How Divorce Affects Children


Tips For Disciplining Step Children

House rules are extremely important and many couples don’t do this, especially in the beginning, because they say it will get resolved if it needs to be. 

As soon as a couple thinks they are going to be serious in making their relationship last, before they commit to moving in together or, if they have moved in together, before any long term changes have started, to sit down and have those conversations.  Have conversations about who’s going to discipline the children.  Ideally, it should be the biological parent, especially when talking about pre-teens and teenagers, it’s even more important.

Talking about what is appropriate for children to do, house rules. Are we going to treat every child equally especially if you have children who are of the same age but from a different family? How do you deal with the way you raise your children?

So there are a lot of things to come into consideration when you’re coming together as a step family. That doesn’t happen when you are in a nuclear family because as the kids grow and mature, you adapt your family to these different stages in life.  You make up the rules as you’re going along with these children.

When it comes to discipline, most often, it should be the biological parent that handles the discipline. That really depends on the age of the child and it depends on the kind of relationship you have with a child.

Ideally in the beginning, it should be the biological parent.  As you mature and grow this relationship and what I mean by this is you build trust. You do things together and you get to know one another and then you can step into the role of being more of a disciplinarian.

This can get really crazy because if a stepmom disciplines her own children and not the step children, then there may be conflict between the children.  Mom’s children might say, “Well how come you’re disciplining me but you’re not disciplining this one?”

That’s where you really need to become a team. This is where communicating with your partner, with your spouse is key to making this work, and it’s not always easy. What needs to be done here is meetings with your partner and meetings with the kids.

The rules should be done by the couple.  Negotiated and discussed by the couple, and then presented to the kids and have a discussion around the consequences and what happens. You would be surprised how the kids will come up with their own consequences to some of their own behaviors.

When the kids come with their own consequences, they will own up to it and they will more readily accept the discipline being done because of that.

Then the couple in front of the kids says, “We are agreeing that this is what should be happening.”  So the kids see you as a united front.  That’s why it’s important that both of you agree in front of the children about what is appropriate behavior, what is acceptable and what are the consequences of those behaviors if they’re misbehaving.

When they go to school and there’s a teacher, they know their teachers are not their parents. And when that teacher gives out a punishment for something that’s not done, the kids understand there are consequences.

And how does the stepfamily, this unit now that has decided all this, how do they deal with the fact that when the children return to their biological mother, maybe the discipline and the rules are different there. How do you get the children to adjust to that?

And that’s when you say to them “When you’re going to school, you have a different set of rules that you follow there.  If you have a different teacher, there’s a different set of rules for that teacher. When you’re going to your sports activity, there’s a different set of rules for that and when you’re here, there’s a different set of rules for this activity.”

So wherever you go, you adapt to a different set of rules because that’s how it is. Society does not have a one-rule-fits-everybody, and so it’s a way of telling children this is how it is in the real world.  Because as parents, that’s our job, is to help these children adapt to the real world life.  So when they do leave our home, they know how to adapt.

Now we do have values and beliefs and, obviously, we don’t have all the same values and beliefs. So it’s important to encourage the children to think, “Well, what do you think is an appropriate behavior? What do you think should be done instead?” Again help the kids think for themselves about what are the consequences of their actions in order for them to become more self-sufficient.