Punishments Question (Background Info on Divorce with Added Info)

Updated on December 15, 2010
J.H. asks from Dubuque, IA
18 answers

I have a 10 year old step son and was wondering how you would punish him when he doesn't care if he is grounded, if things are taken away, if he is unable to do stuff such as sports. Nothing seems to phase him. He seems to always be pissed off at the world and is very rude and disrespectful to most adults including both his parents.

His parents have been divorced since he was 2, I came into his life at 3 and its never been easy b/w us. No his mom nor his dad has talked to him about the divorce, he has asked questions about it to me and I answer them the best I can, and I have also told his dad to talk to him about it but he never does. When his dad and I got married (my ss was 6) he told me he didn't want another mom and i reassured him that I wasn't taking the place of his mom nor did he have to call me mom (he doesnt' he calls me Jen) but I am the one that has pretty much taken over the parenting of him. I made sure he was doing well in school, taking baths (when he was younger), doing bedtimes with him, doing the homework with him. Now he doesn't want my help and gets mad if I try and gets very disrespectful if I ask whatz going on with school. Like the other day I asked what book he was reading--I was just curious--he bit my head of saying that I dont' know whatz going on at school (not true I am very well aware of whatz going on at school) and that its not my business. I didn't do anything and just told him I do know what he does at school and I just wanted to know what he was reading b/c the cover looked interesting. He is doing awesome in school. He is a straight A student and he acts totally different at school. The teacher says he is a leader in the room and is very good student. The only issue he has is a playground issue which he have spoken to the teacher about and its been fixed.

we did try counseling once but whatever him and the counselor was talking about he took it as he didn't have to listen to me, respect me, etc he was horrible during this time and I to got the feeling when I and my Dh talked to the counselor she blamed me for his problems. I'm not saying my step son and I don't have issues but it isn't just me. My Dh even said he felt like she was blaming me.

Also chores don't work my Dh doesn't believe in him having chores even though our other kids will. I ask for help around the house my dh always says that at 10 he never had to do any so he doesn't think my ss should either. I disagree with this. I think kids should have chores and my other three kids will have chores as soon as they are older. The only chores I have him do are clothes/dishes but never alone I always help out. And its not on a reg. basis its only when i ask him to help me.

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answers from New York on

My daughter will act the same way. She says she doesn't care, but I know she does. She recently had the computer taken away, when she got it back she was doing the happy dance. Determine what is most important to him when has the privledges.

Another form of punishment that may work, is to make him do additional chores.

If he is being punished for being rude and disrespectful to an adult, make the punishment be writing a letter of apology.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

oh my welcome to 10-13 really not a fun time. Sorry he is going to be pissed off and rude for a few years if he is allowed. We took my sons, computer, play station, phone privilages seriously everything right down to taking his door off he didnt seem fazed at all. just stick with the grounding and punishment and in a couple years he will be a normal child.

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answers from Portland on

I agree with Peg.

I'll also say, from my own experience as a kid: you can't punish a child into being good. It's a common misperception, so don't beat yourself up.

What *didn't* work for me(as a kid--my life from 9-nearly 15) :
Being grounded to my room.
Being grounded to my bed.
Being grounded to a garage during the daytime throughout winter.
Taking away everything I cared about. Toys, stereo, books. Hot showers.

Kids who "don't care" very much "DO" care. However, when we get into a cycle of punitive action to change the behaviors, kids who care can shut down. They begin to feel that it is "expected" of them to mess up, to be a disappointment, and that they are just going to get into trouble for something anyway, so why not just break the rules? It's expected.

I remember, also, being 14. My stepfather had decided we could have an above-ground pool, and part of the work for this was for us kids to sift the dirt through screens to make sure it was free of gravel. At one point, I decided I'd had enough and went inside. When my stepfather caught me, he threatened me with not being able to use the pool.

"You won't let me use the pool anyway." I told him. "You will always find a reason to punish me, and it doesn't even matter what I do. I don't care any more."

Trust me, you don't want to have that sort of a conversation! I hope you find a good "someone" for him to talk to, too. I needed that at that age. (It came much later, but I still had needed it.) Angry kids need neutral third parties, and a good relationship with a counselor can help.

Best wishes,

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Why is he so angry? The fact that NOTHING phases him leads me to the conclusion that there is something amiss. Punishing him is obviously not working so you need to get to the root of what is going on. Have you considered counseling? What is he like in school? How are his grades?
What kind of friends does he have?

