Taking Things Personally

28 10 2008

Stepfamily experts tell us to not take things our stepchildren say personally. Sounds easy, but when you’re listening to a stepkid shout that they hate you and wish you’d never met their dad, it’s next to impossible not to feel hurt. Try one of these tips for maintaining a cool head when you’re the target of a kid’s emotional pain.

1) Acts of kindness. Maintain a positive, supportive attitude instead of joining the child in a fight. Show empathy and kindness instead of anger. For instance, if a child shouts that you can’t tell her what to do when you ask her to pick up her room, instead of responding with anger, calmly tell her that she knows the house rules and she must abide by them. Make sure to include statements such as, “I know this must be hard for you to have two houses,” or “It’s a bummer that you have to follow the rules of our house and your mom’s, but someday you’ll get to make your own choices about how you live when you get your own apartment!”

2) Forget about it. When you’re hurt or outraged by something your stepkid said, it’s easy to replay the comment in your mind until your anger escalates into a grudge it’s hard to let go of. Try noticing the next time you allow your thoughts to increase your anger and instead consciously soothe yourself with positive self-talk, an outing with friends or an appointment with your massage therapist.

3) Practice self-confidence. If a child is being disrespectful, tell him you understand how he feels but that he is still not allowed to treat you poorly. Remember that you are influencing those children, and by demonstrating your own self-worth, you are teaching them something important.

4) Be gentle with yourself. Repeat this mantra whenever you are feeling attacked: “I am doing the best I can. I am doing the best I can.”

5) Imagine your stepchild’s life. Think about your own childhood. Did your parents divorce? Did you have to go back and forth between two homes? Did you have to listen to your parents badmouth each other? Were you a witness to violence or were you confused when your parents suddenly announced their divorce? Or are you from a happy home? Compare your upbringing with your stepchildren’s and see if you can find compassion for these people who are experiencing something that is painful, confusing, scary, and will change their very identities.

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