Meeting The Kids For The First Time – How To Make It Positive

So, you’ve read another of our posts, Are We There Yet – When Is The Right Time To Introduce A New Relationship To Your Children?, and you and your partner have decided it’s time for you to meet your future stepkids. Feeling excited and extremely nervous all at the same time is par for the course. Like dogs and bees, we are pretty certain it is a scientific fact that children (toddlers and teenagers in particular) can smell fear, nervousness and desperation!

You want the meeting to be a good one and luckily there is a lot you both you and your partner can do to make that happen. It’s also a good idea to keep in mind that if things do not go quite according to plan, it is not the end all or be all. There will be plenty of second chances as getting to this stage means you are planning to be a part of these children’s life for a long time.

Prepare

First up, never underestimate the importance of being prepared. Before meeting the kids, take the time to learn about their likes and dislikes and their interests. Talk with your partner about what might be acceptable and unacceptable behaviour when they are around (for you and for them). Get to know about your partner’s relationship with the children. What do they enjoy doing together? When are they happiest? How does your partner handle discipline? Find out what can expect to see when seeing your partner and their children together for the first time. You may also want to find out if there are any taboo or touchy subjects to avoid when it comes to the children’s relationship with their other parent. Pre-warnings are a good thing!

It is important that your partner talks to and prepares the children for that first meeting as well. They will also benefit from knowing what they can expect to see when seeing their mum or dad with you for the first time. Have a think about what you would like the children to know about you before they meet you and share it with your partner.

Invitation only

That first meeting should ideally involve only you, your partner and your partner’s children.

If you have children of your own resist the urge to include them in that first meeting. For things to go positively you need to be able to fully engage and interact with your partner’s kids without being interrupted by the needs of your own children.

Ideally you also shouldn’t involve other family members such as grandparents etc (either your own or your partner’s). You don’t want the children to be overwhelmed by meeting too many new people all at once and/or to be confused about who they are actually there to meet. Nor do you want to take away from the fact they are meeting you, because you are the special someone their parent cares about. (Let’s face it, you also don’t want to be meeting your future stepkids and in-laws all at the same time. How would you decide who to talk to first!)

Location, location, location

The age of the children should play a part in where and how you are introduced to them. If older teenagers or adult children are involved it’s best to meet on neutral territory and on a more mature level say over brunch, lunch or coffee. Young children are typically more comfortable in their own element. Meeting them at their house, a favourite play ground or something similar, that is child friendly are all probably okay. Just keep in mind that young children rely heavily on routines. Tired, hungry, stressed or overstimulated youngsters are less able to manage big emotions and more likely to lose it! If there is a toddler involved, plan the meeting around nap times.

THE “HELLO”

You and your partner should have a think about how you might greet the children during that initial introduction. Forcing the children to hug or kiss you “hello” might make everyone feel uncomfortable, especially if they shy away, say “no” or freeze and do nothing. Consenting to hug they actually don’t want also takes away from their ability to control the pace and might also make them feel resentful – not a good start.

For children of any age you could just say hello and a bit of of  hand wave or offer to shake their hand. Let younger children in particular warm up on their own pace. If they are shy or look like they are finding the situation difficult, you (or their parent) could say in a calm, easy going manner “I’d like to say hello to you, but it looks like you may need a few minutes, That’s okay. I’m happy to wait until you are ready”. Then you and your partner might engage in some general (child friendly) chit chat or activity. The main goal is to take the pressure off.

Timing

Aim to keep the first meeting low key and light hearted. Plan for a relatively short get-together with a definitive end – you don’t want to magnify potential tension and awkwardness by dragging that first encounter on for too long. With this in mind don’t plan an overnight (particularly if meeting at the children’s home) or a weekend away, right away.

Ultimately the key to making that first meeting as positive as possible is to be yourself. Be warm and patient and prepared to take a back seat.