The constant punishments could be causing him to be depressed and this is not going to solve anything.

Figure out what is going on then figure out what to do. You cannot fix it until you know what is broken metaphorically speaking.

Best of luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My question is how long have his parents been divorced and did they seek counseling for him? Does he live with you full-time or on a visitation schedule? Divorce is a very, very ugly thing and it effects kids drastically. He may be "pissed off at the world" because of the family turmoil with the divorce and especially now at his age if he never got his issues worked out in therapy etc. I wouldn't focus on punishment for him---I would love, love, love him and model good behavior. I would also really reinforce good behavior and praise him alot when he does good things or has a good attitude etc. ignore the rest for awhile. When he sees that he CAN get good attention from you, he will stop doing so much of the bad stuff. Also as his step-parent, if you aren't already doing so---do something fun with just him-focus on an activity that he likes and really try to bond with him and build some trust. I really think that he must have deep issues around the divorce that aren't sorted out yet and so he is acting out desperately to get your attention--for you to help him. Good luck and let us know what happens.


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

If you are serious about investigating your options, please read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. The book is loaded with real-life solutions, and many examples of how parents made a positive, empathetic connection with their children, while making their own needs and requirements clear.

It would be effective, to at least some degree, with step children, as well. I've used techniques like these while tutoring at-risk, angry high school kids, and had remarkably good results without any punishment at all. Consequences, yes, but no actual punishing.

Being a step parent has its special challenges. Being the parent of a near-adolescent has its special challenges. You're not likely to have a storybook family life, but you can make it better. My best to you.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

my kids were great at this, but its an act. Im sure he IS bothered by his consequences, but not willing to let you see that. I always looked for the natural consequence to things, (cause and effect) and pointed that out to them. Follow through on everything, if you "threaten" or warn him with a consequence, be sure you do what you said if he goes against your wishes. Be sure the consequence fits the action. dont respond to disrespect and rudeness, ignore it, be sure hes clear that if he wants something from you or Dad, that he needs to ask and be respectful. Try a point system, with rewards. counter his negativity with positive reinforcement. Be consistent.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I have a 7 year old boy that is the same! He just doesn't care! It drives me crazy because I can't seem find any way to punish him. I didnt read your responses but I am currently trying a new technique...I don't know if it will work for either one of us but it's worth a shot right? I thought that instead of taking away something as a punishment try to give something as a reward. So start small for example, with my son if he can do his homework with out getting upset & messing around I would reward him by giving him something he likes. You would have to figure out what he values. With my son it's drawing time with his dad, or earning an allowance or something he does want. The key is to allow or give something instead of taking away from them. Hope it makes sense & you can apply it to him. Good luck

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answers from Honolulu on

Do you all have a 'relationship" with him that is not based on good or naughty behavior?
He is a Tween. Tweens are from 9-12 years old. If you do a Google search on "Tween development"... many articles will come up.

At this age, BEFORE he hits the teens, it is important to have a relationship with the child... knowing him, what his interests/passions/problems/thoughts/ideas/dreams are. IF they feel connected with... this will sometimes improve behavior in a child.
Many times, kids are at the receiving end just getting punishments and getting scorned or judged. But what they are 'missing' is Camaraderie AND a "RELATIONSHIP"... with their Parents... and feeling accepted/heard/felt/respected for who they are. COMMUNICATION then improves, not it just being a 1-way street.

Also, what is his Dad doing with him/about him/with him????

Him appearing to be pissed off at the world, to me, indicates a kid who does not feel he can express himself, or he does not know how, or he feels he is always at the short-end of the stick, or not being understood... etc. Common 'Tween' or "Teen" attitudes.

IF he can be mature, and act it... and develop a mind-set of being more mature... then he has to prove it... and also in relation to his parents. THEN maybe that way... he will feel more accepting of himself and others. And more in control... of his behavior. But also, hormones and this age stage... can be difficult.... but they need to know boundaries.

Maybe you ALL sit-down with him, have a "family meeting" and use it to explain things, what the FAMILY is doing and expecting, not making it just a time to scold him... but incorporating him INTO... the expectations of what is expected.... and what a FAMILY is and how HE needs to HELP TOO. Give him chores. Make him productive. Have him sign a 'contract' about his behavior and what 'he' can do to improve.... etc.

