Trust is defined as the reliance on the integrity, strength and ability of a person or thing. You likely want your step-children to feel this at the start of a blended family, but it’s a thing that must be earned. For a child coming into a new blended family, he is likely to already be a bit weary of trusting in a family. His original nuclear family was torn apart from divorce, and he may harbor such fears like the fact that it may happen again. He may worry that the arguments he may have witnessed at the demise of his parents’ marriage may come up in a new marriage. However, there are many ways that a child’s fears can be replaced with reassurance and trust.
Instigate and continue an ongoing dialogue with your spouse regarding building trust within the family. Speak openly about your own children; ask your spouse many things about his children. Learning about your new stepchildren can help you understand them more fully; that can only help with communication.
Start with the truth. Don’t expect a child to place a continued trust in you if you’ve lied to him before. Avoid lying to members of the blended family at all costs. Even if you come up looking as less-than-stellar, it’s still better than a lie. Lies are something that children are hard-pressed to forget, and a child often looks for reasons to be even more skeptical of a new step-parent.
Speak openly. While it may be tempting to push emotions under the rug for fear of creating an environment that’s overly emotional, that’s ultimately unhealthy. Using language that is neutral and not attacking, express your feelings. This will teach all the children that they are free to do the same, as long as they do so respectfully of others. If you are angry at something, be sure to state that you are angry at a certain action. Never say, “I’m mad at you.” Instead, state, “I’m so mad at that action. This is why it hurt my feelings…” It makes a child listen and avoids making them feel defensive.
Admit it when you’re wrong. Apologize for mistakes that you make. A child is much more likely to trust you if he understands that you make mistakes and take responsibility for them. It also makes it easier for a child to admit when she is in trouble herself.
State your intent to be there for the child openly, honestly and with promises that you can keep. Telling the child that you love him is important. Telling the child the many reasons why you love him-and naming them specifically-helps him believe it more easily. That also helps his confidence. Promise a child that you will always stop and listen to him if he has a problem no matter how busy you are if it’s a promise that you can make when you’re at home.
Expressing love, empathy and dedication will help start you, your spouse, your children and your step-children towards building a family environment of trust.