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How age affects children's adjustment to stepfamilies

Raising children is demanding in any family. But, raising children in a blended family poses its own special challenges and tensions. Parents who bring children to a new partnership need information, tools, and resources for helping their children adapt to changed conditions and creating a new, healthy family unit

Ages and stages

Children will react differently to living in a blended family depending on their age and stage of physical, mental, and emotional development. The following sections provide information about how children process family changes and tips for how caring adults can support them.



Keep children’s ages and developmental stages in mind as you decide how to deal with problems that arise in your stepfamily.

Start by asking if your child’s problem behavior is normal for his or her age and stage of development. If it’s not normal, you may need to seek professional help. If the behavior is normal, such as sibling rivalries or standard “teenage angst,” deal with it as you would in any family. Start by talking to your children to get to the bottom of things so you can respond appropriately.

Some problem behavior is directly related to the stepfamily. Here are a few:


As noted, this is a particular issue for preschoolers and elementary school-age children following a divorce. But these feelings can occur in children of any age. They think that if they had behaved “better” or done something different, the family would still be together.

Poor self-esteem

Some children might suffer from poor self-esteem following divorce. This is especially true if one parent abandons, or nearly abandons them. A child might think, “Dad doesn’t love me, so how can anyone else love me?” Keep these things in mind in your dealings with your children.

Regressive behavior

Following a divorce or a parent’s remarriage, some children might revert to problem behaviors they had when they were younger. These include bed-wetting and thumb-sucking. These kinds of regressive behaviors usually disappear on their own. But if they don’t, seek professional help for your children.

Love, patience, and know-how are key to addressing children's problem behaviors after divorce. Listen to your children. Show affection. Get information and, if necessary, consult professionals. Together, you can overcome problems and create a happy, healthy stepfamily.

Authors: Wendy Rubinyi, instructional design specialist, independent contractor, Minnell L. Tralle, former Extension educator, and Heather M. Lee, former Extension educational resource development and support manager

Reviewer: Ellie M. McCann, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2023

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