The Do's and Don'ts of Stepparent Discipline
One of the trickiest areas for a new stepfamily to navigate can be discipline. Who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules? And who is really in charge? "Stepparents easily get pulled into authoritarian parenting -- a harsh, 'you will not do that' kind of parenting," says psychologist Patricia Papernow, Ed. D., a member of the National Stepfamily Resource Center's expert council and author of Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn't. And it's easy to see why: Stepkids are testing the boundaries of the new family dynamic and are likely to push some buttons. But, says Dr. Papernow, "that kind of firm but not loving parenting is almost always very toxic in a stepparent and child relationship." Instead, the mind-set of the stepparent should be "connection before correction," Dr. Papernow suggests. Let the biological parent handle the majority of the discipline enforcement while you focus on building your relationship with the stepchild. Whether you're just starting a stepfamily or are looking to strengthen the one you're already in, our experts weigh in on the do's and don'ts of stepparent discipline.
DO keep talking with your spouse. "Make time to talk with your spouse about what's working and what's not," Dr. Papernow says. "Remember, you are from two different family cultures and you have very different positions in your family. Your job is not to agree with each other right away. It is to stay caring and open to each other despite your differences." Staying connected takes time and talking, says Papernow, and lots of it. Check in often and comfort each other when things are hard.
DON'T start with too many changes. Divorce, remarriage, new siblings, new house, and now, new rules? "Be sensitive that the child is already going through lots of changes," Dr. Papernow says. Don't come into the stepfamily with your list of ways to "fix" things. "If you do, the kids might see you as trying to erase all evidence of their life before you entered it," says Jenna Korf, a certified stepfamily foundation coach at Stepmomhelp.com and co-author of Skirts At War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict. "Instead, give your family time to settle in and get used to the new living arrangement. Then try to tackle one change at a time while remembering that all members will need to compromise." That means you, too. "Research shows that it can take four to seven years for a stepfamily to function like a family, so give everyone time," Korf says.
DO set up a base level of respect. You can't force children to like or love a stepparent, but you can require a standard level of respect. "The biological parent should convey to the children that 'when you disrespect my husband or wife, you disrespect me,'" Korf says. Dr. Papernow suggests that the biological parent clearly explain the difference between love and respect, and the expectation for how the child needs to treat the new stepparent. "The parents can say, 'You don't have to love her, but you need to be decent to her,' and explain what that looks like." And a stepparent needs to demonstrate basic respect to the stepchild.
DON'T be the disciplinarian. The experts all agree that the stepparent should not act as the chief disciplinarian. Despite what you might think the stepkids need or what your natural style of parenting is, harsh, authoritarian behavior from a stepparent is sure to backfire. "Unfortunately, this sets the stepparent up for having an adversarial relationship with the kids," Korf says. "Until you and the kids are well bonded, they likely won't see you as an authority figure and will resist any disciplining you attempt. This can make life for a stepparent very difficult." Instead, see your role as similar to that of a babysitter, Dr. Papernow suggests. You can remind the kids of the rules and report misbehavior to the biological parent, but not administer the consequences.
DO get to know your stepchild. "Find time to spend one-to-one time with your stepchild to do what I call 'shoulder-to-shoulder' low-key activities," Dr. Papernow says. Think: a run around the lake, shooting hoops, watching a favorite show, or shopping. Many stepkids, especially if they're teenagers, do not want to be forced into a sit-down, face-to-face, "let's get to know each other" conversation. Instead, you want to build the relationship through shared experiences that will naturally give you opportunities to learn about each other. If possible, choose an activity that neither biological parent does with the child to limit any sense of competition. "If the John loves basketball, but [his] dad likes football and mom isn't interested, then this could be a great way for a new stepparent to connect with him," Dr. Papernow says.
DON'T be a pushover.
DON'T be a pushover. Although it may be best for you to play a backseat role in regard to discipline, this doesn't mean that you have to be a non-participant. "The biological parent has the final say, but the stepparent still can have input," Dr. Papernow says. If your partner is not supportive of your needs or is practicing permissive parenting, you can still decide what you will and won't do. "The kids aren't being respectful to you? It's okay to let them know that you're happy to take them for driving practice, make them a sweet dessert, make their favorite meal for dinner -- when they can treat you respectfully. Being a stepparent does not mean being a doormat," Korf says. The goal for stepparents, Dr. Papernow says, is authoritative parenting that is "loving and kind while still making developmentally appropriate demands for maturity and setting realistic requests of kids."
DO realize that stepchildren will test you. "Expect kids to act out," says Rosalind Sedacca, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? "Biological or step, kids naturally will test the waters and push the boundaries when there is someone new onboard. Children are feeling their way [through] how much control they have, and they will try to play both parents off each other." Don't take this as a sign that your stepchildren will hate you forever or that you'll never be happy together as a family. Instead, keep having honest communication with your spouse about parenting issues and continue to find ways to have positive interactions with your stepchildren to build the relationship.
DON'T take everything personally. Your stepchildren are dealing with their own feelings of loss, anger, confusion, and resentment about the divorce or remarriage. It may be easy to see their misbehavior as a direct attack on you, but remember that they need space and time to process the changes that have happened in their life. Even biological children are known to lash out at their parents with an "I hate you!" every now and then. "Children aren't responsible for liking and getting along with the stepparent," Sedacca says. "It's really the stepparents' responsibility because they are the adults." Even in the face of misbehavior or disrespect, maintain a sense of calm and maturity.
