Discipline Between Children and Step Children

Updated on September 06, 2006
M.R. asks from Grand Junction, CO
17 answers

I have a 2 year old son who is sweet, helpful, polite and thoughtful. He tries to help whenever he can with my 5 month old son and he dutifully does whatever he is told. My problem is my 7 year old step-son who will be coming back to live with us when my husband returns from Iraq. My step-son is angry, aggressive, and blatantly disobedient. He does horrible things to my son like tripping him and saying things like, "what are YOU looking at?" and teaching him bad words because he thinks it's funny. How do I keep my 2 year old sweetheart from adopting this behavior? He loves his big brother and does and says everything he says. Is MY influence on my son more important than my step-sons? I'm so afraid of losing my sweet little boy. Anyone sharing this experience? Please assure me my son will be fine!

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A.D.

answers from Fort Collins on

M.,

Being a step-parent is a very difficult task! I know because my husband has a step-mother and step-father. He got along well with both of his step-parents (unfortunately, his step-father passed away just two years ago). I think the key to the great relationship was that both step-parents realized that they would never replace his own biological parents. However, they did treat him with the same kind of love and respect as their own children. If you include your step-son as an equal to your children, you will earn their respect. However, you do walk a thin line when it comes to discipline. You need to let the biological parent be the one in charge of discipline. At the same time, you can also let the child know that you are aware that you are not their biological parent, but that you do ask that they respect your home and all children in your home (including guests). Even though you are a step-parent, they are not allowed to treat any child (including your own) in a mean way. For example you might say, "Tripping; hitting; punching; swearing are not allowed in this house. I do not let my 2 sons or their friends hurt their friends or family. You are a part of this family. I know you are a bright and wonderful child. I expect you to behave in a better manner than this." You might add, "Is there something bothering you? Would you like to talk about it? I bet you are upset that your dad is in Iraq. It must be very scary for you, but you are still not allowed to behave badly. We love you and we want the best for you!"

When you set a positive tone that is equal and fair, you will get more positive behaviors (whether they are your biological child or not). Good luck to you!

A. D.

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L.K.

answers from Phoenix on

M.,

I see how much you adore your children and want only the best for them and your step son. It is important to accentuate the positive and not put so much energy into the negative aspects. I would recommend signing your stepson up for the HERO Child Program. It is a 6 week course offered through the City of Scottsdale that helps instill self esteem and self control in children. The acronym is Helping Everyone Respect Others. It only costs $14. Go to the City of Scottsdale website to sign up. Also, I would recommend the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser - it is not just for the difficult child but for all children in my opinion. http://www.difficultchild.com/book.html

L.

I am a Registered Dietitian specializing in pediatric nutrition and a Board Certified Lactation Consultant. In addition, I am a mother of two children, 8 and 5 yrs.

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K.H.

answers from Denver on

Well can't say I have lots of experience and please take my advice with a grain of salt but............Show the 7 year old who is the boss. Let him know you are in charge and it can be a fun or miserable experience for him. He is in your control until he is 18 and even though you didnt bring him into the world you can certainly take him out. Instead of the regular discipline you use when he is deliberately disobediant, take his things down to 1 pair of undies, pants, shirt, and shoes, a blanket and a mattress. In the meantime, give him opportunities to earn your trust, his freedom, and his stuff. When he does something wrong and has nothing to be taken away make him sit in his room until he is willing to let go, give in and tell you what is making him act out- He is probably acting out because you replaced his mom, where the heck is his dad and who are these bratty kids that have taken his place? Schedule one on one time with him daily, it is just as important for you to gain his trust as it is for him to gain yours. Make him understand that he is an important part of the family but as the adult you make the rules. One thing I used with my step son when he was 5 and would take a bite of cookies then throw them on the floor , I said to him " I love you but I don't like that, pick it up and throw it away. Granted he used his toes but he did what he was told he did understand and it didnt happen again, however he was also not living with us at the time.

Do it with love but you are the boss
Best of luck
K.

