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Alyson Schafer Advice: 3 Important Tips For Disciplining Your Stepkids

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer shares her advice.

With Canadian divorce rates tipping over 50 per cent, many of us are raising children in a blended family. Creating a new family structure together with your new partner presents unique challenges. It’s important for every member of the family to understand that it takes time to settle into a new formation. Don’t be discouraged in the initial days, months or even years. People are complex. Relationships take time. Hang in there.

We have to make building a good relationship with our stepkids our number one job. Regardless of how your stepchildren feel and act towards you, you have to take the higher ground. It’s our responsibility to supply the best environment for the children’s growth and development, even when they stick their tongue out at us or call us names.

When disciplining your stepchildren, here are three important things to remember:

Don’t be lenient

While you’re trying to be on good terms with the new stepkids, don’t make the mistake of winning their affections by being lenient. They will test you and try to push the limits. Expect that. But don’t confuse the smirk of conquest on a child’s face when they get their way as a sign that you have made them happy or that they approve or like you. No, no, no! In fact, you really just look like a fool who was bluffed. You are actually losing their respect, not winning their affection.

Instead, always act in self-respecting ways by enforcing reasonable limits and boundaries that have been established together. That’s right – together!

You see, children often feel that their new stepparent has no right to discipline them. They think, “Who are you to tell me what to do? You’re not my parent!” And they have a point, when you think about it from their perspective. Most children are very skeptical of adult authority. They generally feel ganged up on and misunderstood, and they don’t want MORE people getting on their case. In essence, most kids experience discipline as an abuse of power over them. They didn’t ask to be part of a stepfamily after all. Why should they listen?

Hold family meetings

To ensure that resentment and attitude doesn’t happen, hold regular family meetings where you discuss the family agreements, plans and procedures together. Make sure that everyone agrees by reaching consensus, rather than by voting. After all, if your new partner has three kids and you only have two, you’ll be outvoted every time! That is not how true teamwork evolves. You need to establish a process where everyone, even the little minority voice, is heard and counts.

Here is an example of how this can be useful. If it has been decided by the family that anyone who wants to have a bedtime story has to be in bed with teeth brushed by 8 p.m., then when a stepparent enforces that agreement, it cannot be perceived as being mean, personal or a power play. Instead, kids simply see it as their stepparent upholding an agreement already discussed at the family meeting.

Trust your partner

Now let’s say its dinner time and one of the kids is getting up and down from the table. If the family policy is that getting down from the table means you are finished your meal and your plate is removed, that’s a great logical consequence! But it’s best if the biological parent is the one who actually takes the plate away and does the follow through. In fact, it’s embarrassing for kids to be corrected publicly, so the more you as the stepparent can fade to black and remove yourself, the better. It doesn’t mean you were not being supportive or helpful; it means you trust your partner to manage.

If you feel you need to review your discipline tactics, that’s fine. Just don’t have that discussion in the middle of an altercation. Save it for a side bar conversation out of the earshot of kids or, alternatively, talk openly with everyone at the family meeting.

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