How do you handle difficult step-children?
Sometimes the discipline and parenting situation with step children is already complicated, and so it can be really challenging when your step-children are out of line in your home. How do you negotiate parenting and discipline when the children aren't technically yours?
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It will depend on how old the children are, the relationship they have with your spouse's ex, and many other things.
Don't try to become a substitute parent or worse, their 'friend'. They may blame you for the breakup of their parents' marriage, or at least, for making it impossible for the parents to get back together again.
Try to relate to them as people first. Discover their qualities and skills. Notice and praise good behaviour if any, and try to ignore the bad. For the first while, get the actual parent to do the discipline. If they ignore you or talk back when you ask them to do something, the parent should immediately reinforce and support your request, saying '<your name> asked you to do <whatever>'. Not just making the request for the same behaviour, because then they are obeying the parent and still pointedly ignoring you.
My marriage just ended over this issue, so I'm very sensitive to it. Right off the bat, the very FIRST thing you and your husband have to do is get on the same page. I was a stepmom to 2 children that were almost the same age as my own children, and it was a struggle for 6 years because my husband refused to see what was happening. Total mess. You didn't mention what types of struggles you are having, but I would encourage you to honestly look at it, try to find a solution with your husband, but if you can't - get out! My children are so much happier being out of that situation now, and so am I. Love doesn't fix everything....
All children need to believe, without ambivalence, that their lives have intrinsic worth, promise, and real meaning. And when children, step and biological, are not treated with respect, the entire stepfamily suffers. What does discipline in stepfamilies look like? Consider the following:
Decide up front if you are all going to try to co-parent your dependent kids as a team of informed, cooperative caregivers, or as independent, competing (or indifferent) adversaries.
Accept that typical stepfamilies are very different from average one-home biological families, and often need fundamentally different rules and standards than typical biological homes.
Go slowly on changing pre-remarriage child discipline rules and making new rules and/or consequences. Ideally, biological parents should do much of the discipline with their own minor kids until the kids learn to trust and respect their stepparent(s).
Expect loyalty (or values) conflicts over child discipline issues in and between your related homes. Evolve a way to deal with them that works often for your unique stepfamily.
Try viewing discipline values that clash as different, not good/bad or right/wrong. Doing so helps avoid destructive, stressful power struggles.
Expect dependent step-kids to test and retest your home’s child discipline rules. This is (usually) far more about their learning to trust that they are safe in confusing and alien new stepfamily surroundings than it is about defiance, rebellion, or “badness.”
Help step-kids see and accept that a stepparent is not trying to replace or “become” their biological parent, but is (1.) doing parenting things like guiding, teaching, and protecting, and (2.) legitimately co-managing his or her own home.
When a stepparent is the only one available to perform child discipline—especially in a new step-home—it helps if the biological parent(s) verbally “authorize” the stepparent in front of the step-kid(s) to act in their place.
Stepparents should try not to confuse a biological parent’s natural tolerance for his or her own child’s behavior with being “too easy.”
Stepfamily adults should experiment over time with who sets the child-behavior rules, and who enforces them and how. Avoid rigid, black-and-white child discipline rules.
A stepparent who resents a stepchild talking disrespectfully to a biological parent should try something like, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to my wife (husband)” rather than “…to your mom (dad).”
If step-kids visit their other stepfamily adult(s) regularly, it helps if all stepfamily adults inform each other of key child discipline values, rules, and consequences in their respective homes, and try for a collective united front where possible.
It can be helpful if child discipline, usually considered from the stepparent's point of view, is explored via stepchild’s perspective. Consider the following "memo" from and about your stepchild:
Set clear limits for me. I know very well I shouldn’t have all that I ask for. I’m only testing you, which is part of my job. I need a parent, not just a pal. Be firm with me. I prefer it though I won’t say so. It lets me know where I stand.
Lead me rather than force me. If you force me, I learn that power is what really counts. I’ll respond much better to being guided.
Be consistent. If you’re not, it confuses me and makes me try harder to get away with everything I can.
Make promises that you can keep, and keep the promises you make. That grows my trust in you and my willingness to cooperate.
Know that I’m just being provocative when I say and do things to upset you. If you fall for my provocations, I’ll try for more such excitement and victories.
Stay calm when I say “I hate you.” I don’t really mean it. I just want you to feel upset and sorry for what I feel you’ve done to me.