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L.S.

answers from Tucson on

wow, it sort of sounds to me like your 7 year old step son has some isues. Maybe there are some issues that are causing him to act up this way...maybe he has lack of stability, maybe he has never had boundaries set for him. When you married your husband you knew he had a child and i think you need to give his son love and acceptance. The step son may not be flesh and blood to you, but he is flesh and blood to your husband and children. I think it could be a wonderful thing for him to live with you and mean alot to your husband! What an opportunity for you to show this 7 year old child some love, respect, patience, boundaries; show him what a real family really looks like! Thank God that he is 7 and not 17! If he is in your home he will have to learn to obey your rules...at 7 he is still shapable. I bet if you really show him patience and kindness...show him firmly but kindly that tripping your children is unacceptable...make a consequence for him. Teach him that bad language is unacceptable and teach him WHY these things are not right. In time he will learn to live by your rules...your younger children i am sure will adore "big brother" help foster a healthy relationship between the three of them! What a wonderful opportunity! Also, please be patient with him. My husband adopted my son as his own at the age of 5. He treats him the same as our son we have together. My husband was also in the military and he aslo served in Iraq. It was very hard for my oldest son to deal with dad being gone. That is also something to think about. he may need some special time with dad when he comes home, i know my son was so sad whe my husband was in iraq, and kids are not good at vocalizing there emotions...give it time, encourage good behavior, show kindess. hang in there!

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S.B.

answers from Charleston on

My advice is to really work on loving, accepting, and beleiving in your 7 yr old. You will see the best results from loving him, rather than getting into a power struggle with him. Sounds like the others understand the discipline and rules. The 7 yr old is obviously going through a lot with his dad gone, and moving into a new household. His actions reflect his fear and insecurities not his "badness". It's not an easy situation, but pray for patience and wisdom. Kids respond to positive reinforcement and encouragement and learn to want to please you, this little boy probably needs a friend.

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J.W.

answers from Denver on

The thing that rang a bell for me was that when you described yourself, you said you had two sons, and you didn't include your step-son. Perhaps the 7 year old is acting out because he doesn't feel included as a part of your family. Step families are very hard. I think that the 7 year old doesn't need the tough discipline, it sounds like he needs tenderness and love. Perhaps then, the 7 year old will turn into your sweet little boy and you'll have not only two sweet little boys, but three! He's not your flesh, but he's the flesh of your husband and a blood relative to your two sons. Look beyond his bad behavior and I am SURE you'll find a sweet little boy just wanting to be accepted and loved. Best wishes on your situation.

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C.L.

answers from Phoenix on

Sounds like a difficult problem. However, I think you need to remember how hard divorce is on children. Your step son probably feels very left out of this family, and I'm sure he feels like you love your other kids more than him. This acting out is nothing more than a cry for attention. It sounds like, from your email, that you have nothing nice to say about him. He feels that - kids are very perceptive, and I bet he feels like you don't even want him around, which, from the way you describe him, is probably true. You need to sit down with him and tell him that you do love him (even if you don't) and that he is an equal among children in your household. When you describe yourself, you said you have 2 sons. That is not true - if your stepson is living with you, you have THREE sons, and someone looking in on your household should not be able to tell who the stepson is by the way you favor your two over him.
As far as the behavior, you need to establish some serious ground rules AFTER he knows that he is valued and loved by you. He will only resent you more if he thinks you don't even like him, and will resist following your rules. Once he has been loved, hugged,and reassured by you, then he will begin to trust you and will begin following rules. In my experience, in his mind, you are not his mother and should not be the one telling him what to do. You need to establish yourself as his mother when he's with you, and that means loving him unconditionally and accepting him.
Good luck to you and your family. But more than anything, I am rooting for your stepson. You need to think more about him and his feelings. Think about how it would be for you - at such a young age, to have a father in Iraq (I pray for your husband and all his fellow soldiers too, and support his mission all the way and thank him so much for his service!), parents divorced (I assume they're divorced if your stepson has been living elsewhere), and now moving into a new house and relationship with a stepmother who doesn't like him very much, with 2 younger brothers who everyone pays more attention to. Then maybe you can understand a little about why he is acting the way he is.
I know it's tough on you and I hope everything works out for you.
Bless you all, and best of luck.