In a nutshell:

  • Do have realistic expectations.
  • Do project a positive attitude, even in the face of criticism or in the case of nervousness.
  • Do expect that the kids may have experienced some mixed feelings about you and about your first meeting.
  • Do limit displays of affection – the focus of the meeting is the children and them meeting you – it is not a romantic rendezvous.
  • Do things that are age appropriate and that your partner believes the children might personally enjoy to try to show them you care about their interests.
  • Do dress appropriately – spandex pants, and stiletto heels are unlikely to help your mini golf game.
  • Do organise for you to meet your partner’s children and him or her to meet yours separately before you introduce all the children to one another.
  • Do gradually build up the amount of time that you spend with the children. That first meeting doesn’t mean you need to be there every time your partner has time with the kids.
  • Do recognise the kids will need time to build a relationship with you (and your children if you have them) – relationships don’t form overnight.

Conversely:

  • Don’t be afraid to go super slow with getting to know your partner’s children and them you. If your partner is “the one” and the relationship serious, you’ll have a lifetime to bond.
  • Don’t expect to fall in love with the children overnight (or at all!) or them with you. Remember the first point above –realistic expectations.
  • Don’t assume that if the first meeting goes well that it will be smooth sailing from there on in.
  • Don’t put the children in a position of having to respond positively when it may not be a positive experience (for them). E.g. don’t ask them if they “like” you or if they are having “fun”.
  • Don’t try to jump straight into being a parent or disciplining the kids during that first meeting.

It’s important to let your future stepkids set the pace from that initial meeting and keep in mind that your relationship with them is not a reflection of your relationship with your partner. They can, and will, go at different speeds.

Good luck! We know you’ll do great! Don’t forget to tell us how your first meet & greet went in the comments below.

28 comments

  1. Some very good tips, but I would like to know some examples of what to say at the initial introduction when I meet his adult son’s in their twenties. Give me some examples.. thank you.

  2. Hi Susan, just asking some open ended questions that show you are interested in them is a good start. Perhaps something along the lines of “so your Dad mentioned to me that you are interested in [fill in the blank]. How is that going ?”; “would you be wiling to tell me more about that, I’m curious”. Getting them talking and then listening is a god way to show interest. What you already know about them and their family situation can guide your questions. If it is awkward, it might also be OK to say to them – “I know how important you are to your father, I am pleased to finally meet you, although I must say I was feeling a little nervous”. You and your partner can also come up with a plan, on how your partner may help manage the awkwardness if the conversations stalls !. Good Luck.

  3. My new partner and I have been wondering how I was going to meet his 12yo son. His ex wife is still quite involved but she isn’t the primary carer as when they separated they thought it best not to uproot their son from his home environment. She herself has also met a new partner and my partner and his ex have been discussing introducing us (the newbies) to their son and they thought perhaps if we all met at once like lunch at the house that might be a good idea as they believe it would show their son that they were both ok with each other having new partners in their lives to which I though might be a good idea but in retrospect I’m thinking perhaps it might be a bit much for the child as it might upset him by seeing his parents together whist meeting both new partners for the first time. I was thinking about just meeting him briefly first then slowly introducing me being part of his fathers life might be the better option. Any advise would be appreciated

  4. It sounds like you have given it a lot of thought already. Whilst it may or may not upset your partner’s 12yo son to meet both his parents’ new partners at the same time, it may be overwhelming for him having four adults in the one space who are all looking at him trying to gauge his reactions. It could also be challenging for him to begin to get to know you and his mother’s partner at the same time. I would go with your gut, meet him first (with his father) and then slowly build up the time you all spend together. Down the track, a lunch with all four of you may be an option. In the mean time the parents can let him know they are both OK with the other having a new partner by the comments they make and the manner in which they talk to him about the “newbies”. Good luck !