Help me feel big rather than small. When I feel little, I need to act like a “big shot” or a whiney cripple.
Let me do the things I can do for myself. Your doing them for me makes me feel like a baby, and I may keep putting you in my service.
Correct me in private. I can hear you better if you talk quietly with me alone, rather than with other people present. Talk about my behavior when our conflict has calmed down. In the heat of battle somehow my listening gets bad and my cooperation is even worse. It’s okay for you to take the actions needed, but let’s not talk about it until we all calm down.
Talk with me rather than preach at me. You’d be surprised how well I know what’s right and wrong. I need to have my feelings and ideas respected, just like you do—so please listen to them.
Tell me of your anger at my actions without name-calling. If you call me “stupid” or “jerk” or “clumsy” too often I’ll start to believe that. Help me learn how to handle anger without harming.
Help me feel that my mistakes are not sins.I need to learn from my errors, without feeling that I’m no good.
Talk firmly without nagging. If you nag over and over, I’ll protect myself by growing deaf.
Let my wrong behavior go without demanding big explanations. Often, I really don’t know why I did it.
Accept as much as you can of what I’m able to tell you. I’m easily scared into lying if my honesty is taxed too much.
When you teach me things, please keep it simple. If you use big words or get into long confusing explanations, my mind goes somewhere else.
Enjoy me! I have a lot to offer you!
Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect (Llumina Press).
I'm a step mom. I believe it's my husbands job to deal with behavior problems and he does a great job. I'm here to support his relationship not to complicate it.
You are not in an easy situation and I wish you the best of luck. Parenting isn't easy for anyone and I'm sure it's especially difficult for step parents. However I hope you'll find help in an anecdote from when I was a difficult step-child and the brilliant, loving way my stepmother handled it...
As a young teenager I kept stealing and hoarding small things from my newly married stepmother: perfume, makeup, hair clips,etc., just little things. She never actually said anything to me about it but instead went out and bought me a package of hair clips of the same kind I had been stealing. This told me two things: 1) She knew about me taking her things. 2) I could trust her to treat me with gentle love. This really made an impression because especially then my stepmother was a woman with a temper! But she never yelled at me. I felt really guilty and recognized that I was the one behaving badly.
I don't know what she would have done if I had continued stealing but I'm sure she would have found a way to let me kno that I was loved and secure. I think she realized that (though I didn't know it) my acting out was a way of testing her. All kids want to feel secure in the love of those that care for them.
My husband has a story with a not so-happy ending. His stepmother was a really strict disciplinarian. Her expectations of a six year old boy's behavior always seemed way to high (he has a story about being awoken at 11pm because he hadn't scrubbed the bathtub sufficienty and being required to get out of bed and finish the job). Her punishments consistently seemed extreme (getting grounded for a month for small infractions) and could sometimes get physical. He basically learned from her that he couldnt trust her to be either loving or fair. Now all that being said she was a great and loving mother to her own son when he was born a few years later and he has grown into a really responsible young man. She wasn't a bad person, just totally unequipped to handle being mother to an active six year old boy when she had never been a mother before. (so unequipped that eventually the marriage ended)
So my advice from this story is to learn as much as you can about childhood development so your expectations are realistic. Kids often misbehave just to test where their boundaries are and it isnt necessary to cme down very hard... They know they've done wrong and are testing your response. Talk to your husband about his own parenting philosophy and if he or his ex ever read any books that you should read also (might be a good way to broach the subject of negotiating discipline). If they don't I can recommend Dr. John Gottman as being a great resource about handling relationships of all kinds with quite a few books including at least one about raising kids.
I don't know how serious your problems are, perhaps it is a situation where the kids really do need more than the gentle guilt trip my stepmother gave me. But disciplining reasonably, consistently, and fairly is VERY important to establishing trust. The important thing is to behave with patience and love. If you are angry it's not a good time to be dishing out punishments. Remember that in all likelihood that they are just testing you and that things WILL get better when they learn they can trust you.
