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5 Tips for Blended Families

5 Tips for Blended Families

Written by: Catie Chun

In the United States, the term blended family has started to replace stepfamily to describe a family in which two existing families are joined through a new adult partnership. Some prefer the language of blended families because it avoids the negative associations that stepfamily holds. However, the language used to describe within-family relationships has not changed. The terms stepparent, stepchild, and stepsibling continue to be commonly used today. Growing up in a blended family is becoming more and more common –according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 16% of children in the United States are living in blended families today.

There are unique joys and challenges associated with combining families. While these big changes are often new and exciting for adults in the home, research shows that it can be a difficult adjustment process for children. Here are some things to keep in mind as your family begins this new chapter of life: 

  1. Blending families takes time and teamwork. Parents need to work together to blend family norms, expectations, and discipline practices. In addition, children require time to adjust to new family members and to build connections with them. This process requires patience and time.
  1. Make time for parent-child bonding. It is important to maintain regularly scheduled parent-child time to reassure children that they are not losing their special connection with their parent to new family members. Assuring your child that they are still important to you can ease this transition. 
  1. Additionally, stepparents and stepchildren should spend one-on-one time together to discover their common ground. Consider activities where the stepparent teaches the stepchild something they want to learn, like baking a cake or riding a bike. Alternatively, the activity can be one where the stepchild teaches the stepparent a new skill such as playing computer games. 
  1. Sometimes children are hesitant to accept a new stepparent because it feels like betraying their first parent of the same role. Conversations that proactively address these concerns can ease confusion regarding this difficult topic. 

For example, you might say, “These big family changes can be confusing. Your mom will always be your mom, and she will have a permanent place in your heart. I hope that someday your stepmom can have a place in your heart too… If she does, her place will be separate from mom’s. Accepting your new stepmom doesn’t mean that you can’t love your mom anymore.”

Similarly, it can be helpful for stepparents to assure children that they will never take the place of their other parent. These conversations can free children to care about all people in the family. While adults would prefer for stepparents, stepchildren and stepsiblings to love each other, it is difficult to require strangers (who did not choose each other) to love one another. For these new relationships, love might not be a reasonable expectation. Civility, however, is a reasonable request. Children should still be expected to treat others with the same respect they would like to receive.

In summary, blending families presents big changes for both adults and children. With patience, planning and time, your family can adjust to this new stage of life.


Additional Resources:
7 Tips for Parenting, Stepparenting, and Discipline in Stepfamilies

Videos with Dr. Patricia Papernow, ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours

National Stepfamily Resource Center: Understanding Stepfamilies Free Online Training


School Readiness

School Readiness

Written by: Jess Anderson

“Since COVID-19 began, we haven’t really left the house.” I often hear this phrase from parents of young children who are navigating the pandemic. Parents are worried about the social-emotional development of their children, along with their pre-academic learning opportunities now that preschool programs and school buildings have been closed or less accessible over the past year. 

While it is true that researchers often talk about the importance of early learning and how it can predict future academic success, research also shows that parents and caregivers are essential for preparing their children to transition to school.

School readiness is a term often used to describe a child’s preparedness for entering kindergarten, and usual refers to skills in the following areas: language and literacy, cognition, physical development, approaches to learning and self-regulation, and social and personal competency. As the pandemic continues and keeps us socially distanced and often indoors, children are still developing and ready to take on learning challenges at home. Here are some ways to foster school readiness right in your own home.

Language and Literacy
Children in their preschool years rapidly acquire new language. Pretend play can positively influence vocabulary and language acquisition, and more specifically, reading and telling stories are great ways to build language skills. Literacy is also something that can be fun and taught throughout daily activities. Highlight the letter-sounds of words you use throughout the day, saying things like, “G-g-game starts with the g sound!” Brainstorming words that rhyme can help to build phonological awareness, which is a key skill for young children to begin reading. 

Cognition
Developing cognition for school readiness is about promoting early problem-solving skills and often includes early science and math skills. Try counting blocks, or toy cars; play games of take-away (“You had five cars, but three drive away, how many are left?”) or engaging in board games that use the skill of counting (e.g., Chutes and Ladders) or games that require matching numerals (e.g., Uno). Interestingly, a child’s ability to name numerals is one of the most influential skills on later math development, and can be easily worked on at home. 

Physical Development
Supporting physical development requires thinking about a child’s gross motor and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills include running, jumping, and climbing. Fine motor skills include drawing, writing, and grasping. 

