lives. Usually, you aren’t asked to take on the role of a parent the way you would as a biological parent. So think of this as a special relationship that you have been granted.
Keep in mind that everyone is doing the best that they can
This is hard, and it will be bumpy at times. Enjoy the times when things are relaxed and fun because the difficult times are inevitable.
Stepparenting is not for the faint of heart. Take care of yourself so you bring as much positive energy, grounding, and stability to the situation as you can. This means exercise, eating healthy, supportive friends who can listen, creative outlets.
Make it a priority to preserve the relationship with your spouse because that is the most important relationship.
Eventually, your kids will move out. You want to still have a marriage when that time comes. If things feel out of hand, consider getting help from a family therapist who specializes in stepfamilies or an individual therapist who can support you.
Cecile Leger, BSN
Blogger, Ella’s Blended Family
Are you wondering how to deal with a stepchild who does not like you? Being a mother and a stepmother, here are my thoughts on how you can handle this situation.
First, you can’t make anyone like or love you. The way they feel is totally up to them. No one has control over anyone’s feelings. You can only create the environment surrounding the person that might change the way they feel. Here are some tips on creating a positive environment so you can bond with your stepchild.
Here are 5 tips to create a loving relationship with your stepchild:
Respect their feeling about you
I remember when I first met my two stepsons; they were indifferent about me. They didn’t dislike me, nor did they like me. I knew they hadn’t chosen to add me to their life. A separation or a divorce is one of the most challenging life events to go through. The children need to grieve the loss of their parents together.
One of the steps in the cycle of grieving is anger, and most of the time, we misinterpret this step as if they don’t like us. When in reality, it has nothing to do with us. Give it some time. It might be the only thing they need before getting to know you and finally bonding with you.
Do not get mad at them for not liking you
That is one of the most destructive behavior responses you can have. This response can create a hostile atmosphere and eliminate any possible chance of forming a relationship with your stepchild.
Show compassion toward their feelings
I know this might be the most challenging tip for some people. Compassion is showed by being generous, affectionate, and concerned. Remember that those who are angry might be the ones who need some understanding the most.
Treat them equally
If you have multiple children, step or biological, treat all of them the same. Ensure they all follow the same house rules and get an equally reasonable consequence associated with their ages if they do not.
On the same note, they should also get the same amount or approximate gifts on Birthdays and Holidays. They will help them feel treated equally. It could be excruciating for a child if they thought they were not. Therefore, they might resent you.
Find a common interest or learn something new they like
When we love something very much, the conversation flows much more effortlessly. I wouldn’t say I like video games, and both of my stepchildren are big video game fans. Therefore, at supper time, I forced myself to ask what video games they were playing, what they liked about them, and why. I made sure to listen and not just listen to answer.
To my surprise, they had a small conversation with me.
Finally, they may not like you today, but know that feelings are not set in stone. Like any relationship, it needs time and nurturing to grow. By creating a loving and caring environment, you will develop a solid foundation for a healthy relationship with your stepchild in the future.
CEO, This Custom Life | Host, The Stepmom Diaries Podcast
Having a stepchild who doesn’t like you can make blended family life difficult on the daily. But remember, kids’ emotions can be just as complicated as adult feelings. Except kids don’t have the tools to deal with them. So they often take those complex feelings out on their stepparent.
If your stepchildren are hostile toward you, there are a few ways you can handle it:
Remember that it’s probably not you
Your stepchildren might have a lot of conflicting emotions, and if they don’t like you, it may not be about you at all. They may feel a torn loyalty between you and your spouse’s ex, especially if it’s a high-conflict situation. They might also be holding on to some anger about their parents splitting up.
Your stepchildren may resent that they have no control over the big things happening in their lives. And because their brains aren’t fully developed, they may not understand any of their feelings at all.
Blended families take an average of seven years to fully form. Patience can be difficult, but if you can take the long view (and a deep breath), you’ll allow the child to feel safe to fully experience their emotions, whatever that may look like. And if they don’t feel pressured to feel a certain way about you, they’ll have a chance to relax and figure out what exactly their emotions are.
Even if they never change their mind about you, the grace you can extend to them might mean you can at least settle into a civil and respectful relationship.
Set some boundaries
Regardless of your stepchild’s feelings towards you, you don’t have to be their emotional punching bag. Or absorb their anger, disrespect, or even abuse. Give yourself permission to step back from the situation if you need to.
If the emotional temperature is rising, go to the other room or take a walk. Go meet up with friends or just escape for a few hours. Give yourself permission to address your needs.
Talk to your partner about it
The most important thing you can do to address a stepchild who doesn’t like you is to communicate with your spouse.
- Ask for their support.
- Let them know how you’re feeling.
- Encourage them not to push the kids too hard to like you.
If they pressure the kids to accept you, it could easily result in the kids digging in even more firmly against you.
Instead, have your partner help you with your boundaries. For example, they can convey to the kids that while their feelings are valid and they’re entitled to their opinion, they treat you with civility and respect, just like they would to other adults in their lives.
Step-parenting can be a difficult job, especially when there are pent-up resentments and other “baggage” that may not be immediately apparent when a stepchild joins the family. This often makes step-parenting tougher than parenting itself.
There will be resentment; don’t let it define your relationship
Depending on the stepchild’s age, a degree of resentment or distrust will be obvious to most step-parents. Given the circumstances of most family break-ups, this is completely normal and has little or nothing to do with how you are step-parenting.
You don’t have to be perfect
Many step-parents are self-critical to a fault; after all, like any parent, you want to demonstrate your love for your stepchild. Some stepchildren are more receptive than others to attention from step-parents.
Make sure you are always listening to your child and learning more about how they communicate, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t see immediate results. Trust takes time to build.
Focus on your stepchild, but don’t ingratiate yourself
While dedicating time and attention to your stepchild is critical for overcoming a rocky relationship, step-parents should not become overly permissive or inconsistent when it comes to rules and expectations.
This will lead to a loss of respect and a sense of advantage that can be exploited to further divisions between you. Be patient.
Engage emotionally with your stepchild on their terms and on their own schedules
Every child and family are different, but one consistent truth is apparent: building a stepfamily takes time, patience, and effort. Try and meet your stepchildren “where they are” in terms of acceptance.
By listening and learning your child’s cues and prompts, you can better engage with them emotionally and begin building strong family bonds.
Coach | Speaker | Author, “Being the Strong Man A Woman Wants”
The conflict between a step-parent and a step-child is a common situation. You can see it in movies and read about it in fairy tales. But in real life, what are often the underlying issues?
Sometimes a step-child thinks that if they can get rid of the new partner, their divorced parents will get back together. Other times, the child resents that the step-parent is taking their parent’s attention away from them. Sometimes the child resents that the step-parent acts as if they are the child’s parent when they already have a mother and father.
How can you create more harmony?
It is the job of the parent who is in the middle of this situation to step forward and deal with it. For example, the parent can make it clear to the child that they have to treat the step-parent respectfully. Sometimes the parent is reluctant to do this as they fear the child won’t want to be with them and will choose to be entirely with their ex-spouse.
The parent in the middle also has to communicate to their new partner that they do not need to be a parent, and they should discuss issues involving the child with the parent, and the parent will deal with it.
The step-parent and the step-child are each expecting the parent in the middle to do something about this situation — though they each probably have different ideas of what needs to be done. It’s the job of the parent to deal with both their child and their spouse – in a way that will create a harmonious situation.
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