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“My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You

by James Lehman, MSW
“My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You

This is part 2 of a two-part series by James Lehman, MSW on Blended Families. In this article, James discusses the importance of respectful behavior in a blended family, and how parents can achieve this from all the children in the family.

Over the years, many parents in blended families have come to me to talk about the subject of disrespect. In some cases, their stepkids didn’t respect them, and in others, their biological child did not respect their new spouse. The truth is a child may never respect his stepparent, but he does have to know that he can’t get away with being rude or obnoxious to them. The only way to achieve the desired behavior is to be certain you and your spouse are united in making sure that your kids treat you with respect.

The child may never get over the loss of his mother or father, or that of his original family. But there’s nothing you as a stepparent can do about that besides accept it and avoid getting into fights about it.

Lay Down the Ground Rules from the Start
If you haven’t done so already, sit down with the kids in your blended family and lay out some ground rules. Start by saying, “In our family now, this is what a parent is.” And, “In our family now, these are the expectations on every child.” I recommend that you tell your stepkids from the beginning, “You don’t have to call me Mommy, but you have to be respectful and follow my directions.” And both adults need to do this with all the children in the family.

What if Your Stepkids Disrespect You?
Naturally, stepparents become very upset when their stepchildren are disrespectful to them. I’ve had parents come to me in difficult situations where the kids were really being rude or obnoxious, saying things like, “You’re not my father, I don’t have to listen to you!” Let me be clear: parents have to be careful, because once that kind of behavior gets entrenched, it’s very difficult to stop. By being rude, kids protect themselves—and they train adults what not to ask of them and what not to expect of them.

The answer here is that you and your partner have to decide ahead of time how the kids in the family will talk to each parent. You set the expectations together, and then you remain consistent; you hold each child accountable.

Here’s an example. If one of your stepkids says, “You’re not my mom; I don’t have to do what you say!” You can say, “No, I’m not your mother, but you have to do your homework anyway.” Or, “We’re not talking about me being your father. We’re talking about when you’re going to start your homework.”

Now, the consequences for that kind of behavior should be swift and clear. The kids in the family should know that if they disrespect their stepmother or stepfather, they will lose their cell phone privileges for the rest of the night, for example. In other words, there should be no tolerance for that kind of disrespect. When it comes down to it, both adults work hard for the family, both adults are struggling, both adults are making sacrifices—so the rule is that the kids have to treat them both with respect. They don’t have to call them Mom or Dad unless they want to, but they have to be respectful.

Don’t try to read your stepchild’s mind
Know that as a parent or stepparent, you cannot read your stepchild’s mind. In other words, if this child doesn’t like you telling him what to do but he does it anyway, don’t challenge him on what he’s thinking. Don’t worry if he’s giving you “that look.” When you tell him to go do his chores, if he does them whether he likes it or not, that should be enough. So, don’t try to read kids’ minds to determine if they really don’t want to do something, or if they really don’t like you. You have to let that go until everybody gets to know each other.

Here’s the bottom line: if you carry yourself with respect, kids will find things to like about you. This is because kids want to like people that they respect. Know that he or she may never get over the loss of his mother or father, or that of his original family. But there’s nothing you as a stepparent can do about that besides accept it and avoid getting into fights about it.

When You’re Parenting, They’re All Your Kids
Some parents wonder how they can be fair while still maintaining the trust of their biological child. Know that it’s natural to feel a stronger connection to your own child, a special love for and commitment to them.

But in a blended family, you have to keep those thoughts in a separate compartment from parenting. Understand that when you’re parenting, they’re all your kids. And believe me, they’re all watching the way you behave yourself, the kind of role model you are, and the kinds of things you do. So when the kids are acting out and the television is taken away for the evening as a consequence, it’s not taken from the biological kids or the non-biological kids—you don’t get into those distinctions. It’s taken away from all the kids. And so it also becomes, “When we’re going to the zoo, we’re all going to the zoo—the whole family.” Or “When we’re watching a movie, we’re all watching a movie.”

You’ll always feel that special connection with your biological child, don’t get me wrong. But part of the thing that you’ll struggle with, sometimes every day, is that you have to treat these kids the same. Don’t worry that you will lose that connection with your biological kid by doing so—that will never happen. There may be anger, there may be disappointment, there may be separation, but that connection is there by nature.

When Your Child Challenges You
Often in blended families, it’s very common for the biological kids to challenge their birth parents. They’ll accuse them of being unfair, or say things like, “You’re treating them better than me.” Or, “He treats his kids better than you treat us.” And you might also hear, “He treats his kids better than he treats us.” And parents have to work very closely together to solve those problems.

