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When You Say It Right (But Things Still Go Wrong)

Your Expectations Are Self-Fulfilling

A group of mothers who were convinced that their sons acted negatively when given sugar were divided into two groups. One group was told to play with their sons after the boys were given a sugary drink. The other mothers played with their sons when the boys were given an artificial sweetener. The boys had ankle and wrist "actometers" that measured their physical activity. In truth, none of the boys were given sugar, but the mothers who believed their sons had a sweet drink rated them as more active and difficult -- despite the fact that their actometers revealed the boys to be less active than the other group.

Once you have labeled your child, that label will stick in your mind. A child who routinely delays doing his homework might prompt a parent to scold him when he is watching television instead of inquiring what the homework status is. That parental approach may cause more negative feelings on both sides and interfere with cooperation.

You Are Part of a New Stepfamily

Stepfamilies can run smoothly, but it usually takes time. Sometimes the adults are living together but unmarried, and that can be even more complicating because the nonparent has even less legitimate authority. Also, in some of these arrangements each party pays their individual bills, which further diminishes the sense that it is one big happy family. Generally, stepfamilies should follow these guidelines:

  • The stepparent should help make rules but should not be the main enforcer.
  • The stepparent should not try to replace the absent biological parent.
  • The stepparent should find some quality one-on-one time with each of the kids. It is the best and fastest way to build rapport.
  • Problems should be handled in family meetings until the stepparent is treated as a legitimate authority.
  • Don't expect a stepparent to automatically love the stepchildren.
  • Depending on the child's age, stepparents may never quite love their stepchildren the way they do their biological children, but treatment of all kids should be fair.


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