One of the important things to navigate when two families merge to form a new household, is supporting children’s emotional well-being. In this blog post, we will explore some essential tips and techniques to help parents ensure the emotional well-being of their kids in a blended family.
1. Talk To Your Kids
Effective communication is vital in any family, but it becomes even more critical in blended families. Ideally you want to create a space where children feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and emotions honestly and openly. Encourage them to share their concerns, fears, or questions about the blending process and really listen to what they say. Do they feel worried, unsettled, not sure about how things will work day-to-day? Regular family meetings or one-on-one chats can both be a good platform for communication and problem-solving together.
2. Establish Clear Expectations
One of the tricky things about blending families is that children are often adjusting to new rules, routines, and dynamics across one or two homes. While you can’t control what is happening in a co-partner’s environment, the best thing you can do is to clearly communicate the expectations in your home – including, as Dr Kate Owen shares in our podcast episode on Setting Boundaries, what is ok and is not ok – ensuring the boundaries are consistent across all family members. Having a predictable routine is another way that can help children feel secure and foster a sense of stability within the blended family.
3. Validate Their Feelings
There may be a wide range of emotions that kids in blended families experience – from confusion to anger, sadness or even resentment. It is crucial to acknowledge and validate their feelings rather than telling them they shouldn’t feel that way. You really need to show them you hear how they are feeling and let them know that their emotions are normal and understandable. Why not get creative in terms of how you suggest they channel their emotions – either through art or journalling for example. Talking to another trusted adult or therapist can also be very beneficial.
4. Encourage Bonding Activities
Blended families can take time to adjust and for the family members to form strong bonds – we always say it’s a marathon and not a sprint! In the early days, planning activities that promote connection and bonding among family members like outings, game nights, or weekends away is highly encouraged.
5. Respect Their Individual Relationships
In blended families, it is likely children may have pre-existing relationships with their biological parents or siblings. Whilst it can be tricky when starting out, it is important to respect and support these connections while focusing on nurturing new ones. Showing that you value and appreciate the importance of the positive communication between children and their biological parents or siblings will go a long way. Whatever you do, always refrain from speaking negatively about their biological parents in front of the children – it is just not helpful in terms of your relationship with them.
6. Get Professional Support
Blending families can be complex and emotionally challenging. If you notice persistent emotional difficulties or conflicts within the family, we are big advocates for professional support. There are family therapists, counsellors or coaches who specialise in blended families and can provide valuable guidance and tools to help your children (and you!) navigate these unique dynamics. In our view, regular sessions with a therapist who is completely objective is a worthwhile investment and something every step parent who can afford it should seriously consider!
7. Put Your Own Life Jacket On First
Supporting children’s emotional well-being begins with taking care of your own emotional health! Self care is so important for any adult in a blended family given the additional demands on parents, both emotionally and logistically. Our blog article ‘Self-Care for Blended Family Parents: Prioritising Your Well-being Amidst Responsibilities’ covers the importance of this in more detail. What are the activities that recharge and rejuvenate you? It is exercise, reading, cooking or playing an instrument perhaps? Do you have friends who are also in blended families? That’s another great outlet for support, as well as public support groups or online communities – there are loads on Facebook.
Supporting children’s emotional well-being in blended families requires plenty of patience, a bucket-load of understanding, and a very proactive effort. Above all, if you communicate openly, validate feelings and prioritise shared experiences that will help you to connect as a family, you’ll be well on your way to doing a good job to support your kids. Remember, don’t shy away from seeking professional support if needed and always put your own life jacket on first so you’re showing up as the best version of yourself and a role model for your blended family.