When your child comes to you and says something unfair happened, the kind of question you have to ask is, “If I was there, what would I have seen?” So, let’s say your child says, “Today she treated her kids better than us.” The question you have to ask is not, “How did you feel,” or “What happened,” because those things get distorted. Rather, parents should be asking the investigative question: “If I was there, what would I have seen?”

Let’s say the answer is, “You would have seen her give three cookies to her kids and two cookies to us.” That’s something they can see, not what they felt. So find out what they saw, what they heard, what was done. That’s the most effective way to investigate these kinds of statements. That’s also one of my key questions when parents tell me their kids are acting out at home. One of the things I used to ask them in my office was, “If I was there, what would I have seen?” And then they’ll say, “You’d have seen my son punching a hole in the wall and threatening his sister and calling his brother names.” I want to know what I would have seen there because that’s how I can investigate what they need to do differently.

So again, you’re asking for facts now. It’s the parent’s job to say, “Okay, I’ll look into it,” and then talk to the other parent in private.

Structure Time to Do Things Together: Establish a “Family Day”
If you want to come together as a family, I think you have to make rules about doing things together. So you can make the rule, “On Wednesday nights we all watch a video.” This rule is in place whether the kids like it or not. Let them know that if they refuse to watch the video, then they will lose their electronics for the rest of the night. But the deal is, “We all watch a video. We all go to the zoo. We all go to the beach. We all go to the park.” Don’t overdo it, especially with teenagers. But doing one activity as a family per week, not including church, can be helpful in this kind of situation. Sit together in the living room eating popcorn and watching a DVD. Or go to the park together, go to the beach and find seashells. Whatever it is, find one thing a week to do together.

By the way, I say don’t overdo it with teens because developmentally, their job is to start to break away. So we just want them to participate without being abusive, disrespectful or nasty. If one of your kids is 17 and doesn’t want to go along, let them bring a friend. But the rule is, “You’re going with us.”

Instituting a family day gives kids the message that “This is important to us, and it’s so important we’re going to make it happen.” They learn that you do things as a family and that you respect each other when you’re doing them. With younger kids, having a night where you just play board games is really fun. Older kids may resist it at first, but younger kids will love it. If you start when they’re small, that becomes part of their expectations for family night—and it also becomes their way of understanding how families operate.

Empower the Children in Your Family to Express Themselves
One last word about kids: children have to be empowered to express what they feel and think, and those thoughts and feelings have to be accepted at face value. When two adults decide to blend their families, kids have no choice. They can feel powerless, threatened and overwhelmed. The idea is to give them appropriate ways to express themselves so they don’t have to act out their feelings behaviorally. This doesn’t mean they get to make decisions about how the family will run, but they should certainly have input in an appropriate way.

This input is usually best received by the child’s birth parent. If you try to do a family meeting without getting the input first, it’s very likely that people will get defensive or feel threatened. But if birth parents can talk to their kids about their concerns, it is much easier to work them out, and it’s much easier for the two adults to come to an agreement. So the idea is not to squelch kids, the idea is to set up a situation where they can express their feelings safely and appropriately.

Remember, no rule or situation has to last forever. Before you put any new plan into place, I recommend that you sit down with your kids and ask these questions:

 

 

  • How will we know this is working?

     

  • How will we know something isn’t working?

     

  • What will we do if something works?

     

  • What will we do if something doesn’t work?

     

    If you analyze the decisions you make this way, you’ll always have the ability to measure if you’re accomplishing what you sought to do, as well as change what you’re doing if necessary.

    One of the key things that a blended family needs is two adults who are mature; you’ve really got to grow up as a parent. It’s hard to see your stepchild when they come back from a holiday with their other set of parents, and they have better presents than you gave them, or when they’re bragging about the things they did together—or when they’re sad about the things they used to do before their original family split up. But you’ve got to be able to handle that. Without a doubt you may have feelings about it, but you have to have mature ways of dealing with those emotions. So, if you’re hurt or frustrated—and it’s normal and human to be hurt, frustrated and confused in this situation—you need to be able to talk to your partner or call your friends. If you need professional help, go to a counselor. The main thing is, you need to be able to work toward accepting the situation and not trying to control it. It’s not that you shouldn’t feel things—it’s the way you deal with the things you feel that is important.

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    James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

    READER'S COMMENTS

    Blended families ...a topic that never gets the attention it deserves. Thousands are struggling with the challenges it presents. This information was very useful ..keep up the good work. We all need a little advice everyday....

