Stepson with a Bad Attitude

Updated on April 18, 2008
R.W. asks from Shippensburg, PA
12 answers

How would you discipline a nine year old for a bad attitude? This is the first time it got out of line and he was very disrespectful to me before school. I didn't say anything before school because I didn't want him to have a bad morning. But the more I didn't say anything the worse it became. He is my stepson. Need some advice!

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answers from Philadelphia on

Hi I was wandering what kind of attitude? Not listening or talking back to you? Here is a tip I got for not doing what you say,1. Remind him to stop or start something 2.Only once say you need to start or stop task3.If he does not do that task then you punish him 4. stick to that punishment for what ever you told him 5. Tell him "I hope you choose better next time" Talk to his father about this before trying it and let me know how it works out for you. Ailene

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answers from York on

Dear R.,
You didn't saw how long you've been a part of his life, and I'm assuming from what you did say that he lives with you & Dad on at least a part-time basis. That being said, disrespect is unacceptable towards ANY adult. I'm not sure that telling you that his attitude "hurt" you will help. That would depend on your relationship. I know that for me, at one point in time, if I'd told my stepson that he did something that "hurt" me that would've only ensured a recurrence of the behavior, rather than bringing it to a halt. Presuming that he doesn't have an attitude/disrespect problem normally, take it at face value. We all have "off" days when things don't go right, and usually those closest to us get the backlash. However, that doesn't make it hurt less, and the DEFINITELY doesn't make it okay. One thought is that you might try to find out what caused this outburst. Often if you can figure out (or help him to figure out) what the cause for the actions and/or emotions leading to the actions is it will make things easier on everyone. BTW, you'll need to help him develop an "emotional" vocabulary. I feel - happy, sad, angry, hurt, etc. Once he can identify how he feels, then he can begin to figure out what's making him feel that way. Sadly, a lot of kids are too busy "doing" to think about what/how they're feeling. Without someone to help give them words to describe their feelings, they also lack the skill to help someone else relate to those feelings, because the child can't adequately express them his/her self. Good luck and God bless! I'll be praying for you and your husband about dealing with this, and for your stepson, too. Both sides of the "step" issue are difficult. It isn't easy to be a step-parents, but it's also not easy to be a step-kid either. Try to put yourself in his shoes and think about how he feels, especially if he can't (or won't) tell you how he feels.

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answers from York on

What is his relationship with his Mom like? Behind every behavior is a positive intention. What might his intention/need be that is calling forth this behavior? Being able to response versus react is very important. When the bad attitude/disrespect is present, try one of the following:

1. In that moment, with eye contact with him, ask "I really get that you are unhappy about something. Can you share it with me?"


2. Get through as you did and later in the day (like after he returns home from school), follow 1 above.

Children want to be heard and so often just haven't grasped the ability to express it the way society, especially Moms and Dads, would like. You might even offer him the opportunity to write his concerns/cause for unhappiness in a letter to you if he isn't ready to speak the words directly to you.

Finding a way to open up "working" communication with him is the key.

Best wishes!

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I think maybe you AND your husband need to sit him down and discuss respect. After you have cooled down for awhile. Sounds like he has been a good kid overall. Maybe he just needs reminded that you and his dad are equally in charge. Explain that his disrespect hurt you and that you always try to treat him with respect and tell him that if he feels he's being disrespected--he needs to tell you about it. Good luck!



answers from Sharon on

The greatest way to teach our children respect is to show it. Even if they are disrespectful to you, your respeonse can model what can be done in such a situation so that he in turn will learn how to handle conflict effectively.
You will have people say to you that this shouldnt be tolerated and you need to come down on him like a tonne of bricks but such people never truly get to the heart of their childrens behaviour or fully understand them becuase they are too busy disciplining them in a forceful way. It pushes their children further away and they are more likely to keep secrets from you etc.
You want your stepson to feel safe with you in that no matter what he does he is never in any doubt of your love nad affection for him. This doesnt mean you need to bribe him with treats or spoil him but it does mean that getting angry or disrespectful back will only distance the gap between you. dont be afraid of him but with confidence let him know that if he has a problem with you or anything you do that you would appreciate it if he would talk calmly to you about the rpoblem nad you will consider his opion nad think about it and then you can come up with a solution together.
Isnt this how you would like someone yo handle you if you overstepped the mark with your word? The fact that it got worse when you were quiet tells me he knew he wasnt getting to you so he was trying harder to provoke you. dont let him win that way. Let him know he wins when he speaks calmly to you. If hes to upset let him know that you will be willing to discuss it with him when hes calm.
Aslo remeber that sometimes kids are just trying to ask you, do you love me or am I really loveable and they try to prove it by how you repsond to their taunting.
Good luck



answers from York on

Hi R.,
Boy, that is a tough egg shell situation. I'm sure the stepson is feeling off-kilter, and you are between a rock and a hard place, just wanting peace and things to work!!

My first suggestion is to get a copy of Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Faber and Mazlich.

I've read shelf after shelf of parenting and psych books, and this book turned my whole life around. I was a special ed teacher and the difference I saw was staggering and just beautiful.

They have a workbook, also suggest, How To Talk So Your Children Will Listen, and How To Listen So Your Children Will Talk.

It is based on the work of Dr. Haim Ginot, who wrote many books, also wonderful, such as Between Parent And Child.

For now, my take would be first that allowing someone to disrespect you sets them up to feel disrespectful towards themselves. It isn't good role modeling, in other words.

You know that, I'm sure...but so often parents and step parents get this "I'll show you" attitude, and I think a more gentle approach goes further.

You are strong enough to handle it, but you are dealing with it because of your compassion for your step son, in other words.