  5. Hello and thank you for the great information. I will be meeting my girlfriends two boys, 3 and a 4 year old, soon. Both her and I are 32yo and pretty anxious for the first meeting. Is the best thing for me to do is just play with them (if they want me to) and almost come off as a friend? We thought about having it at a local playground or at their house. Also, would it be a good idea to bring them something small? like, “Hey, I heard you guys like to play with cars and I just happened to bring some of mine over”
    I am not sure she will prep the boys before I come over for the first meeting but any suggestions for her, on that matter? And do I act like I’m just their mom’s friend or lean slightly more towards the boyfriend?
    Thank you

  6. Thanks! This is very helpful. After I separately meet my partner’s daughters (11 and 14 years old) and my partner meets my son (11 years old) separately as well. What are some ideas for an activity once we bring all the kids together to meet for the first time?

  7. The activity will ultimately depend on the kids ages and interests and where you live. Some things to think about may be ten pin bowling, putt putt golf, having an ice cream or milkshake down at a local cafe, getting some hot chips and heading down to the beach to feed the seagulls. Hope that helps! Good luck.

  8. Hello Jonathan. The language you and your girlfriend will use when talking to her boys, will need to be age appropriate and in line with what they can understand. If they don’t understand what a girlfriend/boyfriend is, then describing yourself as a special friend seems appropriate. If, however, other family members (including the children’s father) know you as the boyfriend, then to avoid confusion and ensure consistency in what the kids are being told, you and their mum might want to introduce the term boyfriend to them. There is nothing wrong in you bringing a car and using that to engage with them. It also gives them the message that their mum has talked to you about them and you are interested in what they like (Don’t be offended though if they don’t show any interest in what you bought over!). Try to relax and enjoy the meeting. At their young ages the kids may be unsettled or reserved if they pick upon the anxieties of the adults i.e. their mum and you, and don’t understand what the anxieties are all about. Good luck.

  9. Hello! We’ve been dating for two years and while my children are very comfortable with my boyfriend (I’ve been separated/divorced longer), we just met his kids this summer. (Ages are: His – boy 20, girl 14. Me: boy 16, girl 14. In fact, our two girls turn 15 in January and February.)

    The divorce has been hard on his kids. HIs ex is constantly stirring the pot. The son sees what’s going on, but the daughter is stuck in the middle with her manipulative mother.

    He and his kids are coming to Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday. There will be other teens there who are friendly (my nieces and nephew). Any advice? Should we try to play some kind of group game? My kids and the nieces/nephew are willing to help make things comfortable.

  10. Hi there. Best advice would be to stick to what feels comfortable and what you would usually do. If you are normally a game type of family, then do a game, but make sure that it is is something that can include everyone. If games aren’t your thing, then perhaps just get everyone involved in the preparations for thanksgiving, by giving each person an age appropriate job. Don’t fret if there are a few awkward moments. Your kids and nieces/nephew sound like friendly, inclusive kids, so leave them to it. Kids have a way of entertaining themselves, during family festivities ! Happy Thanksgiving

  11. Hi! I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost a year now, and I’m finally going to be meeting his two children this week. The kids are 8 and 11, and have been very curious about dad’s new girlfriend for a while now. They’ve actually been begging to set-up a first meeting. On the other hand, his ex (the mother of his children) is saying she thinks it’s too soon, because her therapist said that you should wait at least a year before introducing a new lover to your children. She has expressed concern that I’m going to try and become their new mom, and my bf has already told her that won’t happen, but she’s still saying she thinks we should wait… even though the kids say they’re ready, I’m ready and my boyfriend is ready. Should we wait, or should we go through with the meeting even though she’s not okay with it?

  12. Hi there,

    This is a decision that you and your partner are best placed to decide together.

    If your partner, the kids and you are prepared for the meeting, you aren’t rushing things (which it sounds like you haven’t) and there aren’t any parenting orders that require agreement between the parents prior to introducing a new partner, then there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the meeting moving forward even if the children’s mother isn’t keen.