To build gross-motor skills, many safe outdoor activities (e.g., running, biking, playing on a playground) engage the large muscles of the body. However, many young children also enjoy short dance or physical activities that can be done indoors, such as GoNoodle.

For building fine motor skills, crafting is an excellent activity! Engaging in beading or drawing can help build the small muscles in a child’s hands to prepare them for writing in kindergarten. Occupational therapists recommend that children practice writing and drawing vertically (on chalkboards, white boards or easels, for example), as this can increase strength in a child’s core, shoulder, and wrist. 

Approaches to Learning and Self-Regulation
This part of school readiness focuses on learner characteristics such as curiosity and persistence, and the regulation skills necessary to cope with feelings and managing one’s own behavior. These skills can be developed throughout daily life. Young children are frequently asking questions. The next time your child asks, “Why?” ask them to make a guess about the answer to their own question, and give praise when they persist in thinking through their questions! 

One of the most powerful ways parents can help to shape strong self-regulation skills for children is by modelling these skills themselves. When you monitor and talk through your emotions, you help your child to build language around emotions and to learn strategies for coping. For example, saying, “I am feeling frustrated right now. I am going to take a short walk and come back to this later,” can help a child to learn how to identify emotions and manage them appropriately. 

Social and Personal Competency
Social and personal competency is about building social skills and personal care skills. Although it seems like relationship building skills are more difficult in a time where play-dates and peer-groups are rare, this skill can still be taught at home. Use books or characters to help children notice similarities in their experiences and the experiences of the characters to build empathy skills. Remind children of social rules such as taking turns speaking, looking at someone’s eyes and face when they are speaking, and changing volume levels depending on location (e.g., loud at the park, quiet in the apartment). Recreate social scenarios through imaginary play at a “restaurant” or “school,” and take turns with different roles.


Additional Resources:
Early Childhood Resources curated by the University of Washington College of Education: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ncAPWG5tPXRPbTKDARsGIw9pJ_yFTi43yK0LLPXtR-Q/edit?_ga=2.182232676.2102303318.1611970959-1935884844.1577913772

Activities for families and caregivers
https://cultivatelearning.uw.edu/resource-spotlight/

Supporting science development at home http://stemteachingtools.org/news/2020/guidance-for-supporting-science-learning-during-covid-19



The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

The Role of Family Involvement in Literacy

Written by: Swee Harrison

How are families involved in a child’s literacy development?
A child’s literacy skills begin at home before they are old enough to attend school!

Children whose parents are more involved with their schooling and at-home learning tend to feel more confident in their own literacy skills. This is no coincidence! Family involvement can influence a child’s success in their school and community contexts as well as the home environment. So, why is this important? It means that you, the parent, and other family members can really help your child improve their literacy skills!

Why is literacy important in early childhood?
Early engagement with literacy is important because challenges with literacy development can impact a child over time, even well into adulthood. Children who struggle to develop literacy skills in elementary school are more likely to have difficulties with reading later on. Challenges in school are linked to behavioral problems. This site provides resources and benchmarks for early literacy development and milestones (infancy to age 5): https://www.pacer.org/ec/early-literacy/parents-play-a-key-role.asp

We also know that family income levels can be related to children’s literacy development. Parent and family involvement are especially important in low-income families. If you are interested in learning more about the role of literacy on children from low-income backgrounds, check out this summary of a study on family involvement and children’s literacy for low-income families: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/08/05/family-involvement-and-childrens-literacy

How to support your child’s literacy development:
The term “family involvement” includes a variety of actions both in school and at home. Here are ways you can be involved in your child’s literacy development:
1. Help with homework and other school-related activities at home
2. Participate through classroom volunteering and communicating with teachers (i.e. attending parent-teacher meetings, keeping up with their child’s progress)
3. Access your child’s school community and discuss education with other families and community members
4. Educate yourself on topics and skills your child is learning in school

Siblings can help each other improve reading skills too!
Studies show that siblings who participate reading or language learning together also improve together! Younger siblings benefit from observing and learning from their older sibling(s). Plus, older siblings learn from teaching younger siblings and demonstrating their own knowledge. Take a look at this website for information on sibling roles in literacy development: https://www.scholastic.com/parents/books-and-reading/raise-a-reader-blog/siblings-reading-together.html

Check out these resources for more information! 
These websites provide suggestions for activities to improve literacy development: 
Kid’s Academy: bit.ly/2N0qbsT
Edutopia: edut.to/3qqDtN2
National Center for Improving Literacy: http://bit.ly/3bxQX5A