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Contrasting Temperaments in Stepfamilies

Some kids are just easier than others. Some combinations of adults and kids mesh better than other combinations, and it doesn't always have to do with genetic bloodlines.

Steve, a high-energy, quick-to-anger type, has a hard time dealing with his bioson Martin, a quiet, thoughtful type. On the other hand, his stepdaughter Suzy (who drives her own biomom nuts with her emotional sensitivity) is a young woman he can understand. Steve and Suzy have similar temperaments, or ways of approaching the world.

Every child is born with her own temperament (so were you!). Ask any parent who's been with a child since he was an infant. "Oh yes," they'll reassure you, "Toby came out that way. He's slow to warm up but very easy-going once he knows you."

Looking at a child's temperamental approach to the world (and how it meshes with your own) can be a big help in understanding your stepchild's behavior. Is Betty being stubborn and bullheaded, or does she just have a hard time dealing with change? Is Jimmy capable of sitting up "straight, young man, and don't kick the table!"?

Try to think of your stepchild's temperamental traits objectively (the exercise to follow will help). Even though everybody is born with a certain temperamental slant, you can help direct "challenging" traits into more positive ones. It also helps to reframe the traits in a more positive way: "Tara isn't slow and lazy; she's thoughtful, and when she does a project, it may take her a while, but it's done thoroughly, with great creativity." Or, "Mariah's high energy helps her achieve great things on the basketball court."

Temper, Temper!

Your stepchild and you may be as different as fire and water, and seemingly equally incompatible. First, stop blaming him, and stop blaming yourself! He is not a jerk, and you are not wicked. You're just very different. There are many different styles of being human. Much of your stepchild's behavior is a function of his temperament, his approach to things. By looking at his approach and by really understanding why he reacts in certain ways, you'll gain more patience. Your way is not the only way.

Temperament Contrast Exercise

Check out these traits. For each one, write down in the middle column which ones apply to you. In the last column, write which ones apply to your stepchild. Compare and contrast. You'll see some areas of agreement and some where the two of you don't speak the same emotional language at all! Understanding a problem is the hardest part of solving it.

Temperamental Trait You Your Stepchild
What's your general Mood?
Up or down? Smiley faces or
frowns? Pollyanna or Eeyore?
Glass half-full, or glass half-empty?
   
What's your general Intensity?
High or low? How strong are
emotional reactions? Are you a
screamer or a cold fish?
   
How important is Regularity?
Same breakfast every day for 10
years or catch-as-catch-can? How
regular are your sleep, bathroom,
and flossing patterns?
   
How Physically Sensitive are you?
How's your tolerance for scratchy
clothes, loud noises, fingernails
on blackboards, runny eggs?
   
How Environmentally Sensitive
are you? Can you spot a tree
frog on a tree from 50 paces?
Do you do like Dr. Dolittle and
talk with the animals? Or is
the smell of your bathroom
freshener your idea of "natural"?
   
What's your Activity Level?
Are you go, go, go, or ease with
the breeze? Today!!! or mañana?
   
What's your First Reaction?
Do you jump right in the pool,
or dabble your toesies?
   
How Adaptable are you? Do
you like surprise parties?
Are you thrown off by a change
in the routine?
   
What's your Persistence level?
Once started on an activity,
how easy is it for you to stop?
Can you take "no" for an answer?
   
How Perceptive are you? Do you
notice when the furniture has
been moved an inch, or do you
walk into walls 'cause you just
don't see 'em? Do you stay
focused on a job, or are you
easily distracted?
   
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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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