5 Safety Tips for Step Parents
This post was written by Kendra Barnes, mom of two, divorcee, and parenting blogger. It has been shared with permission here.
Adding any new member into a family can be a difficult transition. Adding a step parent, especially if tensions are high, can be exceptionally challenging. But the old saying rings true here – it’s all about the kids.
When a step parent enters the family, it’s normal to feel uneasy, threatened, or even just unsure about another adult having such close access to your children. Any family transition is hard, particularly when you feel out of control, see news stories about step parent abuse, or have difficult emotions about the situation.
It can be tough to separate facts from reality and emotions from facts when the most important things in your life – your children – are involved. But it’s critical, for the safety and wellbeing of your children, to get both households on the same page when possible.
Here are five crucial steps to take when adding a step parent to the family.
5 Safety Tips for Step Parents
1. Meet up for a conversation.
If your co-parents are open to it, ask them out for coffee or chat over FaceTime to get to know each other. If someone is going to be a regular part of your children’s life, it’s critical to know who they are. Having a brief face-to-face meet up can help cut the tension and give you an opportunity to talk through important caregiving notes.
2. Set expectations.
Ideally, both parents will agree on the major parenting points, but that’s not always the case. As much as possible, together as the child’s parents, outline expectations for any new people that come into your childrens’ lives.
For us, this looked like level setting who we were comfortable with dressing/undressing, bathing, being alone with, and helping toilet/change our children, and communicating those boundaries accordingly.
3. Share your body boundaries.
Similar to setting expectations, take this opportunity to share any body boundaries you’ve established with your child with the new step parent. It benefits the child if all their caregivers are aligned and holding the same boundaries regardless of which house they’re visiting.
If you instruct your children to use anatomically correct names for body parts (which we strongly recommend!), reinforce this with the new step parent so they don’t inadvertently teach your child something different. If your children have been taught that only their parents (when helping them clean or change) have permission to see or touch their private parts – explain this to the new family member so they can reinforce and respect your boundaries.
4. Explain your approach.
It’s so important for children to have consistency, as much as possible. During your conversation with the new person in your child’s life, talk through your approach to parenting, body safety, screen time and other safety rules.
For our family, I explained how I teach consent to my preschoolers by asking their permission before offering or expecting physical affection. For older kids this might look like reviewing screen time rules, or sharing app, device, and gaming expectations. If you don’t allow devices in bedrooms, share that. If you have parental controls and safety settings on devices in your home, communicate that so the new step parent can make the same adjustments on any of their devices.
5. Establish methods of communication.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, figure out how you will communicate about the children. Things will come up at the other parent’s house that need to be communicated to your co-parents. Talk through what kinds of things warrant reaching out so there are no surprises or disappointments. Anything that relates to your child’s safety should be included.
Whether you text/call the step parent directly, communicate through your co-parent, or use a co-parenting app, communication is critical to keeping your child safe and keeping all caregivers informed.
This is hard, emotional work, no doubt. But the more informed and involved a step parent is, the more they can (hopefully!) support you in guiding, protecting, and caring for your children when you’re not there.
If you’re unsure where to start, or how to approach these conversations, Child Rescue Coalition has a great free resource for parents. They’ve developed an ebook that covers everything you need to know to keep kids safe from sexual exploitation and abuse online. If your situation is challenging, use this resource to discuss safety tips and boundaries – it may be better received if the tips are coming from experts.
With C.R.A.M., you’ll learn practical tips to keep your kids safe online, how to talk to kids about predators by age group, how to recognize the signs of grooming, what to do if a predator contacts your child, and you’ll get device settings and safety tips for popular online games. Download your free copy today!