Discipline for Stepfamilies

Discipline can be a huge issue in stepfamilies. After all, the very fact that a stepfamily exists suggests that something negative – a death, divorce or separation – has happened, and that is sure to affect children’s behaviour. Here's our advice on how to prevent matters getting out of hand

Being a Stepmum or Dad can be very hard work. And a newly formed family can mean new demands on time, new rules and new restrictions. Above all else, remember that the children had no choice when it came to their new family – it was forced upon them, and wasn’t necessarily what they wanted. Now it’s up to all of you to make the best of it.

Bad behaviour?

A new family set-up brings its own problems. But if a child persistently misbehaves, you’ll have to do something about it.

“Discipline should be down to the birth-parent if possible,” says Relate counsellor Paula Hall. “And if that can’t happen, you have to make sure that both adults in the house speak to the child together so that he can see a common front exists.”

Paula suggests some keys to maintaining discipline

1) No overt favouritism Children are very hot on things being fair.
2) Be united Children need to know that the adults support each other, even on difficult decisions.
3) Be consistent
4) Be patient It will take time for everyone to adjust
5) Have household rules which apply to everyone: children will know what’s expected of them, even when they are only visiting for a weekend.
6) Spend time with your kids on your own Let them know they are still special to you and haven’t been “replaced.”
7) Don’t spoil a child Even if you feel guilty about breaking up their family.

It’s also important to try to stay calm – even if a child tries to rile you by reminding you that you’re not actually their parent. You could agree “Yes, I’m not your parent.” But add that this doesn’t mean he is allowed not to follow house rules.

Don’t worry if different rules apply at the other birth parent’s house. Children are good at adapting, and as long as there is consistency – that they understand what applies where, they should be fine.

It’s not personal

Children often misbehave because their family has split up. Because of this, they may act dreadfully around a new step-mum or step-dad. However hard it may be to accept, this is often not personal. And over time, a new special relationship may begin.

“You’re introducing two strangers who are going to share a house,” says Suzie Hayman, spokesperson for Parentline Plus and author of Stepfamilies: surviving and thriving in a new family. “If you don’t force it, it’s likely to grow. If may seem like the child dislikes the new partner, but it may be that they dislike the situation.”

Related links

Divorce - helping the kids to cope: Around 300,000 children each year are affected by their parents splitting up. So what can be done to help them to cope?

Tips for Step-parents: Forming a bond with a stepchild can be tough. Supernanny member Claire Thomas has this useful advice - learnt through personal experience!

Divorce: Don’t forget the children: The estranged parents of Hollywood star Lindsay Lohan have been told "not to make disparaging comments" about each other in the presence of their children. It’s a comment which will be recognised by warring parents worldwide. When you’ve fallen out, just how do you try and remain civil for the children?

Divorce and discipline - how to stop matters getting out of hand: If their Mum and Dad are having relationship problems or going through a divorce it can bumpstart bad behaviour in children of all ages – but you can head off tantrums, aggression and backchat if you work as a team and reach a compromise when it comes to discipline.

Find out more

Get expert advice from FamilyTherapyOnline

Relate offers advice, relationship counselling, sex therapy, workshops, mediation, consultations and support face-to-face, by phone and through their website.

Paula Hall's book, Help your child cope with your divorce offers a wealth of useful advice.

In Stepfamilies: Surviving and Thriving in a New Family by Suzie Hayman, she uses real-life examples to help the reader through any problems and suggests a variety of exercises and techniques to bring the new family together.

Parentline Plus is a national charity that works for, and with, parents.

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