Since he is always so pissy about everything, ask him why? THEN tell him, he can either be a pissy person, or a pro-active person, who makes things BETTER.
TEACH him HOW TO PROBLEM SOLVE. And in doing so, that will help to make himself.... feel better.

Maybe find something he can do... to feel better. Volunteering? What are his interests?

Who are his friends? Let him invite his friends over....

Learn ABOUT him.... and then go from there.... at this age, having a 'relationship' with their parents, is real important for a kid. Not it just being punitive based.
Encourage communication with him... so that as he gets older.... you will all know, what he is doing, and so that he WILL come to you, for anything/any problems/ideas etc.

all the best,

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

We did very little "punishment" and much more discipline with our children at this age. Expect good behavior, and insist on good behavior, but also model respect for him. Listen to him. If he is 10 and "pissed off at the world" I would work to get to the bottom of this or this situation will only get worse by the time he is in his teens.

My stepson had been living with his mother/stepfather where they continually took his things away (down to the sheets off his bed) denied him activities and physically punished him. It took a full year of counseling at 14 after they "gave up on him" and let him live with us, to get him over his anger and depression. Then we got to enjoy the rest of his wonderful, fun, teenage years!

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answers from Minneapolis on

You nailed it early in your post. He needs his parents to sit him down and talk to him about the divorce, what caused it, why they did it, and recognize that it has affected him, too. Parents think they are protecting their children by pretending that trauma hasn't happened. They act all stressed out during it, and yet refuse to admit it to their kids. Their kids then internalize this and it builds, and builds, and builds.

My parents divorced when I was in 5th grade and I remember this feeling for years. My older brother actually told me once that he thought it was his fault (of course it wasn't, but no one ever told him it wasn't), and it took my oldest brother YEARS to admit how much it had affected him. BTW, my oldest brother sounds so much like your ss. Bad attitude, defiant with discipline, etc., etc., and it was mostly because he was hurting and building a shell around himself because he didn't understand the trauma that had happened to our family and he speculated for years what had really gone on, and why our "family" divorced.

You need to find a family therapist you can TRUST and can help you find a solution together. One who can help you all heal. Good luck!

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answers from Minneapolis on

sounds like he acts like a spoiled brat an knows how to push your buttons-tell hubby to step up an handle his son.when my kids acted like this-i simply ignored them-i mean no response to anything-i didnt cook,do their laundry-told them i fired myself as their mom-good luck-usually did the trick.what do you mean no chores? hows he going to learn to take care of himself when hes grown an gone?
i guess if it was me at this point-id tell hubby im done-your son -your problem-you do his chores for him-you cook an clean for him etc.and you have 3 other kids? put your foot down an quit being walked on.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Look up Heather Forbes and her "Beyond Consequences" system. She has a great website, there are support groups and of course books and audios.

Your son won't respond to the conventional way of discipline, and this method will reach him. It will seem weird at first - because it ISN'T conventional - but that wasn't working. Keep at it and you'll see a great change if you're willing to put the effort in. (to me it's better than yelling at a brick wall, but it does involve learning new tactics.)

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answers from Phoenix on

I always do two punishments. One immediately and one that lasts awhile. For example, I'll have them do a time out for how old they are (10 minutes if they're 10) and then take away a privelege for a few days. Be cheerful and have fun with him during other times and then be consistent on what behavior you expect from him. Good luck!



answers from Rapid City on

There could be a lot more going on here, his mother egging it on with "she's not your mother", jealousy of the younger kids, seeing that he has to help and the younger ones don't as a sign that he is being picked on in his mind. Best thing to do is sit down with your husband and his ex and set up house rules for both houses to give him security. To set up chore charts for all the kids, even if they are toddlers, they can dust, either that or set up a job chart with how much money he will get for each job done. You get your help and he feels validated. Maybe you can do fun things with him leaving the younger ones home with hubby. Take him to a movie, lunch, to the mall or take him and one of his friends to a skate park, if he likes that. At that age, some of the best times my son and I had was when I took him and a couple of his friends to the skate park and movies... you learn alot about the kids that way..lol. When he talks to you disrepectful his dad needs to step in and tell him "you don't have to like what she says or what she does but you do have to respect her" and let him punish him if he doesn't. If he does it when dad isn't around, ignore what he says, not giving him the thrill of pushing your buttons. Go on and say what you were saying just as if he didn't say anything. Don't argue back. If he says "you don't know what is going on at school" say "why don't you tell me then?" and if he is rude, just move on to another subject, not giving him any reaction at all. He is doing it for the reaction, you know. Important thing right now is to show him you both can have a good time together and you aren't the wicked step mom he is protraying you to be. Play a video game with him, laughing if he tells you you suck at it. Laughter helps a lot of bad situations.



