Category Archives: Family Matters

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


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


Setting Boundaries at Home

Setting Boundaries at Home

Written by: Jennifer VanEtten

By establishing healthy boundaries in your home, you are letting your children know that you care about them and want them to feel safe and secure as they learn about the world. Boundaries help children to understand their choices, which choices are acceptable, and how to identify and communicate their expectations with others. 

What are Boundaries?
Physical boundaries refer to the invisible line between you and other individuals. A physical boundary represents the extent to which you are comfortable with other people touching you, being in your personal space, and how you define privacy. For children, this may also include how far they can travel from a parent without supervision, where they are allowed to play, and activities they may or may not do in the house.

Emotional boundaries are not as straightforward as physical boundaries. Emotional boundaries are the expectations set to respect emotions and feelings. Setting emotional boundaries requires acknowledgment that everyone has different emotional triggers. We have to learn our own emotional triggers and respect those of others. For example, a child may decide they no longer want to be called by a nickname. When they make this preference known, family and friends need to respect that emotional boundary by not using the nickname in the future. Children need practice with following boundaries. This practice teaches them self-control and empathy, and shows them that they can set boundaries when they are needed.

Tips for Practicing Boundaries at Home

• Collaboration: Work together to establish boundaries within the home. Make sure each parent and child verbalizes their own age-appropriate physical and emotional boundaries. Allowing children to be a part of this process will help them to acknowledge how they want to be treated and how to treat others. It may be helpful to create a contract or chart that everyone can sign. Some universal boundaries include: ask before taking, wait your turn to speak, knock before entering, tell the truth, clean up after your messes, etc. 

• Consistency: Children will always push boundaries because it helps them to learn. That is why it is important to be consistent with the boundaries you set at home. Children are less likely to continue pushing boundaries if they are enforced consistently. If there is a time when a boundary needs to be broken, make sure to communicate this with your children. Otherwise, it is important to firmly, and gracefully, remind your children about the boundaries when they are broken, and use consequences if necessary. Remind them why the boundary is important and problem-solve if necessary. 

• Mindful Communication: Be conscious of your body language, facial expression, and tone when enforcing your boundaries. If you laugh or smile when a child crosses an established boundary this may encourage them to do it again (even if you are telling them not to do it). On the other hand, harsh reprimands and loud tones may trigger a child’s fight-or-flight response. You will want to save this urgency for emergencies (e.g., your child is in danger) and be sure to nurture your connection with your child in these moments while they learn. 

• Reinforcement: Offer praise when you notice your child respecting boundaries. Research has found that using critical statements may be counterproductive for shaping behavior, while praise can boost kids’ feelings of confidence and competence. Try using specific language when praising. For example, “I really like the way you cleaned up your toys without being asked!” communicates the behavior you want to reinforce rather than general praise like, “Good job!” 

• Model your boundaries: If you expect children to know and respect your boundaries, it is important that you do the same. If there is a physical boundary in the house that one should knock before entering a closed door, you should do the same for them. If no phones are allowed at the dinner table, hold yourself and your partner to the same standards. Additionally, discontinuing tickling or hugging when a child says “no” or “stop” reinforces physical boundaries. Children learn a lot by watching what you do, which often makes more of an impression than what you say.

A household with healthy boundaries provides children with love, structure, guidance and discipline, and at the same time respect the child’s feelings, opinions, personal space, and right to say no in certain situations. When proper boundaries are set at home, children learn and internalize the ability to set those boundaries for themselves as they mature. 

Tips for Practicing Boundaries at Home
American Academy of Pediatrics: Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children
Harvard Graduate School of Education: Consent at Every Age
Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook