Hello Stepparents! Recently, I’ve spent several episodes discussing your stepchild’s loyalty conflict, their behavior, even the wiring of their brain and why some approaches work better than others in interactions with your stepchild.
To that end, today I’d like to focus on my favorite technique that I think is one of the most important and effective. Find the show notes for this episode at synergisticstepparenting.com/18.
To be honest this technique works well across the spectrum of relationships – be it with your spouse, in-law, friend, or co-worker. It works well with kids too. And your stepchild needs you to have effective tools when interacting with them in challenging times and bad days.
A Powerful Technique That Helps Your Stepchild Self-Regulate.
The technique I’m referring to is called reflective listening.
In reflective listening the objective is to focus your attention on the child and what they are feeling or experiencing and to reflect to them what you see and hear while providing them space to fully process their emotions both physically and emotionally.
Let’s say your teenage stepchild got home from school, slammed the door on their way in, chucked their backpack and flung themselves on the couch looking miserable.
Maybe at this point you are tempted to lose it because they know the rules about slamming doors and putting their things away. But this is the point at which it’s critical to tune into what they are communicating – albeit non-verbally – and to respond to that instead.
It’s clear that something’s wrong. The tension is palpable, so thick you can almost cut it with a knife. Get to a place of being curious. Gently come closer and ask “What happened?” or “Are you okay?” This a kinder and considerate response.
Rather than saying “pick up your bag” “you know better than to slam the door, this isn’t a barn” etc. Which is likely going to upset them even more and make you into the enemy and their target.
Even if they explode back, or mutter “I’m fine”, or just ignore you. Wait for a moment, while staying calm.
If you don’t get another response, the best thing you can do is say, “I’m going to give you some time. Let me know if you want to talk or if I can help in anyway” and walk away giving them space.
4 Steps of Reflective Listening
If your stepchild is little you want to be in the same room with them and keep an eye on them because little kids don’t always know how to stay safe.
Do the following …
1. Use the least number of words necessary.
Refrain from saying anything. But if they are trying to engage with you or seem like they’re trying to get your attention simply say “I see that you’re ____” and fill in the blank by naming the emotion.
2. Give them time, space and distance.
As long as they are being safe and they’re not doing anything where they can hurt themselves, let them be. So if they’re punching pillows or throwing their drawings, that’s fine. Watch for breakable things and things they can hurt themselves with and try to remove them ahead of time.
3. Redirect them if possible.
In the case of a small child if they’re having a tantrum and are angry and you have a piece of paper and something to draw with handy, give it to them and ask them to show you how angry they are. You’ll notice that this might start out as stabbing the paper but with time as they calm down will most likely turn into drawing.
4. Have patience.
These situations are going to take time, but your stepchild will eventually work through the emotion and shift gears. There will be lots of these situations before your stepchild learns how to process these big emotions. Each time those come up is an opportunity. Kids learn through making mistakes and struggling a little to figure things out.
It’s best not to put your stepchild in a room alone so that they don’t feel like they’re being punished. So for example, say you’re in the living room and there’s a lot of little things that they can break or hurt themselves on and you want to put them in their room.
It’s best not to close the door and to stay with them in their room maybe in the corner of the room or just outside the door in the hallway. That way they won’t feel like you’re abandoning them.
Benefits of Reflective Listening
Kids largely regulate themselves based on emotions of the adults around them. And they’re always looking to those adults for clues of how to behave.
So having you – their stepparent – bear witness to their experience and seeing you calmly make space for them to express and process those emotions, makes them feel safe to work through these challenging emotions and figure out effective ways to cope.
Kids are perceptive and sensitive to the energy of others. They unconsciously sense your energy as their caregiver. And your energy has a huge impact on their inner world, and consequently on their behavior – which is often a reflection of said inner world.
When kids are little they aren’t as adapt at self-regulating as adults are because they don’t have the frame of reference and don’t have the experience. During an intense emotion, there is intensity in their inner world. So they try to recreate this intensity in their outside world too.
So if you, as their stepparent, have an intense negative response back in the form of “Don’t do that” or “stop it” or “I said no” “I said enough” or anything like that, it essentially is creating a hit for the brain so it’s strengthening that neural pathway.
Remain calm and deflate the response you give to that situation. Instead, save the strong and intense response for a positive situation when the child is doing something good. Thus, you’re setting your stepchild up for success.
By doing so you are using the same neuroscience principals to shape your stepchild’s behavior giving them space to learn to manage and maneuver through difficult times. A life lesson that will serve them time and time again.
Do I Have To Do It Alone?
Doing this work is simple but not easy. And as a stepparent there are often additional considerations and particulars adding to the challenges.
You don’t have to go through this alone. In my VIP Breakthrough Program, I hold your hand every step of the way and guide you to a life of more ease, peace and joy.
Curious about working together? Head on over to synergisticstepparenting.com/work to learn more about my VIP Stepparenting Breakthrough program and schedule a discovery call.
I’d love to see how I can help you on your stepparenting journey and assess if we’re a good fit.
Until next time, be well!
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