Having lived in 2 different homes with step-siblings, I have seen the difficulties surrounding this situation. There are many reasons that you may have difficult step-children:
If you went into the marriage knowing that your future spouse had kids, then you must have been willing to accept the fact that these children will be in your home whether during the week or on the weekends. You also have to accept that your spouse will want to spend time with these children when they have them. If you thought that these kids were not going to be your problem or you simply do not like children, then you have no business getting married to someone with kids. I'd even go as far as saying that if you don't actually love those children, then you have no business getting married. Not only for the benefit of the children, but, yourself. Those kids will pick up on whether you care about them or not. If they think that you don't, they will resist cooperating with you. My current step-father didn't think that any of us would be around and he wanted it to be that way! Then he was not happy when he realized that we were going to be around more than he thought.
I can tell you that while big issues should be settled between their parents, the kids have to respect your authority not only as a step-parent but simply as the one running the household while they are in your home. Please don't bark out orders and run the place like a dictator. Talk calmly and firmly, but, don't get provoked into yelling. The children must at least get the sense that you care about them (although they may resist and say that you must hate them, they are testing you). If you have no clue how to discipline kids, go get a Super Nanny book or something like it. The most important thing is that you and your spouse sit down and come up with ground rules and consequences that applies both to natural born children AND step-children, then FOLLOW THROUGH. Make sure that these rules are reasonable. If you are a neat freak, you may have to lower your expectations and be happy that they picked up their toys, but, didn't polish the furniture in their room. Also, if they attempted to clean, but, it wasn't complete in your mind, first praise them for doing what they did do and then be specific about what you want done. I have found that most everyone has their own way of cleaning, so, you may have to demonstrate to them how to do something. For example, you want them to clean their bathroom - ask them if they know what cleaners to use to scrub the tub and clean the mirror. When it comes to mopping, my mother-in-law goes back with a rag towel to get the water up. How many people would know to do that? Part of the rules should be about showing respect for everyone in the house and that starts with you setting the example. Kids feel more secure if they know what to expect. The step-father mentioned above, thought that we should simply know what was expected of us. He would leave the toilet seat up and we didn't take it as a cue to clean the toilet! We thought that he was just being rude! Instead of telling us directly, he eventually relayed the message through my mother. His excuse? It was a discipline issue and that was my mother's job. Meanwhile he was storming through the house being angry, slamming doors, and going out to the garage to stew. That was just a big waste of time. Simply sitting us down and telling us his REASONABLE expectations would have resolved all of that
Fighting between divorced parents is often unavoidable for some. However, it does not benefit the children at all. If you think that the kids are unaware, you would be wrong. If this is going on, call in a mediator if possible to settle issues and focus on what's best for the kids. Often kids act out as a result of their parents getting divorced and then when you add in a step-parent, it only makes it worse. The child/children may need to speak to a therapist for a bit to resolve and deal with some of their feelings. If you notice that the child is being difficult, ask them what is really going on and you might actually get an answer. Let them know that you are not replacing their other parent, but, that you are simply another person to care about them. The big mistake that my father made with my step-mom was that we were required to call her Mother even though we still had a mother and we didn't even get to know my step-mom before they got married. We should have been allowed to get to know her first and then when we were ready, call her mother.
Another reason for the difficulty is simply having ADHD. If you think that this condition does not exist or just don't know anything about it, go read up on it. When my daughter was diagnosed, I was surprised because she wasn't hyper. But, that is not a requirement. There are many symptoms and not all ADHD people have the same symptoms. While it's not up to you to get the testing or be involved in whether to medicate, you can at least share the information with your spouse. He may resist the thought, but, he might eventually come to terms with it when he starts observing more behaviors and recognizing them as being ADHD traits. Just knowing that this is what is going on and that it's not them resisting you or even about you, can help.
I've been a bonus mom for nearly five years, and I have learned a TON from my stepdudes. I didn't have children when I met my dudes, so I was jumping in the deep end of the pool, and girlfriend can't swim! Number one is to give more praise than punishment. I always remember to say "thank you" to them when they behave, and not just when they behave, but when they do things they aren't asked or just are generally fabulous to one another all day. I dole out a lot of "I love yous," though I don't get them back very often (and I've never heard it from my oldest, which is fine). I say it because I DO love them, very much. I also like to make sure that if a time out or a grounding does happen, that it doesn't ruin the whole day. I use the Supernanny approach to time out, so there are hugs afterwards and an explanation of, "OK, we aren't mad anymore, so the day is starting over and it's going to be GREAT!" I felt that I used to harbor resentment all day that one of them ruined an activity 6 hours ago and would constantly remind them all day that their earlier behavior was why we weren't having any fun. I had to realize that I was messing it up even more. They are little dudes, and they don't harbor resentment like that NOW, but they will when they get older if I keep teaching them how!
