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Advice For Grandparents With Young Step Grandchildren

No matter how old your child, you never stop being a parent. When your child's happy, you're happy; when your child's sad, you're sad. What matters most to your child is also important to you. It's natural, then, that you want to form a strong bond with step grandchildren to ensure a loving, happy family. You may worry, though, about overstepping your bounds or creating a good impression. Chances are, you'll make a few blunders, but if you express a sincere interest in your step grandchildren, they'll learn to trust and love you.

Make Your Home Welcoming

You don't have to install a playground in your backyard or turn your family room into a toy room, but a few special touches will make your step grandchildren feel more at home, advises Faith Golden M.A., child development specialist and founder of It's Apparent, which offers parenting and behavioral support services in Encino, California. Stock your pantry and fridge with kid-friendly snacks, such as cheese sticks, yogurt, fruit and whole-grain crackers before a visit. Round up a few puzzles, children's books or board games.

If your step grandchildren are very young, baby-proof your home. Install outlet covers and get a gate for the stairs. Put away any fragile home accessories. Not only will the children feel more comfortable, but you'll put their parents at ease as well.

RELATED: What Not to Say to Your Stepkid

Spend Time Together

Close family bonds don't happen overnight but require time and effort to build. Don't be too hard on yourself or your step grandchildren if things seem a little awkward at first. You may not even feel an attachment initially, which is completely normal. The more time you spend with your step grandchildren, though, the closer you'll become. "If you can, establish special alone time with the children," says Golden. "Make pancakes on Sunday morning or go to the park." You don't have to plan elaborate activities, but you do need time together to develop trust and intimacy.

Empathize

Adjusting to life after a divorce is challenging for everyone -- in particular, the children. Try not to be offended if your step grandchildren reject you. They may make rude comments, refuse to stay with you or break down in tears. Young children lack the verbal skills to articulate their emotions. Feelings of anger, fear or sadness often come out in less than ideal ways.

Hang in there and be patient, advises licensed therapist, Gary Potter, L.I.M.H.P., of Kearney, Nebraska. "These children want to feel loved and special.," he says. "Be kind, gentle and tender with them. Listen to them and smile when you see them. In time they will learn you are safe, and they will begin to love and accept you."

RELATED: 10 Ways to Bond With Your Stepkids

Be Sensitive

Blending two families requires sensitivity and diplomacy. The natural grandparents, as well as the ex-husband or wife may be experiencing feelings of loss, anger or betrayal. Allow them time and space to work through those feelings. Try to view the situation from their perspective and treat them with empathy and kindness even if they don't return the favor right away.

"You are arm candy for your spouse when the natural grandparents are in the room with their grandchildren," says Golden. Take a backseat and let Grandma and Grandpa enjoy the limelight. You'll have your turn later.

Play By the Rules

Your biggest challenge initially is to build trust, both with your step grandchildren and your new stepdaughter or son. One of the best ways to build this trust is by following the parents' requests. Of course, you can play with your grandchildren and be yourself, but pay special attention to safety and health issues. For example, always secure your step grandchildren in a car seat when traveling even if the seat seems cumbersome and awkward. Ask before you offer candy or junk food. Respect the parents' instructions concerning nap times and bed times. These issues are important to most parents; complying with them will go a long way towards forging trust.

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