Friday, October 7, 2011

Gaining Affection from your Stepchildren

There’s no one-size-fits all set of instructions and advice for stepmothers. Everyone is different, and we all have to go with what feels right for us. For some women, that involves actively working on building a relationship with their stepchildren. For other women, it means disengaging from them.

Having said that, this week I’d like to share my advice on some simple things you can do today to start gaining affection from your stepchildren. These are little things to start out with, the kind that form a basic foundation to be built on.

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One of the easiest things you can do to make your stepkids like you is to just be in the same room with them as often as you can (or can handle). Studies about The Propinquity Effect show that the more often we are around a person the more likely she is to become our friend. This happens for no other reason than what is called, “mere exposure.” That is, “the more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more apt we are to like it.”(Also read more here)

Case in point: When we were going through a rough patch with my stepdaughter and she didn’t want to have anything to do with us, I made it a point to just hang out in the same room with her while she was visiting, even if it was just silently watching TV on the couch. After a time she started talking freely to me again and then even went back to cuddling up next to me.

Smile and your stepchildren will smile back. Studies about Facial Feedback have shown that facial movement can actually affect your emotional state. Meaning the physical act of smiling actually makes you feel happier. In addition to that, Emotional Contagion studies also show that emotions can literally be contagious, while other research has shown that people reflect each other’s facial expressions. So altogether, if you make a point to smile at your stepchildren they are likely to smile back and share in your good mood.

Personally, this is a tactic that really works for me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if I smile, then my stepdaughter smiles. If I smile when she talks, then she smiles and gets excited that I’m happy about what she’s saying. If she’s feeling uncertain about something and I smile and talk about it, then she relaxes. If I sit down on the couch and smile, then she’ll smile back and come give me a hug. I’m sure that the effect would be less dramatic for older kids, but research seems to suggest that the basic principles hold true for all age groups.

More to follow throughout the week.

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