Helping Kids Make Sense of the World

The only experience my step-son has had with death is when we lost our dog a while back. He remembers the dog, knows he won’t ever get to see him again, and misses him terribly. That’s how he understands death- it takes someone away forever. 

Before this whole Coronavirus issue got big enough to close schools and cities, we hadn’t talked about it much in my household. We certainly hadn’t mentioned anything to our six-year-old about it. Then, he heard about it anyways from another kid on the playground. 

Leaving school one day, he heard me talking on the phone and recognized something from the conversation. “Are you talking about that stinking Coronavirus?” 

I was pretty surprised, knowing that he hadn’t heard the term from us. When I asked him what he knew about it, he replied: “If you don’t wash your hands you’ll get it and you’ll die.”

Imagine being six, the only context for death you have is how much you miss your dog, and someone on the playground tells you that. Pretty scary huh? 

Luckily, our smart little guy accepted my explanation of the situation and wasn’t too worried about it after that. But, it can be a lot harder to backtrack from something they’ve already heard than it is to explain a situation to them in the first place. Had we talked to him about the situation beforehand, he could have avoided the stress of thinking that he and his loved ones were in immediate peril.

There are many benefits of talking to your kids about what’s going on in their world (within the family, community, or nationwide). It can help them avoid stress, as mentioned earlier. It also strengthens your child’s ability to communicate and problem-solve, because allowing them to express their thoughts and ideas about the subject engages their minds. Depending on the subject, it can also open the door for learning experiences regarding your family’s belief system.

On the flip side, talking about a scary or unpleasant subject can be a minefield. How much we tell our children, and how we explain things, can have a huge impact on their day to day lives. These should be decided based on relevance, age, family values, and each child’s individual personalities. It’s important to avoid instilling unnecessary fear into our children. 

Some situations do call for diligence, such as washing your hands to avoid becoming sick. But keep in mind that being aware doesn’t have to mean being scared. By talking too much about a subject, sharing too many details, or using vocabulary that is not age-appropriate, it’s easy to cross the line from understanding into fear. 

Although it can be a real balancing act, the importance of talking to your kids cannot be understated. Kids hear things, whether it is inadvertently from the news channel their parents were watching, through a child or teacher at school, or bits and pieces from adult conversations. 

With any scary or confusing situation, it is imperative to make sure your child has an understanding of what is going on around them that is appropriate for their age. A simple conversation can alleviate confusion and save your kids some heartache.


Parental Bonding: The Foundation for a Happy Life

Oftentimes, I find myself wanting to overcorrect with my step-son. Of course, this is because he is a very intelligent child, and I want him to use his powers for good and not evil. However, I’ve found that overcorrection can have negative impacts on our relationship, and if he’s done something wrong he usually knows and may be testing boundaries. 

In our relationship, I’ve found redirection to be more effective than correction. Often, when he misbehaves, it’s due to that pesky little monster we call boredom. But, by taking a few minutes to stop what I’m doing, or even just include him in it, we can do something together that creates a few moments of fun and positivity. When we have those positive experiences, it helps prevent bad behavior, strengthen our bond, and build on our mutual respect.

A strong bond is imperative for any relationship, but this is especially true for children. “How you bond with caregivers during early childhood affects how you behave in relationships and friendships, how in touch you are with your emotions and how much you will allow yourself to love others on a conscious level” according to Psychology Today

Since my step-son and I didn’t have the natural bond that biological parents and children have, we had to create one on our own. So how did we do that?

Creating A Bond

When I first met my husband, I had the luxury of spending a lot of time playing with Hotwheels, building forts, and piling snow into great sledding ramps with my step-son. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says “play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive”.

This was a really great start to our relationship, and being able to spend time devoted to the things he likes has always been immeasurably important for us. But what about when real life sets in? Once I began to have more responsibilities around the household, it started to get tougher to block out that time.

Something I’ve always underestimated is the enjoyment that my step-son gets from doing things together that make him feel helpful, like making dinner or cleaning the house. Even though he may miss some spots when I let him vacuum or spill a few ingredients that I let him measure, the accomplished look on his face is worth it.

This being said, it is important to find activities that can be enjoyed by both parties. While it can be a good bonding experience to do necessary things together, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house, it is also important to do things that are truly enjoyed and less structured- such as games. 

Whether it is by sliding down a snowy hill, making sandcastles on the beach, or building with Legos at home, taking an interest in what your child likes to do and showing them that it is fun for you too is one of the best ways to strengthen your bond. It will also create lasting memories that your child will cherish. 

