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Disciplining a Stepchild

talking to your teen

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Q: I have a 17-year-old stepdaughter as well as a 9-year-old and an 11-month-old daughter. The teenager lives with her mother and stops in a few days a week. Her mother has no real control over where she is and what she does. We have a wonderful relationship, but my question is how can I step in where her mother lacks without stepping on toes. I have pretty strict rules about where you are and who you are with, and now that my stepdaughter has a car, it's hard to judge where she is without interrogating her. Since she doesn't live with us, it's hard to determine where I need to draw the line.

A: Like many stepfamilies, you have the full range of developmental stages in one household -- what an adventure! It's great to hear that you have a wonderful relationship with your stepdaughter. I suspect that part of it may be because she senses some order and consistency in your home. Children of all ages really do crave consistent, predictable limits and caring adults in their lives.

Don't shy away from lovingly establishing rules that must be followed when she's in your home. Even young children can learn that there are different rules in different contexts (like church, school, mom's house, or dad's house). Try not to compare your parenting to her mother's -- this can often lead to conflict. Focus only on what you can control -- your home. I should mention that most definitely Dad should be involved in this. What are his feelings and his parenting style? What is his relationship with her like? It usually takes three to five years for a stepparent to move into more of a "parenting" role with stepchildren. It's generally better for the biological parent to be the more primary parent. Let me encourage you and your husband to adopt a "democratic" parenting style when she is under your care. This style allows some freedom within specified, consistent limits and with lots of warmth and caring. Good parenting is involved parenting. It communicates that you care what happens to her and how she turns out.

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