I would sit down with him and talk about how it was hurtful, how you don't allow people to treat you with disrespect, and ask him what was going on. List his good qualities and assure him that you know this is unusual for him, so you really want to look at what was going on...write things about how this is a hard time for the family, and that feelings can be strong.

Then ask him for other ways he might have handled the situation, what might he have said differently? Where are your boundaries, what do you need? What does he need?

"We are family. We hold each others' hearts in our hands."

If it happens again, I usually say things like "I don't allow people to treat me with disrespect." Walk away, whatever feels right. Make it about you, not him.

That way you are modeling that if anyone is ever disrespectful of him, he can take care of himself without attacking.

One powerful technique I found in those books is if it gets to boiling point, which I pray it doesn' say, "I feel very angry right now and I don't want to hurt you. You need to leave NOW."

That's last resort level and has to be honest. I've used that once, and, boy, it really changed a negative situation fast.

Hope I don't sound know it allish. I sure don't. It's just those books....

May you find peace,




answers from Allentown on

First off, what happened, maybe not bad, or normal. Sometimes we make things bigger then they really are. Remember also he getting slowly at the age that they will test their boundaries, part of their growing up and natural thing to do.

2nd discuss with his dad and see what he says.

Does he live with you full time? does he have a mom, so many questions.



answers from Philadelphia on

First, kudos for being selfless and not responding to his attitude for fear of ruining his school day. That alone shows how you care for him and that you are playing a motherly role in his life.

As for your response, it depends on the situation, I suppose. Was he just in a bad mood and you happened to be the one in his path and therefore, catching the brunt of it? Or, was it deliberately directed towards you? I ask these questions because it will be helpful to try to figure out the cause of the problem before reacting. Bad day? Trouble at school? It will help you be in the right frame of mind to react to it. Try to remember that's not easy. You're no longer a little kid, but not an independent teen (or pre-teen), so it can be awkward at best. Regardless of his frame of mind, I definitely think you need to respond to it and let him know (and also your younger child, by example) that it is not acceptable to talk to you that way or treat you with disrespect.

I have an eleven year old step-daughter and whenever I've been in a situation like yours where I'm not sure how to react, I usually try to be straight with her. Sometimes we don't give these kids enough credit...they are capable of understanding more than we think and a little heart to heart conversation can do wonders. I'm not sure of your situation, but in mine, I have always had my husband's blessing to be a parent figure in every way and that sometimes means disciplining. It's important for them to know that even though we are not their moms, we are still responsible for them and should be treated lovingly and with respect. Sometimes they are reacting to a feeling they can't even identify themselves, so maybe some conversation about how he is feeling about your other child, your relationship, etc. will be helpful. Jealousy can sometimes rear its ugly head in strange ways. Good luck and sorry for the long-winded response. Hope it helps!



answers from Harrisburg on

I was raised in foster homes since I was 9. They thought that I had mental issues instead of actually talking to me. I was afraid of the world and needed someone to be my friend. I always did what I was told and never spoke without permittion because that is how my parents raised me.

This experience has given me a gift to be able to relate with teens and young adults. The troubled age as well. You did good by not attempting anything in the morning. I would speak to him after school and ask him if he thought it way right for how he treated you and if it would be right if you treated him in that manner.

Don't ask questions, just speak with him instead of to him. My son is 14 and came to live with me after 7 years. We had been close once upon a time. He is not use to having someone home when he is. He is not use to having someone around. I speak with him and express that I do know how its like by sharing events in my life.

We are now learning how to live with each other again.



answers from Philadelphia on

Beloved R.:

While raising my child I kept in mind that she will train me or I will train reality we train each other.

I found that wherever and whenever a boundary is crossed it must be bought to the child's attention and corrected immediately. Sometimes verbal correction must be followed up with a consequence such as no tv, gaming, etc for the rest of the day....(I usually had to turn off the circuit to the power cord of the tv or game)and a conversation of what you expect and what you require. I usually began my sessions with I love my darling, however ____ will not be tolerated because __________________

I hope this assists you with your young man.



answers from Philadelphia on

I completely understand where you are coming from. I have a 13-year-old stepson that is very disrespectful. He has been living with his Dad and I for the past 6 years. It is not just to me, but to people in general. His dad and I have told him that it is unacceptable to disrespect anyone. Whenever he engages in this behavior, I address it immediately and let him know that he has crossed into disrepectful behavior and it will not be tolerated. If you ignore it, because he is going to school, he will think this is a safe time to demonstrate this behavior. My stepson lives for television. I usually let him know that his TV time will be taken if he continues in the behavior.

I have felt conflicted at times about disciplining him, because I am not his mother. I treat him like I treat my own son. I come from a large family and there are many people in my family with stepchildren, but they don't make a distinction between their children and stepchildren so I don't either. I make sure that whatever I do for my birth son, I also do for my stepson. It's just not appreciated at this time.

I don't allow my son to disrespect me, so I don't allow my stepson to disrespect me either. If he does it at home, he will also think that he can do it to people outside the home. God bless you.



answers from Philadelphia on

Kids are going to test the water. I taught for ten years in one of the worst school systems in Maryland. Whatever you do, remain cool. It seems this was a bit of a suprise. Next time, don't let it go until later. Address it and move on. If it happens again say, "I'm not sure what the problem is, but If you need to tell me something, please do it without being rude. can we agree on that? If not I'll just let your dad handle it." Then promptly switch channels. Change the subject, ask if he wants to see a particular movie on friday night...whatever. Don't ask his dad what to do, just tell him what you did.

I'm not a hard nosed individual and I love children. I have four sons of my own. It happens and we just move forward. Don't dwell on it but deal with it right away. Trust me on this one.

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