Touch your stepkids frequently. Studies have shown that touch has the power to positively alter moods and even biochemical reactions in the body. Start off small; for example, gently tap your hand on your stepchild when you have something to tell them. (“Oh yeah, I found that thing you were looking for…")
Gretchen Rubin calls this “subliminal touching.” Rubin explains that, “studies show that subliminal touching – that is, touching a person so unobtrusively that it’s not noticed – dramatically increases that person’s sense of well-being and positive feelings toward the toucher. And vice versa. This fleeting touching might be something like touching a person’s back as you walk through a door.”
As time passes you can move up to hugging. Hugs have been shown to lower blood pressure and cause our bodies to release oxytocin, a chemical that promotes bonding.
Keep Your Mouth Shut
When you’re first starting out together, listen when your stepchildren talk without adding your two cents. If necessary, add a few little comments here and there to keep them talking, like “mm-hm,” “oh really?” and “what was that like?” You want to earn their trust at first by letting them know they can speak to you freely. Your stepchildren are going to looking for reasons to dislike you, and they are likely to interpret things you say as trying to correct them or change them even if that isn’t your intent. Later, once you’ve gotten used to each other, you should feel comfortable expressing your opinions things they say—but that’s a whole separate post.
Share information about yourself to gain their trust. Even though they may not be willing to say so, they want to know what you’re all about. The trick to doing this effectively is to frequently volunteer tidbits of information that require no response on their part. They don’t want to feel like they’re in an official “get to know you” session all the time, and they’ll get overwhelmed if you come on too strong. You’re sure to have already talked about your job and your hobbies—now is the time to start mentioning things like your friendships, your favorite foods, and that time your little brother put bubble gum in your hair in the third grade.