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Carolyn Hax: How to reassure a 10-year-old stepdaughter

DEAR CAROLYN: My husband and I will welcome our first child together in October. He also has two daughters: a 10-year-old from a past relationship, who visits often but does not live with us; and a 3-year-old from his previous marriage, who is with us half the time. The 10-year-old really likes me, and I feel the same way about her, but for various reasons I have bonded more significantly with the toddler.

The 10-year-old is very sensitive about this and likes to make comments, sometimes provocative ones, implying that I love her younger sister more.

Now, with a baby on the way, the 10-year-old’s comments have increased. She is a very sweet little girl and ordinarily does not say things just to be sassy. I’m beginning to feel a real sense of worry.

Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS:

When she implies favoritism, ask for clarification: “Ooh. You said that like you meant it. Is there something you’d like to talk about?” Gently.

And if she does trust you with the underlying truth, no matter how dark or wrong it sounds to you, thank her for her honesty. And, be careful not to negate her with, “That’s not true!” Instead, say you’re sorry to hear that she’s hurting.

Then talk not about kid vs. kid, but about the problem with comparing loves. Or, I should say, ask your way there. She loves her dad, yes? Her little sister? Her best friend? Then ask – does she line everyone up in her mind in order of most- to least-loved, or does she treat each love as its own thing? Listen to her answer.

Her home life has churned its way to a second stepmother; her distrust is organic and valid. If you want to assure her of her value to you, establish an activity that’s just yours with her, and keep showing up for it, even – especially – after you give birth.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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