Step-parents and step-children often struggle to trust and accept one another, making everything far more complex. In the book, Living in a Step-family without Getting Stepped On, Dr. Kevin Leman provides key insights into how to discipline children within a blended family.
Dr. Leman says, “In any family, the key to discipline is finding the right balance between giving the children plenty of love and giving them adequate limits that hold them accountable for their actions. In the blended family, this problem is multiplied because suddenly, children and adults are brought together in a stepparent/stepchild relationship. They have no history, no bonds have formed, no trust has been developed.”
Keep in mind that the process will be slow, and you will need to focus on building a relationship and earning the children’s respect before you can become a full disciplinarian to your stepchildren.
Dr. Leman provides the following guidelines that will help you ease into the role of disciplinarian to your stepchildren.
1. Relationships come before rules. Especially in a newly-formed step-family, be sensitive to the children’s emotional needs, and discipline gently but firmly. In the early stages as a stepmom, let your husband assume responsibility for the discipline of your stepchildren, although you should both work together in setting consistent rules.
2. The whole is more important than the parts. Personalities, birth order and previous lifestyles make each child in a stepfamily different. But you will need to treat each family member fairly, giving each child an “equal opportunity to participate and contribute” in the family.
3. You are in healthy authority over your kids. Dr. Leman cautions against being either too authoritarian or too permissive with any children in your household.
4. Hold children accountable for their actions. According to Dr. Leman, “Loving Discipline does not punish but lets the child pay a reasonable consequence for misbehavior or a poor attitude.” Rules must be clearly established, as well as the consequences. In the beginning, your husband will be the enforcer of these consequences, but you both need to work together at setting these rules.
5. Let reality be the teacher. Let the consequences speak for themselves in discipline, and not harsh words.
6. Use actions, not words. Again, Dr. Leman suggests letting the consequences speak louder than your words. Once you have formed a relationship with your stepchildren, you will begin assuming more discipline responsibilities. Once you do begin disciplining, avoid routinely prescribing punishments in the “if-then” context. Dr. Leman explains that this method will only keep kids focused on the punishment rather than being responsible. He suggests focusing on making sure the children know what their responsibilities are and what is expected of them.
7. Stick to your guns. Dr. Leman defines this as, “being firm in enforcing whatever rules you all have agreed upon, even when your heart is breaking for the child who has just chosen to lose an entire weekend of wonderful activities by not being responsible.” No matter what stage of stepmother disciplining you are at, make sure that you and your husband are consistent in establishing rules and consequences for both your children and stepchildren.
In addition, Dr. Leman advises that discipline is the number one issue in a blended family, and “you and your spouse will stand or fall, sink or swim, together, and if there is anything the two of you need to work through and agree upon it’s, ‘Who will discipline the kids and how will it be done?’” So spend time formulating a plan with your husband on the rules and consequences within your home, and focus on building a positive, respect-based relationship with your stepchildren.
Related Resource: 3 Ways to Help Your Children After Divorce
This article is based on the book, Living in a Step-family without Getting Stepped On, by Dr. Kevin Leman.
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