Doing things like these together can have such a huge impact on a child’s self-worth, confidence, and ability to trust. It is so beneficial for children when their caregivers can be happy and have fun with them.

The Importance of Structure

At the same time, having rules and structure in regard to safety and everyday routine is imperative, as this is what makes children feel safe and protected. While some children are independent and may create some structure for themselves, many children will use that lack of structure to cause trouble in an attempt to gain the attention they seek from caregivers. 

According to the American Psychological Association, having relationships with caregivers that “are warm, open, and communicative; include appropriate limits, and provide reasoning for rules for behavior are associated with higher self-esteem, better performance in school, and fewer negative outcomes such as depression and drug use in children and teenagers.”

This is why it’s important not to value having a friendship with your child over your duties as a parent or caregiver. Set boundaries, be stern but forgiving, and be sure you are fair with your child. 

Your words can be just as impactful as your actions so we must be sure to avoid put-downs and negativity when speaking to our children even when they have done something wrong. Children need to know they can count on you to retain structure, keep them safe, and provide comfort in order to be comfortable exploring the world on their own. 

The Lasting Impacts of Healthy Bonds

With strong parental bonds, kids are able to learn about the world through their own experiences because they are confident they will always have a safe space to come back to you. 

Without that, children can be afraid of rejection and unable to put themselves out there to have new experiences and form new relationships. “When play and safe, stable, nurturing relationships are missing in a child’s life, toxic stress can disrupt the development of executive function and the learning of prosocial behavior” as stated by the AAP.

This may lead them to self-sabotage, exhibit reckless behavior, develop depression, or turn to unhealthy habits like drugs and alcohol. They may also enter toxic relationships to try and fit in or avoid rejection.

As parents and caregivers, we are responsible for helping these children build the foundation for the rest of their lives. By building strong bonds and good relationships with our children, we are giving them the best chance to succeed in life. Without those, children will face a lifelong struggle in many aspects of their lives. 


How NOT To Talk To A Step-Parent

Being that it is now 2020, we can safely assume that most, if not all, Americans have someone close to them who is part of an alternative family.

It could be a friend that got out of a tough relationship, and is now a single parent. Or maybe a family member who takes care of their grandchildren. A sister with step-children. A neighbor who has chosen to adopt.

There are a million ways that families can be formed. Yet, when a family is non-traditional, stigmas follow like a cloud over their heads.

In this blog, I will be addressing families of all kinds. One by one, I will be speaking with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents… Anyone who will share their story with me, in order to provide a picture of family life from every perspective.

For my first blog, I would like to talk about a very real issue that effects my life, along with millions of others.


In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau reported “11 million families with children under age 18, and no spouse present”.

The percentage of children living with two parents continues to decrease, which in turn means that the percentage of children living in single parent households is increasing.

With this many kids living without a traditional set of parents, it amazes me to see the reactions that people have when they hear the prefix “step”.

As a step-parent, one situation that stands out to me is the first time I took my step-son to the doctor’s office by myself.

The nurse was throwing question after question at me, about vaccinations and family history and other things I tried my best to answer. Eventually, she began to peer at me in disapproval.

“You are his mother, right?” She asked.

“Step-mother.” I responded, and the look on her face became smug. No wonder she doesn’t know anything, she must’ve thought. The questions ceased after that.

I spent the rest of our time there feeling out of place and embarrassed. Like I had no business bringing a child that wasn’t “mine” to the doctor.

The nurse left, the doctor came in, and the visit was over.

When I went home and told my husband about my experience, he laughed. “I would have told her the same thing you did.” He didn’t have the list of vaccinations memorized, and most of the other questions I had been asked were fuzzy for him too.

That’s when I realized that the nurse had been wrong to act the way she had. I take care of this child too! I am responsible for him too! I should not have to feel out of place or awkward for doing exactly that.

The embarrassment turned to anger, but I knew I couldn’t hold on to that feeling either. It is ignorance that causes people to act as though what I do for my step-son is less valuable than it would be if I were his blood.

I have experiences like this one all the time, where comments are made or looks are given that make me feel inferior.

Often, it is not meant to come across that way… but even an offhand comment can have a lasting impact.

My experiences as a step-parent have given me a lot of compassion for other parents. I have learned not to think of myself as less than a parent, and not to allow the opinions of others to have an impact on my relationship with my step-son.

My hope is that this blog will spread some of that knowledge and understanding, through the stories of those who choose to share. We can all use a little more of that.