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C.B.

answers from Phoenix on

First off, your step son is going to be acting out because he feels left out and pushed to the side. Think about it, your husband is out of his life, and he has been "pushed" out by the two younger children. (Yes, not intentionally I'm sure, but he has.) First off, spend some "quality time" with this youngster before he enters your home, one-on-one. Get to know what he likes, and what kinds of things he's interested in. BE there for him. If he wants to call you and talk about problems, make sure to let him know you're there and have time for him. Also, give him a pr-oactive role in the household. If he feels he is useful and needed he is more likely to stop acting out. Second, your son is going to wind up mimicking his brother, however your role is to let him know it's not appropriate - CALMLY. Without shouting at him or the 7 year old, get down to his level (face to face) and say no and explain why it is bad. Trust me, your influence WILL work. Hope that helps.

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K.

answers from Phoenix on

Hi M.,
I can feel your frustration and concern. I applaud your firm and consistant, loving discipline of your children.
You have shared very little of what your "step" son has experienced. Please realize that his actions are desperate cries for real needs. Instead of fearing him, may I suggest you seek to see him as your own son. Try to picture your own "sweetheart" of a son having gone through the same "battle wounds" (you may not even be aware of what all of his pain may be from) as this other child. Your "step"son is in need of the very same firm and consistant, loving discipline as your other children. He is crying TO you and FOR you. Not AT you.

Two resources that I could not encourage you more to consider would be
the book: "How to REALLY Love Your Child" by Ross Campbell,

and the book (and video if possible):

"When Love is Not Enough--A Guide to Parenting Children with RAD--Reactive Attachment Disorder" (to order you could call ###-###-####)

DOWN UNDERNEATH YOUR step-SON'S CRIES FOR HELP IS ANOTHER SWEET LITTLE BOY JUST AWAITING YOUR GUIDANCE TO HEAL AND EMERGE, THUS FREEING HIM TO LIVE A LIFE OF PEACE AND JOY.

You CAN do it. You CAN effect a miracle in his little heart and soul. There will be NO greater joy in either of your lives.

God bless you all,
K.

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T.S.

answers from Albany on

First off, you MUST have your husband’s full cooperation, and actually he should take the lead here. The 7 year old is old enough to think for himself, and he is not going to think of you as a valid authority figure unless his dad makes it perfectly clear that you are in charge as much as he is. I'd recommend that on the first day your stepson arrives sit him down, go over the rules of the house AND the consequences. Even write them down and put them where everyone can see (leave blank spaces in case more rules are needed). Find out what is important to him and make that be the focus. Give him more of it when he follows the rules; take it away when he doesn't. Another idea is let him come up with the rules and consequences with you after discussing what kind of a home environment you want. I do this with my kids all the time.

With your 2 year old, I don't know about your son but my kids were very vocal at this age and understood a lot. There were several things I had to discuss with my kids at an early age because they were very aware of what was going on around them. In your situation I'd sit down with my son and tell him that I know he loves his brother, I love him too, but he does things that are not allowed in the house. I'd make sure he understood that these behaviors are not tolerated in the house. My daughter would hear her uncle swearing and she knew she was not allowed to say those words.

Good luck with it all!

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M.P.

answers from Albuquerque on

By reading your problem my family can so relate. Let me say that first you and your husband need to be on the same page. You both need to have a discipline plan in conjunction with his ex wife that way you eliminate any well mom lets ect. Another thing that might help is not calling him your step son and accepting him as your son. I realize that he is not your biological son but let me tell you it will help. There is nothing harder than being split between two parents. Being 7 years of age he doesn't understand why his mom and dad aren't together anymore. Now he sees his dad with a new wife and 2 new siblings and he doesn't know where he fits. Trust me it will take time, patients,understanding and a whole bunch of unconditional love, but it pays off in the end. Another bit of advice I'm not sure how the relationship is between you, your husband and ex wife but the better that relationship is the better he will adjust (if possible). Always remember he is just a little kid that is a part of your husband and is in need of the same love kindness you give to your other two kids. It will be difficult but it is very possible and the rewards that you will reap from it is amazing. As for the relationship between your 7 year old and 2 year old let me tell you they are at two different stages of growing. At two years of age most every kid is helpful and caring and at 7 they are a whole different breed LOL. Having an older sibling is a great thing for a kid, yes they will pick up all the bad habits but that it is why you and your husband need to be on the same page. another thing that helps is explaining not yelling or out of anger but explaining why doing such things as tripping isn't nice. He might just be doing it for attention. Have you thought about what he really needs emotionaly. Maybe he needs that mom that you are to your other two and isn't getting. From your profile" I LOVE MY BOYS!!! I'm 30 years old and have 2 sons" maybe a little change in the way you view him may make the difference.

