Step-parenting a toddler

Dear Step-parent,

There is something vital I need to share with you. It is never personal. It is not a reflection on you, your personality or your motivation.

The testing times and challenges - this is what toddlers do with their step-parent.

It is normal. It will pass. You are awesome. You do not need to do anything differently.  I know because I have been there, done that.

I also know that from the fairy tales that step-parents get a bad rap. Think Cinderella, Snow White or Hansel and Gretel.

But as step-parents, we do what comes naturally and love the extended mini versions of our partners. But, like all parenting, it is hard work and you will doubt yourself.

As a step-parent, you will experience all the same feelings a parent would have, but you don’t get them slowly.

It is handed to you in a big over-filled bag like a lifetime’s worth of dirty washing; guilt and worry, and feeling you are never enough.

Guilt that maybe you don’t like the child or aren’t doing the right things. Worry that you will make things worse, won’t know what to do, or that your partner will think differently about you.

And not feeling enough? Well, that’s just an everyday ego voice that will always know where to grow in the most vulnerable spot we have in our hearts. Recognise it is there, but it never has the last say.

Your partner chose you, everything about you, so keep being yourself, take a deep breath, and ask yourself this question: What is important now? Trust me, the answer will come.

When it comes to your partner’s child or children, move away and let your partner handle it. Lick your wounds, let the child get their way, after all you need to pick your battles.

Step-parents are unique. You do not always need to act like a mum or dad.

Sometimes you can act like an aunty or uncle. Have boundaries, but also be lots of fun!

POWER OF PLAY: One little trick I learnt was to not ask for their participation in an activity.

I would do it. Leave room for them to join in when they are ready, and don’t make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes I would sit on the floor and start a puzzle, set up a tea party, play with cars or sit on the couch and quietly read aloud a story until they crawled up beside me.

I also had treats that they would associate with me, like milkshakes or morning tea platters arranged in the shape of a smiley face.

As they got older, I would hide little treats in their bed so when they went there they would find a little something from me.

When they were little it would be something little like a flower but as my stepdaughters got older and the hormones kicked in, it was a book from their favourite series or a packet of lollies or chocolates.

They always remember that now.

DISTRACTION IS THE KEY: Want to turn off the TV or take away a screen?

You know they are going to spit the dummy as soon as you do, so distraction is the key.

Have something ready to take their mind off it. Preferably something creative or where they use their hands.

If you are new to step-parenting, pintrest will be your ‘go-to’ source for creative play and you will be stock-piling craft supplies like never before.

No matter what you do, they will be noisy in their transition between screen and creativity. Accept it and remember, it’s not personal.

DISCIPLINE: The word “discipline” originates from the Latin word disciplina which means “instruction” and derives from the root discere which means “to learn”.

So rather than punishing, firstly remember children do not need to feel bad to do good. Connect with them and then correct their behaviour.

Get down to their level on the floor. Look at what is happening to the children and ask yourself what you would like them to learn from this.

 Look at what they need and what they are struggling with. Encourage them to use words, so in the heat of the emotion (annoyance, anger etc), try and find yours.

It feels like you are crossing a line. You are! It’s called bravery and parenting!

Pick them up, move them to somewhere safe, quiet and small, like a bedroom. If you can, stay with them on the floor while they contain themselves.

In the Circle of Security this is called ‘being with’. Wait until they are ready to be comforted. If you need to, stand outside the door, but reassure them you are still there and won’t leave them.

Reassurance is such a key component to teaching a child anything; that they can learn on their own but that you will help them just enough to get there.

So, in the middle of a tantrum, in the middle of rejection when the tears start to well up, remember your special and unique role.

Like anything in life, it takes practice, and the more you practice, the more responsive they will be.

But just like anything you practice, sometimes you will nail it, and sometimes you will need to give up or stop and think, ‘I’ve tried, it didn’t work, better luck next time, I didn’t fail, I gave it a go, it’s not a big deal.

And just remember, rejection is not a sign of failure. It is not a sign of your personality, motivation or care. It is just a toddler doing its stuff.

And you are a step-parent doing your stuff; navigating your unique creative way!

- Summer Gwynne ~ Summer Breeze Consultancy
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