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Blended Families: Step-sibling conflict

When children are brought together and expected to become a family, it's quite understandable that some problems may develop. You and your partner may have chosen each other, but children generally haven't had much say about whether they want to have more brothers and sisters, and there is no guarantee that they will accept each other or get along easily. Especially at first.

Here are some suggestions that might make the transition easier on everyone:

  • Allow the children to get to know and like each other at their own pace. Don't force them to do things together, or to feel like brothers and sisters until they're ready.

  • Watch for interests and activities that they might like to share, and then encourage them.

  • Be careful not to play favourites with any of the children - like bending the rules for either your own children or your new partner's.

  • When there are arguments or unpleasant confrontations, give the children time to cool off, then help them discuss the problem. Let them know that it may not be easy to get used to new brothers and sisters and that at times it may really bother them, but that it's important for everyone to learn to get along.

  • Try to keep the lines of communication open on all sides.

  • Try not to let yourself be caught up in arguments - for example, when your children say, "well, this is how we do things." Instead, suggest that this is a new family, and that it is open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

  • Try to be sensitive to your children's feelings, if you have to change things that are truly meaningful to them.

  • Try to have family meetings on a regular basis. This is a chance for each person to speak up about his or her concerns in an environment without fear of yelling or arguing. Everyone should have a chance to say what they need while you try to help everyone else listen and understand.

  • Do things together - like group activities and games, to help people get to know each other.

If fights and hostile behaviour continue despite your best efforts, consider family counselling with a neutral and trained outsider to help everyone make the adjustment. With all the stresses of trying to help the children get along, you and/or your new spouse may need some counselling, too, to get over the rough spots. Consult your physician, or speak to a counsellor at Parent Help Line, 1-888-603-9100.

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