5 Relationship – Building Questions to Bond with Your Partner’s Child
How do you begin to build a relationship with your new partner’s child/children?
Building a relationship with a parent also means building a relationship with their child, which is tricky. Unlike your partner who is, at the very least, interested in creating a pleasant atmosphere and engaging with you, a child can be resistant. Many don’t want to have a new person in their life.
Others are still reeling from the divorce, death, or absence that drove their parents apart. Building this new relationship can take a lot of work and, while the support of the parent can make it easier, you still may need to engage the child.
As the adult, you will have to do most of the work but you will also have more resources to make it happen. Here are five questions you can ask your partner’s child to build a relationship.
Keep in line a few important tips:
- Focus on the fun and leave the discipline to the parent. Giving out punishment or correction to the child can make them resentful, so you should avoid starting with this. Being a fun person to be around will build more trust and appreciation.
- Remember that you are the adult. Some children can lash out or try to coax a reaction out of you. You don’t have to give it to them. React maturely.
- Children can have their own sensibilities, individual characteristics, and other factors. Some, due to past experiences, can be wary or unwilling to trust. It’s important to consider this and not expect that the child will open up right away.
Question 1 | Ask Them to Show You Something
Hey, I have noticed you are very good at this thing. I would like to understand it better. Could you show it to me? Would you explain it?
Children are used to being talked down to, so talking to them with respect can be a good way of earning trust. If you are willing to ask the child to explain or show something to you and treat them like an expert, they are more likely to talk to you. A key aspect of this script is the tone. You should be careful and avoid sounding condescending or dishonest. Try to choose a thing that you might be interested in and pay attention to the child as they talk. Make sure to ask follow-up questions. The goal of this script is to show the child that you can take them seriously and engage on their level, providing a new opportunity to build a relationship with you.
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Question 2 | Offer Them a Special Activity
I know you’ve been really interested in this event. Would you like us to go together? I think it would be fun!
As a step-parent, you want to start by building trust through fun activities. You want to begin your relationship with positive emotions and bonding experiences. The child will be much less likely to trust someone who starts with lectures, especially if you are a new person in their life. This might be seen as illegitimate, especially when the child feels that you are trying to replace their other parent. You will build more goodwill by doing fun things. Find an activity that the child wants to do and offer to take them. For bonus points, try offering something that the parent might not enjoy. Of course, you will need the parent’s permission but it can be a good way for bonding.
Question 3 | Be Sincere
It seems that you are a bit unhappy with me being here. I understand that it can be hard to adjust to my presence. I really like you Mom/Dad and hope to make them happy, so I would very much like for us to get along. How would you feel about that?
Ask the child to share their feelings and acknowledge their discomfort. You might not get a happy answer but it will be a start. Older children will see the value of getting along even if they are unhappy, but this can give you some insight into how they feel. It provides an opportunity for a more adult dialogue, although this script is more suitable for older children than for very young ones. Ask the child to talk to you and then respond with empathy. Don’t get angry if they react badly or if they say something you don’t want to hear. This conversation can serve as a good starting point, and beginning with honesty will help the child trust you more.
Question 4 | Show an Interest in Them
What do you like to talk about? What is the thing you like the most right now? What’s the thing that most bothers you about school?
By asking these types of questions and other similar ones, you are showing an interest in the child. Allow them to choose a topic of conversation and see what they have to say. You should make the effort to listen, ask follow-up questions, and avoid lecturing. Let the child talk and encourage them to share their interests with you: This is a good way to encourage bonding: ask them about the things that matter most to them and let them talk to you honestly.
Question 5 | Ask Random Questions
Who do you think would win: Superman or Batman? Who is the best cartoon character? Who is the most interesting villain?
Children are used to adults who try to engage them with questions about school, who they want to be when they grow up, and others. By providing random fun questions, you position yourself as a more interesting person to be around. It can make your talks feel like games, and many children relish the chance to talk about fun things for a while. Try to adjust your questions to their interests. This will reinforce your place as a friend for the child that will form the basis of you r relationship.
When you are bonding with a partner’s child, you want to start by showing that you are fun to be around. You should position yourself as a friend first and only later, if it comes to that, as a parent. Try to offer fun conversations and engage the child with respect. This attitude can help you build a meaningful relationship little by little.
Ganong, L., Coleman, M., & Jamison, T. (2011). Patterns of Stepchild—Stepparent Relationship Development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73(2), 396-413. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/29789586
Jensen, Todd & Howard, Matthew. (2015). Perceived Stepparent-Child Relationship Quality: A Systematic Review of Stepchildren’s Perspectives. Marriage & Family Review. 51. 10.1080/01494929.2015.1006717.
King, V., & Lindstrom, R. (2016). Continuity and Change in Stepfather-Stepchild Closeness Between Adolescence and Early Adulthood. Journal of marriage and the family, 78(3), 730–743. doi:10.1111/jomf.12281
Lawrence H. Ganong, Marilyn Coleman, Tyler Jamison. Patterns of Stepchild-Stepparent Relationship Development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2011; 73 (2): 396 DOI: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00814.x
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Never the Right Word
Hi there! I’m Amy, and I’m the person behind Never the Right Word. I’m a designer-by-day who’s fascinated by human psychology; you’ll find me learning about what makes others tick through all types of media and good old-fashioned conversation.
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