Stepfamilies: How to help your child adjust

Stepfamilies can be successful if family members work to build healthy relationships. Find out how to help your child adjust to being part of a blended family. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Relationships in stepfamilies can be complicated. When a new stepfamily forms, each family member faces a unique set of challenges and potential sources of stress. Still, it's possible to build a successful blended family.

Consider the challenges a blended family might pose for your child — and what you can do to overcome these hurdles as you build a new life together.

Acknowledge and mourn losses

Your child might be dealing with anguish over a divorce or the death of a parent — or perhaps your child stills harbors hope that you and your ex-spouse will reunite. Similarly, your child might also worry that the new marriage and family situation won't last.

Listen to your child's fears and concerns, and allow your child to heal at his or her own pace. Don't expect your child's feelings to resolve quickly or at any specific moment — such as at your wedding or on moving day.

Nurture existing family relationships

Spend time nurturing family relationships that existed before the creation of your stepfamily. For example, plan special activities or outings that involve only you and your child.

Remember, too, that a child entering a newly blended family might feel torn between the parent with whom he or she lives and the other parent. Respect your child's feelings, and be careful not to make negative comments about the other parent — regardless of your feelings for him or her.

Foster new family relationships

It can be difficult for a child to learn how to navigate relationships with a new stepparent or stepsiblings.

To help your child form these bonds, you might identify shared interests among members of your blended family. Encourage your child to spend time getting to know his or her new family members. Be careful to let the new relationships develop at their own pace, however.

If your child criticizes his or her stepparent, try not to overreact. Take comfort in the fact that if the stepparent is sincere in his or her effort to build a relationship, positive feelings will likely outweigh negative ones eventually.

Sept. 22, 2012 See more In-depth