    It would seem appropriate for your partner to mention that you have considered her views and have decided to move forward with the introduction in some way to the children’s mother. Not because she gets a say in who your partner dates or because your partner needs her permission (as long as there aren’t parenting orders stipulating it). It’s because when mums and dads re-partner, children can react with a range of different emotions and they will inevitably require both their parents support in understanding their feelings and to reassure them that whatever they are feeling is normal.

    Good luck!

  13. Hello, the question I have is that my girlfriend and I have spoken to how I would meet her two children, 9 girl, and 6 boy. Their father has never been a part of their life’s.i was thinking a smile dinner at her house, letting the children be in their own environment and allowing them to engage me slowly on their own tern, my girlfriend is worried that they will spend most of the time in their rooms. I still think that is ok if they choose to only come out and sit down to eat all together if that’s what makes them comfortable. She has mentioned that going out to dinner might be a better choice. Curious what your thoughts might be on this.

  14. I’m meeting my bfs soon for the first time on Saturday and I am extremely nervous his son is 2 and I want to know what to say when I get in the car when my bf picks me up that is where I will first meet him I’m saying the love of my life and I love kids and kids love me but I’m so nervous

  15. Hi Ashley – hope the first visit went well! Our advice is always just to be yourself and let the child set the pace. A 2-year old will be very clear about when they want/need their daddy and want you to take a step back – so just watch & listen as your relationship builds!

    Best of luck x

  16. Hi Wesley

    We’d suggest something neutral and activity based for first meetings. A public place (like a park) that doesn’t require an expectation of lots of conversation (like a sit down dinner). Given the ages of the kids, we’d suggest a picnic at a park where you can play a bit of ball together and/or the kids can head to the equipment for a play if they are needing a break. Most of all just be yourself, take it at the kids pace and trust your partner.

    Best of luck!

  17. Hi, i have been in a serious relationship with my boyfriend for about a year n we got engaged last week but i have not met his 14 yo son he lives in italy with his mom they have been divorced for 10 years, but im confused and worriedhow i will be meeting him will he accept me will things change between me n my fiance the problem is that he has not told his son that we r engaged. However his son is coming next month, my fiance has been telling me since we met that his son will totally bond with me. Anyways im worried and what do i do how do i talk to him how am i supposed to mKe him like me

  18. Hi, my boyfriend and I live together, its been over a year and I am going to meet the kids next week for the first time. When the kids come over I go stay with my best friend but his children have noticed my belongings in our home and has asked him if they belong to his friend. how should he introduce me? also if she directly asks me questions, should I be honest? like if she asks, if I live there or if I am his girlfriend, thank you.

  19. My boyfriend and i have been together for about 4 years, we are expecting a baby but he has a child who he has not seen for 5 years, she is now 8yrs old. Now that i am pregnant he has been wondering if he should get back into the child’s life. i am not sure how to accept this, hes had 5 years to figure how to get back into his daughters life and now that i am pregnant he wants to get to know her. I know it is none of my business and his daughter is innocent and did not choose this situation and he has every right to get to know her, but how can i come to terms (my jealously) that he will be occupied getting to know her while i am pregnant with my first child nervous and wishing i could get his full attention. i feel like a horrible person.

  20. Hi My name is Laurel and I have a situation my son is meeting his dad for the first time. He never met him before by choice he is now 8 years old and my son is interested in meeting him. He is married he wanted to take him to a movie for the first time but I would prefer that we meet face to face first and introduce my son to them. However I have only spoken to the wife he have not spoken to me what should I do interms of the first visit?

  21. Hi,

    Thanks for posting! How you are feeling is really quite normal. Feelings of jealousy and protectiveness come up quite a bit in stepfamilies. It is also quite normal for a parent to want to connect or re-connect with their children when a new baby is on the way. We’d encourage you to talk openly with your partner to understand his desire to see his daughter and discuss what this may look like for you, her and the new baby. Once you can see what it means for him, it may help you see the situation from a different perspective. One thing about children and parents is there is always more room for love. Siblings can be such a great source of joy and support for each other. It may help to begin to think about all the positives your partner having a relationship with his daughter could bring to your family. If you are finding it difficult to speak to your partner about or see in a positive light, talking to a professional can be helpful too.

