Wars Between Step Siblings and Biological Siblings

Caring for Step Siblings

With the divorce rate so high in America it is likely that many nannies and au pairs work with blended families with step parents and step siblings along with biological parents and biological siblings.

When working for a blended family there really is no way in-home childcare providers cannot become involved with the new members of a step family. If you think one family has disputes, putting two families with children together just multiplies the potential problems. The key is to encourage a respectful and loving home environment rather than a war between step kids and biological kids. To do that in-home caregivers must be mature, be patient, listen, and understand the difficult feelings all of the children in the blended family express.

Children in blended families have gone through a lot of stressful change. By the time of a second marriage, it is often a child’s third family unit. The first was the biological parents’ marriage, the second was a separate or single family unit, and the third as the new relationship which involves a step parent. (Schwartz). That much change requires a lot of adjustment for children.

Caregivers must allow children time to mourn their former family unit. “Children need [adult] permission and understanding to grieve these losses, before embracing the new family system. Failure to accept mourning as a natural feeling may result in angry outbursts and potential alienation,” (Schwartz).

Nannies and au pairs must never take sides by speaking negatively about any parent (biological parent or step parent) or any sibling (biological sibling or step sibling) at anytime.

Undoubtedly step siblings will argue how unfair the rules are in their new home. Although there are undoubtedly different “rules” at different homes, nannies and au pairs can only enforce the rules of the home they work in. Caregivers should emphasize that they will be enforcing rules of the home rather than allowing children to focus on the “mean” rules of the step parent.

The reality exists that children may never “love” their step siblings. But, if they have to live under the same roof together, nannies and au pairs can help the children adjust and accept the new relationships in their family.

Each child is unique and a small child will react to a new step parent, step sister, or step brother very differently than a teenager. As the child’s age increases he is less likely to fall in love with his step siblings or step parent. But, as she develops and matures she may feel maternal (or paternal) to the little child.

Nannies and au pairs can help step siblings aim towards friendships and mutual respect. In-home caregivers can take time to listen to all of the children. Au pairs and nannies can help children negotiate but never take sides. Childcare providers should not allow any name-calling, criticizing, or inappropriate behavior at anytime between their charges and their new step siblings.

Shwartz, Abby: “Eight ways to help build a healthy stepfamily,” Home & Family, iVillage Inc. http://www.parentsplace.com/

Have you worked in a blended family?


  1. I could write a novel about this topic. My current nanny job is the hardest one I have had since the early 1990’s because of the transition from divorcing parents, remarried mom, new step siblings, it’s all drama. The small salary I make is hardly worth the aggravation. I recommend nannies avoid such families if at all possible. You must talk to a therapist. Talk to the children’s therapist about all the issues. Too much work!!! Very difficult. Try if at all possible to work for a secure family without transitions! And I must leave this anonymous because I can’t risk the children ever knowing I am sharing this info.

  2. I think this is a very important topic for nannies to discuss. I don’t think it’s a good idea to simply avoid families that go thru divorce like the commenter above. When half of marriages end in divorce it’s likely nannies will work for families of divorce at some point.It is normal for children to blame themselves for divorce. They often become angry, won’t eat, have nightmares, grades fall at school, regress and wet their bed or start sucking their thumb again…Allow them to express their feelings in appropriate ways like counting to ten, writing in a journal or diary, talking to you, and speak with a therapist. Most of all emphasize that it’s not their fault. All you can do is listen and care for them. And, encourage the parents that the children go to a child psychologist!Professional Nanny Colleen, Cherry Hill NJ

  3. Unconditional love, unconditional love, unconditional love and lost of positive reinforcement. Encourage fun between siblings. Let the therapists and parents do the hard work, you just care for them by making them feel good about themsevles.

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