Dr. Silly ®


When my stepchildren stay with us it is often very difficult to get them (13 year boy and his 9 year old sister) to join in a table game or other family activity with their two younger brothers. How do I get these kids to play more together?


A. Children are more concerned with “belonging” than adults because unlike grown ups, they have no options to become independent and move to Colorado. They know that they are stuck where they are. Those kids who actively rebel against this can become run- a-ways. The problem becomes not reluctance or refusal but a question of motivation. How do you get them to want to join is the basic issue.

B. Blended families have a shared issue, namely anger. This emotion is complex and is usually founded upon ideas about fairness, perceived neglect, favoritism, and betrayal. Children can become fiercely loyal to the custodial parent and can think of themselves as the protector of this parent. When they are visiting, all that surrounds them is regarded as the enemy camp; they sometimes minimize their enjoyment in this camp as a feat of loyalty “No, I’ll just have…” Getting them to accept your generosity and affection can then become difficult. By not allowing themselves to enjoy their life in your family, they avoid feeling guilty.

C. Children who are living in blended families and in multiple homes naturally develop ways of dealing with such a divided life. Manipulation is unfortunately one of the adjustment gambits they use; first because it is the other side of lying,and fibs are an early childhood technique; and second, because manipulation
provides them with a small sense of power- adults are the easy mark,the fall guys. Again, manipulation is a protective move not necessarily an aggressive one.

D. Blended families also have a difficulty with facts, that is, the truth about things.
Step-children sometimes have the wrong information, distorted information or no information about their circumstances and the important adults in their lives. Consequently, some of their behavior stems from ignorance.


1. Use the tried and true technique of family meetings; have a pow-wow, a parley, a let’s talk about it session. Joining in on sibling fun can be helped along when everybody has a say. If you are lucky, such meetings open closed emotional doors. The increased communication between family members than can result from these family talks, can lessen resistance to participating in family fun. Follow these brief meetings with a favorite snack.

2. Use your talents and humor to highlight the skills and wins of your step-kids; self-pride helps children tolerate the ups and downs of life. Knowing they are appreciated assists them in accepting your care, acknowledging your parental position and accepting your directives. Try to make them say “awesome” and not “uncle.”

3. Spread such praise with their new brothers and sisters. It is a balancing act to place your praise among these children who met as strangers. And if you can, give hugs often. Physical closeness supports emotional closeness.

4. Extend what play you arrange over a few visits: this is an extension of the old “rematch” and “wait until next time” that we all use to make defeat more acceptable. Try to finish with a laugh.

5. Use some method of recording the best of the play events. Videos and photos of the shared play events help highlight and solidify the new mutual play between the step-siblings. Puppet shows are fun to share and are easy to video for later, repeated enjoyment.