DO encourage and reward appropriate behaviors. Try the carrot method. Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, Michigan, and executive director of the Michigan Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, recommends that stepparents focus on encouraging desired behaviors, attitudes, and interactions rather than disciplining for bad ones. "Biological parents generally have had all that time from infancy through the present to generate attachment and all those positive, loving feelings between themselves and their child. Stepparents are usually getting involved once the child is old enough to misbehave, but in most cases missed the opportunity to fall in love with the little bundle of joy," Krawiec explains. "If we think about all of those loving feelings like a bank account, stepparents who jump in to discipline are making withdrawals before they have sufficiently built a comfortable cushion." Instead, Krawiec recommends looking (and you might need to look hard) to find ways to point out, compliment, and reward the right things the kids are doing.
Copyright ? 2013 Meredith Corporation.
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i am 40 years old and my stepdad does tell me what to do still he takes away my stuff and he thinks he can boss me around i can't seem to get along with him i called the cops on him because he hit me and they took him to jailRead More
So I have been in my skids life for 2 years now and my SD 5 is still mean to me sometimes. Like some days Im mommy and somedays she wont even let me hug her...? I;m not sure what is going on, Bio mom and I havent gotten along I've tried but now she is trying to be besties. Idk if its a scam or not but that doesnt mean SD should be mean to me. I dont know what to do.Read More
I wish there was a place for step parents to talk. Sadly, there is barely any support for the step parents. Thus creating the age old reputation of the evil step mom, strangely the step dads do not have an evil step dad reputation. I completely understand that it is hard for a child.Read More
Wholeheartedly agree... so hard to find people to talk to who actually understand.
I completely agree. I'm a new step parent with no kids of my own. Although I've always been great with kids this is on a whole new level for me. I knew it wasn't going to be a easy situation for any of us, but I never expected it to be as hard as it's turning out to be. Having some sort of support group would be great!
Hi, I have read the above article and find myself in the middle a bit and wanted some feedback re my personal position. I am a step mum to a 5 yr old. My partner and I have been together 6 months. I also have known him and his boy for nearly 2 years outside of that. FOr this entire time I have been focused on bonding and building a relationship with him. His behaviour is quite poor and he is quite behind in his abilities but will be starting school in a few months. I have been trying to start conversations with my partner re where I stand and things I think need attention. He takes it all very personally and shut down emotionally therefore will not listen. He thinks it's me criticising how he has patented so far. His relationship with his ex is horrific and there is no real ability for me to have any say in that aspect either. I have found myself dreading the Days we have his kid. For example, I was sleeping on the lounge for 6 months because his kid would only sleep with his dad. I recently bought him a bed (he sleeps in his own bed at his mums) and he has been sleeping in it fine but it's like his dad enjoys that his son needs him and often says things that make it harder for him to sleep on his own. Bare in mind his bed is right next to ours. I also could not enter the room after they had gone in there to fall asleep but the blanket, pillow and my pjs were in there so I would be on the lounge with nothing. And this child takes 2 hours to fall asleep each night because movies are allowed as his bedtime thing. My partner would also fall asleep during this time too so I wouldn't get a kiss goodnight. The arguement we had in order to get the bed happening was massive to say the least and he still didn't acknowledge how hard the past 6 months were for me. When his kid isn't there we are perfect. But the second he comes over I become irreleavant and therefore I become very annoyed and we have more and more arguements. How do I make him see this? And is it normally what I'm going through after such a long time? How soon is too soon to start talking about this stuff? I have just started to teach his kid how to write letters, he is going to school soon but can't write his name and it's only 4 letters. He doesn't know his birthday, can't tie shoe laces, can't play on his own for even a second. I feel my points are in the best interests of all of us but I just confirmation from someone that I'm heading in the right direction. Please help I'm drowning. For we can work this out it will be so worth it but if not it will break us and I don't want to mess with this kids head by being in his life one moment and then gone the next.Read More
I am in the same exact situation. In the beginning, we had no issues...he has always had behavior challenges...but was never that way towards me. I have reached a point to where I cannot take it anymore. He doesn't yell at me...but he constantly screams at other people, he leaves and doesn't say anything when I'm watching him... He is rude to my grandchildren when they visit and the custody arrangement is one week with mom.and one week with dad...so we have him at the house quite a bit. I feel myself ready to explode...but I love my bf and I'm really trying to figure out how to handle this... My children are grown and out of the house...I've been with my bf for 3 years...I'm.not sure how the future looks for us.Read More
I have read and understand the rules truely, but what if the spouse doesn't really discipline the child when they are at our home? I have talked to him and it doesn't seem to make a difference. When my spouse and I first started dating the children understood and went by the rules of the house, now almost 2yrs into the relationship they don't act like they need to follow the rules and test me way more than they did in the beginning. It also doesn't help that the children's mother doesn't follow the same type of rules and I'm pretty sure I am being not talked about in a good way in the other house hold. What can I do?Read More
Same situation as you! I have a stepson but husband doesn't care much about teaching him except when he gets annoyed and he swears and then he says some mean things to his son. I tried to communicate with him about his son's behavior but it seems that I am the complainer instead of his partner. Any tips?