Q. I adore my fiance, who has a 6-year-old son from a previous marriage. Problem is, I'm an only child and have never really been exposed to young children before -- babysitting was never really my thing. How can I learn to become more loving to my future stepson?
A. Below are five key ways to be a loving stepparent to your soon-to-be stepson:
1. Be affectionate and friendly.
Do so by saying "I like you" not only with words but with gentle touch. You'll certainly learn to like this little boy, so when you feel affection toward him, say so, and show it by offering a loving touch. Gentle touch communicates love and care without saying a word.
2. Consider his feelings, needs and desires.
Consideration does not mean indulging him, giving in to every whim. It means considering his wants while keeping his best interest in mind. You can do so by:
- Reiterating and respecting his point of view.
- Affirming his ideas and going along with them when they're reasonable.
- Encouraging him to express his negative feelings, but not permitting any accompanying negative behavior.
3. Show interest in his daily activities.
Prove you're interested in your stepson's life by:
- Completing the cycle of the conversation. When your stepson announces, "My team won at recess today," respond with a question, "What was the score?" This tells the child, "I heard what you said, I'm interested, and I want to hear more."
- Going to his events and supporting his activities and interests. You'll not only go to his soccer practices and games but you'll cheer him!
4. Express pride in his accomplishments.
Don't go overboard with, "You're so great!" or "You're absolutely fabulous!" A more subtle approach will mean more to him as he masters the skills expected in childhood. A loving parent:
- Says, "I like it when..." and "I appreciate it when...." When he lives up to your expectations, when he complies with a request, let him know you appreciate it. Watch out for criticism; you'll likely teach your stepson many tasks, but make sure your critical comments don't take the wind out of his learning sails.
- Describes and observes a child's accomplishments. Here's all it takes, "You learned to ride your bike! Show me. I want to watch."
5. Just be there.
Offer support and encouragement during times of stress. As a loving parent, you can:
- Offer empathy and understanding.
- Express faith that things will eventually get better.
- Encourage him to talk about the distressing situation.
- Encourage him to come up with ideas to solve the problem.
These five methods communicate affection and will put you on the road to developing a loving and liking relationship with your fiance's child.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.
Originally published on HealthyKids.com, April 2006.