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G.G.

answers from Denver on

I understand how hard it can be with step-children because I have one myself. I have a step-daughter that is 9 years old. I have made a very consious effort to include my step daughter and make her feel comfortable. We have a great relationship as a result. I introduce her as my daughter and she calls me mom. I get along well with her mother which certainly helps. I try to treat her the same as I treat my own daughter. I make sure she has the same number of presents and christmas and is disciplined in the same manner. I really want her to feel like she is my child as well. She has had times when she has tried to push it with me but I remained firm and loving and we have gotten through it. Right now her dad isn't here but she still comes and spends weekends with me and her sister.
I try to put myself in her position as much as I can. She loves both of her parents and she did not ask for me to come into the picture. I try to treat her like I would want to be in the same position. I am sure that your stepson can pick up on your ill feelings toward him. Kids are smart. You didn't even list him as one of your children. You list only great qualities about your son and only negative about your stepson. Try to focus on his positive qualities too I am sure he has some. I am sure it is a hard situation for him as well. If he feels loved and not threatened you may see a whole different side of him. I know it is a hard situation but it can also be very rewarding.

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J.T.

answers from Denver on

Hi M.,
I have to agree with everyone else that you need to try and help your step-son feel like a part of your family- I noticed that on your "a little about me" description you said you have TWO boys- actually you have three. And it's important to remember that kids pick up on EVERYTHING so if you don't feel that your step son is part of your family then he doesn't either.Just feeling like he belongs somewhere may help his behavior. Also from the sound of it, he could benefit from a little counseling. Good luck, I'm sure this is tough situation for you but try and focus on creating one big family!

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S.D.

answers from Phoenix on

M.,
I agree with Katie. I don't have any step-children of my own, but they are very much a part of my and my husbands family. One thing I've noticed where the kids gain control is that they play Dad against Mom, which by the way, non-step children do as well, it's just that in many cases more guilt is involved with divorced parents. So, I'd suggest to first speak with your husband when he comes home...maybe even write him a letter sharing your concerns, what you'd like to do about them and give him some time to come up with good solutions himself. Men hate being "hit" with something that requires them to deal with it without an opportunity to think about it for a while.(At least that's been my experience.)
As far as your own children...keep reminding them what appropriate behavior is (as well as expecting those standards and values from your stepson. AND let your sons know that it is OKAY to love someone without liking their behavior! If you separate the unacceptance of bad behavior from the love of and acceptance for person, it makes it easier to process. They are two entirely separate issues and it may actually empower your boys to tell your stepson to stop/I don't like that/etc.

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A.W.

answers from Phoenix on

I hate to be quoting Dr. Phil but he is right when he said that the step parent isn't the disciplinarian. You really need your husband to set the rules with his son. coming from you unfortunately will very likely only make him act up worse. Try to just connect with your step son on a positive level. Him being tossed back and forth can't be easy for him. At your house he probably is very jealous of his younger brother. He doesn't feel a real part of the family just an unwanted visitor. Whether thats the case or not that is probably how he is feeling.

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C.M.

answers from Phoenix on

I have a step daughter and twin newborns and my step daughter (8yrs old)likes to try to get away with stuff when she is with us that she cant at home with her mom. My husband does the disipling on her and try to just be consistant in what he says and we together set rules that we plan to instill in our babies when they get older. We do not want to run two house holds, we try to stay consistant with her that way when the boys grow more, everyone will be following the same rules and manners.
Thats just a little adivce as to what worked for us! Its always constant work as she will try to play her dad to break from that, the key thing is be consistant. if you say you need to eat your food- follow that tomorrow as well.

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T.Z.

answers from Phoenix on

Your love for your boys really shows! :) But so does your "concern" for your step son's behaviors. Yes! your behavior's will infulence your son's (and step son's) more than anyone else. By treating your stepson with the same care and love (even when he does wrong)shows your son's more than you can ever imagine. Consistancy in your responce with, in your son's (all of them) behaviors is VERY important. Behaviors need to be shown direct concequences so that he can conduct himself in the format you wish for your household.

I wish you the most paitence and love for your family!

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