One of the biggest things that I had to learn was that I am much more of an influence on them that I (or their biological parents) thought I would be. Just because I'm not their mother doesn't mean they don't look up to me. I used to act like another child in this house, and they mirrored my bad behavior. It wasn't until I realized just how much I meant to them that I was able to grow up and be the parent they needed me to be.
LOVE AND PATIENCE they are just kids. Just remember their brains or not fully formed until around 18 and that should help when you feel pushed to far. Also speak with your partner to see what he/she is comfortable with in terms of discipline.
My husband was a stepfather in all ways with my children, as they were young and we lived together. His children were grown, and had families of their own. Sooo this circumstances, and relationships are/were different. My children have very close relationships with their step dad, but I do not with his children, as we never lived together as a family. Our biggest issue with my children was we had different ways of setting boundaries, and discipline. With his children, as they were adults we've had issues with them interfering in our marriage. I have set the boundary of "respect" above all, and I will be as inclusive as they r or want. We have been married 15 years this may, and together 24.
Children of divorce r always afraid of losing their parent to a new wife, or family. Its important to understand that; but also expect to be treated respectfully.
I urgently need help. I'm divorced and currently engaged to a wonderful man. My 9 year old son started to tell lies at my ex husband's house regarding me and my fiancé and the same at my house regarding my ex husband and his fiancé, which obviously caused great trouble. Now, all of a sudden my son does not want to attend school and became very aggressive. And the best of all, we have the same problem with my fiancé's son who is also 9. Can someone please give me advice.
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I have to admit that I was the main person who disciplined my step sons when they first came to live with us after my husband got temporary custody turned permenant a year later. The reason for that was that I was home, they moved in from being in an emergency foster home and the next day my husband went to work and I was all alone. I've tried to have house rules that apply all around to all kids, I have 2 myself with my husband, and we try to make our home a consistant, loving, nurturing place, but my husbands ex is making sure to do the opposite, IE: No set bedtime, junk food (kids are ADHD), dangerous rough housing is allow, etc. Its a very difficult life for these kids, so unfortunately its really really difficult to parent these kids all together.
I am a step mom and at first it was difficult because before i came into my fiances picture he and my stepsons mother spoiled him and let him get away with everything and anything. You just have to show the child that what ever behavior he or she is doing is unwelcome. I used to put my step son on time outs, then after talk to him about what he did wrong and explain to him why it is wrong. withing a month or so of doing this, and only on weekends, my stepson listens so much better and i can tell he now has respect for others. It defiantly isn't easy, but it is important to stick to your guns.
We have house rules and included in the house rules are sentences like "I am loved and respected-so I need to do the same to everyone else at home" - "if I feel angry, I can have some time out, and then talk about what is bothering me in a quiet and calm manner" - "I have the right to be here-and so does everyone else in our home"- our home is a safe place, a place of peace and understanding" besides all the other rules where certain boundaries are not to be crossed. These rules apply to everyone, so they are written in the first person. Of course they do not always work, but we do have a situation that sometimes diffuses a situation, when you hear one or another saying "hey, rule number seven!". Not an easy road at all, but continued love and patience eventually has its benefits.