    Best of luck!

  22. Hi Laurel

    You’ve said your son is interested in meeting his father. Does he have some ideas how he would like the visit to go? This would probably be a good starting place. It can be helpful to do an actvity, like a movie, that takes the pressure off both the child and the parent to have to think of things today and keep conversation going during those initial visits. However, if your son has not met his father before, it is important that he is completely comfortable and aware of how the introduction/visit will go. He may not be ready to spend a couple hours alone with his Dad and that’s okay. You can build up to that if all goes well. It would be important for you and your son’s dad (and his wife if you are okay with that) to discuss your son’s wishes for the introduction and come up with a plan that is focussed on your son and comfortable for everyone. Our advice is to always take it slowly, ensure everyone feels safe and supported to develop and encourage a positive relationship between the parent and the child and follow the child’s pace. Expectations need to be managed. Particularly for your son. So sensitivity and age-appropriate honesty around the introduction are key.

    Good luck!

  23. Thank you so much for the feedback it is very much appreciated. He have net net him therefore it will be the first time for both of them. The wife have communicated with me not a lot but it was pleasant. However, dad in the other hand we have not communicated at all am he tends to pass the message through my son to me. So it’s a bit frustrating to say the least and I don’t want to start pointing fingers however he is the one that walked away and has not shown any interest towards him. Never the less my son is very interested in getting to know him although I may have my own reservations I really want it done right for my sons sake.

  24. Hello there. This was a great article and I appreciate the insights!

    I’m hoping for your POV on my situation: My bf and I both have children from previous marriages. I’ve been divorced for 2 years now and he’s been divorced for about a year. We’ve been dating for over a year, though, since before his divorce was final. And, we met each other’s children many years ago (+3) when we were both in our previous marriages and just friends. So while we want to introduce each other to our children, it feels more complicated because we’ve already met – but we met them under very different circumstances!

    Do you have any advice for how we can frame these first “intros” with our children, considering we met previously under different “labels?”

    Thank you!

  25. I have a eight year old son who at two years old I become homeless and so I willingly let his father help out by taking my son. While all under the impression that I was still going to be I. His life have visitations etc. until I was on my feet.
    Well my sons father just pushed me aside got a new girlfriend and let my son call his new girlfriend mom. So now his eight and he thinks this girl that my sons father has two other children with, is his mom I finally got my sons father to let me meet my son and now we have had about five vists and I’m just wondering how to tell him and when? Please and thank you so much

  26. Hi there

    This is definitely one where it can help to have some professional support to assist with the reintroduction of you into your son’s life, including how to tell him and when. Many times a counsellor at the school can assist with helping find the right person to support your son, you, his father and any stepparents.

    Take care,
    R&T

  27. Im meeting his 9 year old son for the first time and we’ve been dating for 6 months.. is this too soon? His son already knows a little about me. And I know he plays video games, likes shooting games especially and legos. So I plan on giving him legos as a gift, would that be okay? Also, should his dad communicate with the mom lettjng her know this is happening. I’m afraid her opinion of this might change his responds in wanting to meet me. Since she is still hurt by the divorce and that hes found somebody (aka me) so soon after. I work with kids and they seem to like me. Its easier because they see me as their “teacher”. Im a little nervous. He seems like a very sentimental 9 year old. And I dont want to overwhelm him. We plan on eating breakfast then going bowling. Also, Im scared I’m not someone he might see to be right for his dad.

  28. Hi there, so my special someone has a two year old daughter, from what I’ve learned about her, she is quite shy and is still struggling with words. I know how to interact with my nieces, but as I am not a parent myself, I am wondering what type of tips I could get for interacting and taking with a two year old?

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