When Kids Get Territorial

By Lisa Cohn

Reprinted with permission from Parenting Magazine.

A stepparent’s moving in can fire up a child’s jealousy: “Not only do the biological parent’s emotions and time become occupied by someone else, but the physical space around him gets taken up as well,” says Jerry Devine, a marriage and family therapist in The Woodlands, TX. Adds Margorie Engel, Ph.D., president of the Stepfamily Association of America, in Lincoln, NE, “Kids start to worry that they’re no longer the center of everything.”

            While some children suddenly become clingy or try to literally wedge themselves between a parent and his partner, others may attempt to hurt the stepparent’s feelings. “Kids will often say, ‘She’s been here for six months now—when is she going home?’” says Engel. To tame the green-eyed monster in a child:

LET HER WIN—SOMETIMES

If your stepchild sees that she doesn’t have to fight for her parent’s attention, she’ll feel more secure and will be less likely to compete. So if she insists on sitting between you and your partner, for example, let her have her way often—but not always. Tell her you know how she feels, but that you’d like to sit next to her father sometimes.

STICK TO THE STATUS QUO

As a general rule, kids adjust better if change is introduced slowly; try not to make any new household rules for at least a year.

DON’T IGNORE YOUR NEEDS

It’s natural for a stepparent to feel left out. Discuss your feelings with your partner, and plan to spend some time together without the kids at least once a week.

URGE TIME WITHOUT YOU

Make sure your partner schedules one-on-one time with his child. Eventually, he can ask her if you can join them. In time, your stepchild will start to realize that she hasn’t lost her parent, but has instead gained a friend in you.---LISA COHN