answers from Madison on

Sounds like a challenging situation but also that you are doing a fantastic job. I agree with you 100% about the chores. Maybe he can be rewarded for things (like doing chores or even homework,etc.) just to show him he is loved and appreciated. Maybe positive reinforcement would be better right now. Although he might have a bad attitude, if he is a straight A student he is doing SOMETHING right. I am a child of divorce and I know the pressures and stress involved. It takes a big bite out of your self esteem and I think more punishment will only worsen this. Obviously something is bothering him and he is not ready to talk about it. If you hang in there and just be there for him, I think it would help and he will talk to you when he is ready.
Best of luck to you and your husband.



answers from Lincoln on

Sounds like a frustrating situation for you.... And like your step son has some resentments towards his mother maybe? My step daughter told me that she appreciated the fact that I let her know that I cared about her frequently and let her set the tone of our relationship. I asked her alot of open ended questions and let her give me the amount of information she was comfortable giving, and over time she would open up a little more and a little more until we got closer and she had worked through some of her feelings and learned to trust me. I would also invite her to help me with the chores I was working on rather than giving her chores and let her have the choice. By giving her these choices she then had more control over her situation and by having that control had less resentment. While this was going on, I made a point of telling her I loved her when she was leaving or at bedtimes etc to remind her that I care without being pushy about or expecting anything in return. She and I know have a caring relationship. Step parenting is hard! Be sure to find someone that you can talk to about your feelings during all of this, mom is important too!



answers from Tulsa on

welcome to the torterous 10s. part of this is a age thing. 10 wants independence and doesnt know how to get it. they want big boy rules with no big boy duties. also part of this is a divorce thing. he may feel even though it may not be true the divorce is your fault. he needs someone to blame. and since he doesnt know if mom or dad was right on the divorce you are possibly the blame. they dont know how to deal with their emotions on things like this. it also may be he if feeling rejected by mom I dont know I am assuming and since he wasnt in the market for another mom in his mind your crossing bounds. not that you really are he needs his real mom not a substitute. sorry not trying to sound harsh just dont know how else to word it. I honestly dont think the counselor told him he doesnt have to listen to you he either interpeted it the way he wanted or he misunderstood the counselor betting on the first one. right now he is trying to manipulate you. 10 yr olds try this and if it works they keep doing it. he is testing his boundries with you and dad and dad is letting him cross the line.

you say the counselor blamed you for his problems. think back to what was said what was she trying to tell you but not saying it? it probably got worded wrong or the dad was listening to the son who is scared confused and lost and doesnt know what direction he is supposed to go. is there something you need to change. this is a 50/50 50% chance the answer is yes and 50% the answer is no he is just rebelling trying to get his freedom. are you being overprotective, underprotective? do you say bad things about his mom? wether true or not kids dont want to see the bad in a parent. my 21 yr old still thinks his dad is an angel. and he was abusive. he still thinks his dad is a victim of circumstance and doesnt see his dad as creating his own problems. which he is doing. my 21 yr old buys his dads poor me story hook line and sinker and he is an adult. so imagine this going through a 10 yr olds head. so between the age thing the divorce, the feeling left out or unloved maybe and you may or may not be fueling the fire and you may be doing it and not realize your doing it he is just a very confused little boy. my 21 yr old gets on a roll sometimes that since I hate his dad obviously I hate him too. I dont know why he does this and its always when we are arguing and he is in the wrong I think its a guilt trip to get the focus off of what he is doing wrong. I have told him I dont hate his dad but this happens everytime an attempt to control the situation. so if I have a 21 yr old that does it and my 20 yr old step son did it too tried to run his step parents off and now he will admit to it and the kids will jump back and forth blaming one parent and then another and then the steps. I have seen 3 step kids do this and my own son so I figure its a divorce thing. they blame the steps even though they werent in the picture at the time and do nothing to cause the problem.

hang in there this too will pass. love him hes probably hurting and doesnt know how to show it. if he shows you love his mom might be offended in his eyes so what do you do. you hate the world this is a kids logic.

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