One of the most important details to remember prior to a stepchild’s summer visitation or holiday visit with a non-custodial parent is to childproof the home for a child. Blended families with older children at home or who have moved out may need to make accommodations for a younger stepchild. Remarried couples who don’t have young children in the home may face additional challenges to create a safe home for visiting stepchildren.
Create a Child-Friendly Home for Visits
There are several ways to create a welcoming and child-friendly home. The first is to make sure that the home is safe with age-appropriate baby-proofing or safety products. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more than 3 million children receive unintentional injuries in the home each year, reports Jeannette Moninger in the August 2009 Parents article, “Make Your Home Healthier.”
For visits with younger children, couples should invest in a basic first aid kit, electrical outlet covers and mini-blind safety products. Stairway gates at the top and bottom of the stairs should be added, as falls are the most common unintentional injury for children younger than 14, Moninger reports. Turning the temperature down on the water heater can reduce the risk of burns to children, while reducing energy costs. Even children who are old enough to bathe themselves can be scalded by water higher than 120 degrees.
Child Safety for Remarried Couples
Remarried couples without young children in the home may be unaware of dangers that need to be removed prior to a stepchild’s arrival. Both partners should make sure all chemicals are out of reach, and may want to clean out the cabinet under the sink of toxic cleaning supplies. Moningan notes that cleaning products aren’t the only chemicals that pose a danger to children. Other toxic substances include bath oil (which may have labels that attract children), perfume, nail polish remover, mouthwash, aftershave and vitamins.
In homes without young children, it is easy to overlook medicine bottles that don’t have childproof caps. Many pharmacies will provide childproof caps for prescription medications upon request. Relocating vitamins and medications to a locked cabinet may be necessary in some homes while a young stepdaughter or stepson is visiting.
Safety for Visiting Tweens and Teens
All homes should have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers, but families with visiting stepchildren should check to make sure all three are in working order before the child’s arrival. Parents of tweens and teens might not need outlet covers and stair gates, but there are safety issues for having older children visit the non-custodial parent’s home. Adults should secure alcohol, matches, lighters and cigarettes to prevent experimentation. Household with guns should take proper safety precautions, such as locking up weapons and storing the gun and ammunition separately.
Just as there are toxic chemicals that can injure younger children, there are certain substances that lend themselves to abuse by tweens and teens. Prescription pain medication can be abused if access is available, and certain aerosol products can be abused through huffing. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, huffing is a term for inhalant abuse that involves breathing concentrated fumes to create a feeling of euphoria. The USDOJ reports that although this abuse is most prevalent between the ages of 12 and 17, younger children also experiment with inhalants. Although it is impossible to remove all items that can be abused from the home, parents and step-parents can secure paint thinners, gasoline cans and spray paints.
Remarried couples without young children in the home and blended families with older children need to take extra precautions when planning for a visitation with a young stepdaughter or stepson. Non-custodial parents should focus on creating a safe home environment by adding safety features that protect young children from unintentional injuries, like falls and burns. Basic safety precautions for visiting children of all ages include checking fire alarms and securing medications and chemicals.
Sometimes blended families have the unfortunate situation of strife, even hate, between stepparents and stepchildren. Is it possible to create a loving and stable home among such negative feelings? Yes, it is if the adult in the relationship is willing to step up and behave like a responsible stepparent.
Consider how the blended family came to be. Did the children take part in the courtship, decision making and marriage proposal? In most cases the answer would be “no”. Often times when two families blend the children are no more in control of their fate then they were when their parents divorced. They are defenseless victims to the choices their parents make.
Wait until children have had sufficient time to heal after the divorce of their parents. Consider their feelings before entering a new relationship and greatly increase the chances of stepchildren and stepparents bonding. To build a partnership with a person whom the children disapprove of or dislike will inevitably end in disaster. If the children are not given the opportunity to adjust to the split of their parents you can bet they will not be welcoming a new “friend” warmly.
What if the family has already been blended and the prior advice was not followed? It is a sad thing indeed when turmoil exists within a household. In a situation such as this it is up to the stepparent or adult involved to control the situation. They do so by not instigating ill feelings and seeking intervention when necessary. Stepchildren cannot be forced to love or like their stepparents. They are victims of the circumstances in which they find themselves and it is the sole responsibility of the adults to rectify the situation.
Without proper preparation before the blend of the families children can feel scared, suspicious, jealous, angry and unsettled by the change in their home life. Often times it is not even the stepparent that they really hate, but the injustice of the lack of control they have over their life and living arrangements. This feeling of loss often manifests itself by creating an angry, hateful child that is hard to love.
It is the responsibility of the adults in the household to bring each child to a place of healing, even if that means stepping back from the family and starting over again. Building a family takes time. A happy blended family invests the time it takes to make every member comfortable with the new relationship before marrying or cohabitating.
It is possible to love a difficult stepchild, especially if the stepparent takes a moment to consider the hurt behind the hate.
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