I am a SAHM and have our step kids over %50 of the week. First problem we had was our 12 year old (my step daughter 3 years ago) mouthing off to me only and a general disrepect for me. I stepped back and did the hands off approach. She is yours and I am not getting involved. Fast forward 3 years and I am very hands on with her. The arrangement left her feeling like I didn't treat her the same as the other kids. Believe it or not discipline to a child shows love if done correctly. Don't get me wrong they aren't going to say "Thank you." when you ground them and take away all of their screens for 24 hours. A child without discipline who sees the care and concern you put into raising and disciplining a child and you aren't doing this with them will eventually feel as if you don't care about them. After 3 years she finally broke down and cried asking why I don't deal with her, how come I don't discipline her. So we had a huge long conversation with lots of crying and humor and even though she may not like it all the time she is now responding well to my way of raising her. She knows I'm not going anywhere and that I love her. Now we have my step son who is 12 and lately he and I have been butting heads horribly. My husband is terrified that his son will move to his mom's house, I say let him, we did with our first and she came back a year later and lives full time with us now. He is the only boy and the issues stem from him thinking that I do not listen to him. We listen it is only that when he talks and hears the answer and doesn't like it he gets very angry. He is still very angry that his parents got a divorce and I get the brunt of the anger. I assured my husband that I can handle what he has to dish out and not to worry about me. He thinks he should have his own set of rules (he is the only boy in the house) and his mom allows him to get away with things because he is the only boy. I flat out let him know being the only boy in the house does not allot you special privileges. That everyone follows the house rules when they are in our home. He mouthed off and I sent him to wait for his mom in his room. When she came I let him know I expected a better attitude when he came back and his response was "Whatever!" along with other mumbled items. I told him you don't get to speak to me that way. He left and his mom tried to make him come back in to apologize to me for speaking to me that way. He wouldn't, they were all on there way to get ice cream, he still got ice cream. See in my home if our kids disrespect either of us (we have 5 all together) they would get to go and sit and watch their siblings have ice cream. It is hard to do this to them, and it hurts, my heart breaks and I want to not do it but I want them to stop and think also. My husband says it has to hurt so they will remember. Sometimes that old saying this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you is so true. If we let up though they jump on that and we would have anarchy in our home and children that grew into selfish disrespectful adults and I have no control over what they do once they grow up so I best make sure I take advantage of the time I have with them now. Even when it comes to disciplining....
I am in this situation right now and I am following pretty close to Evelyn's advice. Mine is a teenager. I do not treat her as a child, a friend or her Mother. I treat her as a person. We are still getting to know each other and I can tell I am invading her territory. We are both Christian people, so that makes it a little easier to handle. She is a smart, lovely and talented young lady and I appraise her abilities quite often. It is still touch and go, but I think we will make it as long as we respect each other. It takes alot of patience and understanding on both sides.
It depends on how old they are & how long you've been there step parent. I've been married 16 years-we've been together over 20. The kids were 6,4,& 2 when we got together. I treat them as my own & they get disciplined as my own. When they are in your house they live by your rules. It helps that my husband backs me up 100%. The only think I would never do & have never done is smack or hit them. I don't believe it that anyone. But if you are a person who does believe in that I would advise that you don't. Then the kids go back to their mother & say that you hit them all the time. You have to put down ground rules with your husband 1st then go to the kids with the rules as a united front this way they know that they can't run to daddy and say well she did this. I never disciplined them without my husband knowing what I was going to do & have his full support. Being a step-mother is a very hard job. It's harder than being their biological parent. Good luck & I hope this helps you.
As a step parent 3, from each side we had an arrangement that only the natural parent took care of any discipiline needed. If each of the other had a problem with a child we always referred it to the natural parent to attend to, and then if there was a complaint by the child re the non parent we had a dinner table discussion to resolve any issues. Sometimes this would include the 6 children, so as everyone was involved or sometimes just the two parents and the child. The children have now grown and have appreciated that the non parent did not discipiline them and try and be a parent. They did learn to trust the other non parent and as time moved on because of the trust, they were open to advice and consulted the other often.
At the time, we didn't know if this would work but found it did, and as a parent and step mother I certainly preferred to discipiline my own children and with the step children found that by not taking over that it was less stressful. At times you have to accept some things you cannot change, but you can make suggestions to the child to assist so as there is harmony and the child does feel threatened or disadvantaged within the dynamics of a blended family.
If they are helping to provide support for the children they are technically his and yours both regardless. It isn't easy allowing someone else to discipline your children however if it is done with love for their betterment then it should be allowed. Children will test a step parent just to see what makes them set off or stay calm. You both need to set guidelines as to how you want the children to behave and what sort of discipline might be taken to encourage positive behavior. This was a package deal and both partners need to be on the same page. Dont let them see you struggle with each other over discipline or they win in their eyes. Parenting is not easy as they do not come with instruction manuals so it is by trial and era to learn what is best for each individual child. Discuss the main boundaries and how you wish the discipline to be dealt with for negative behavior as well as positive behavior. Children can handle to worst of it all if they receive a voice of praise now and then as well. Let them know they are loved and wanted as a part of this family EVERYDAY. You must build their-self esteem up before you attack the other or pretty soon there is nothing there to build up as you have constantly tore it down. Children need discipline and structure but they also need LOVE and to know they are wanted by each parent step and biological.