7 Ways to Help Children Prepare for Living in a Blended Family

In an earlier blog post, I talked about helping children through a divorce. Often, a divorce is compounded with new family members—blended families—and that can bring up a host of new feelings and behaviors from children.

As we know, elementary and middle-school aged children are still developing the ability to understand and name feelings and associate behaviors with those feelings. Some feelings children may be experiencing when their families are blending with other families are fear, jealousy, confusion, anger, or guilt.

Children often bring their feelings and reactive behaviors to school with them. It’s much safer—in many children’s minds—to take out their anger on those outside their families. They may feel if they express anger to their parents, then their parents will stop loving them or disappear completely. We can help them understand their feelings (and they are perfectly normal!) and identify ways to express those feelings appropriately.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over my twenty-five + years of experience that counselors can do to help students prepare for and work through a new blended family situation.

1.      All feelings are normal. As in all experiences with students who are going through intense challenges, it is important to help them understand and accept their feelings as normal. In addition to feelings like anger, sadness, and fear, children who are still learning how to name feelings may experience shame. It is vital to always emphasize that all feelings are normal and okay, that they are not bad because they are jealous or angry. And you may need to remind them that they didn’t cause any of this.

2.     Picture their fears. Help children visualize their fears and understand that there are many ways they can picture their families. Knowing what may happen next is an essential part of children’s development and can go a long way to help them walk through their fears.

3.     File memories. When we can put memories down on paper, they can become more real. We can use our memories to see how sometimes things change but they can be good. Or they can be bad and we know we survived bad memories.

4.    Get to know their new family members. There are many fun and engaging ways children can learn about their new families: making a video, interviewing them, compare likes and dislikes. Often, it’s the unknown that is the biggest monster in the closet.

5.     Identify what changes they do not like and what changes turn out to be good. When children can name the changes they do not like, they are able to express their feelings about specific things, rather than reacting negatively to an overwhelming, frustrating situation.

6.    Their families are adding, not subtracting. Divorce and family changes often create a great sense of loss. It is important for children to understand that they are not losing anybody they love. Their families are growing, but mom and dad aren’t disappearing.

7.     Talk to someone they trust. Not only can children learn more about how they feel and how to react when they talk it out, they learn that they can tell uncomfortable things to someone who will not judge them and who can help them feel safe. This is vital for children, especially if the changes they experience are accompanied by abuse.

Every person is different, every feeling different. We all react in different ways to overwhelming feelings. By focusing on individual parts of a whole, we can eat the elephant one bite at a time, so to speak. We can get to the root of our anger, sadness, or fear, and suddenly all these big feelings we have don’t feel so big. 

There are so many ways to help children through such life changes. I’ve outlined a few here, but I have created some practical activities you can share with children ages 6 to 10 in the activity book Twice the Love. It’s important to help children visualize in a very real way what they feel and need, and this activity book uses art and writing activities that can help children understand what they are feeling, how they are reacting, and what their role is.

Here are some ways you might use this activity book with a student:
(*) Send a book home with parents when they request help (this is one of the most effective ways to use them with students).
(*) After a counseling session, hand one to students and have them work in it independently.
(*) Use it as part of your individual counseling sessions (do a couple pages each session).
(*) Print them and select certain pages to work with students or small groups.
(*) Make selected activities be a part of a whole class lesson (i.e. teach lesson about self-confidence then give each student their own book).
(*) After sessions with students, have a folder where they complete five pages and then during next week’s session discuss those five. Give them another five until they complete the entire book.

Download your copy from my Teachers Pay Teachers store HERE.