    Comment By : mb

    Your articles are always inspiring, but I would love it if you'd address a step-parent-family marraige. My husband is constantly defending his kid's bad behavior; therefore we fight all the time about it. If my step-son's chores are not done, or he doesn't clean up after himself, or he sleeps until noon almost every day, and is extremely lazy, etc. I get yelled at by my husband, if I complain to my step son, or my husband - Not my step son. Because I've upset everyone. If I let it all go, I'm doing it all (his chores etc.) and resentful. Shouldn't a husband and wife be a team? My husband thinks it's just easier to let it all go - the kid is who he is. We've been married 12 years and my stepson is now 21.

    Comment By : JRP

    I would just like to share a moment of truth with co-readers. We must be sure to stay very calm, collective and confident when responding to negative behavior. Even if you feel a child does not respect you, subconsciously, they do respect you. By being disrespectful back at a child of any age, you're teaching that child to be disrespectful when they face adversity. They are always learning from us whether we feel they respect us or not.

    Comment By : High School English Teacher

    I feel that the Blended Family articles are very helpful.

    Comment By : Very Appreciative

    I've gotten to consumed by my career, I can forget the basic things.

    Comment By : racine

    You hit the nail on the head this is exactly what we are going thru. Stress level very high!!!

    Comment By : aaron

    But what do you do when your step "Daughter is only 1.5 years younger than you and she is worried about another women entering into her dad's life (his wife passed away 11+ years ago) and she seems afraid of loosing her inheritance. So she feels she needs to control the situation and her dad by continually waiting for me to do something wrong. Her dad and I are sole mates. I was married for 25 years in an abusive relationship and I finally got divorced 4 years ago . But this man I am engaged to now Oh My God do we ever love each other. I keep worring about him selling his house which is suppose to go to his 2 kids (41 & 38) when he dies. But the same time I want him and I to have our own home that I dont have to worry about leaving if he should pass away. I have a 14 year old of my own who loves and respects the both of us and I dont want to give him a false sence of security. But his daughter feels the need to be incontrol of everything her dad does. My question is "Who is the parent" and how do we handle this without causing animosity within the famil. How do I get her to understand I am not in this or any other relationship for money or self gain. Her dad jokingly mentioned maybe I should get a long time friend of mine who knows me well to be a character reference to try to make his daughter understand my true intentions.

    Comment By : TLC

    How do I deal with a husband who treats my child very differently than his own, and now we have a child together in which he is distant with because he is afraid it will upset and take away from his relationship with his child from a previous marriage?

    Comment By : peanutgallery

    Very good advice! I'm dealing with a very similiar situation but the only children involved are my biological children and I'm currently in a live-in same-sex situation (not my first same-sex relationship so they were aware before) but my children are 1 teen and 1 young adult who both live at home and do not mesh with my mate. We have lived together for a few years now and it's been a constant struggle. Some things I feel were not handled correctly from the beginning.

    Comment By : Confused bio parent

    My stepchild was abandoned by her drug addict mother at 30 days. Now at age 8, her birth mother has convinced social workers she wants to be "unified", even though still on drugs, because she lost her check. Everything we have taught our child is going down the drain on weekend visitations because the birth mother teachers her to be disrespectful, curse, put on heavy makeup (at age 8!),etc. How do I reinstill in our child that these actions are wrong without talking bad about her mother? This is frustrating to see my daughter so confused.

    Comment By : Patti

    * To Patti: I imagine this is a very challenging situation for your whole family. It’s great that you understand it is not helpful to “talk bad” about your daughter’s biological mother or put her down. It will be helpful to simply focus on the rules you have in your home and the values and beliefs you and her dad share. For example, “Your mother might allow you to wear makeup, but we believe you are too young, and it will not be allowed in our home until you are much older.” Another example is, “Maybe it’s okay with mom for you to talk that way, but we consider that kind of language disrespectful and it is not allowed in our home.” Do your best to provide a stable environment with structure, clear expectations, and accountability. This is a big transition for your daughter and it is likely to be a difficult and emotional time. James’ articles The Do's and Don'ts of Divorce for Parents and The Disneyland Daddy include additional verbiage you might use with your daughter and information for how to handle it when another parent has different rules and limits than you. Even though these articles focus on divorce situations, the concepts and ideas may still apply to your circumstances. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.

    Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

    I have found your articles very helpful with my youngest stepson although nothing my husband and I have tried seems to have worked with his daughters (age 20 and 22). My husband kicked one of his daughters out of our home at age 17 because of her drug habit. Fortunately she learned her lesson and has turned her life around. He recently kicked out the 22 year old because of a long list of things. She was a constant disruption in our home refusing to obey any rules. His 13 year old son even agrees that his sisters are bad influences. My children and my parents refuse to be around the girls. My concern is what to do about the holidays this year. I don't want my husband not to have a relationship with his daughter even though he made the final decision to throw her out and imagine that he will have a "phone relationship" with her. I don't want her ruining every holiday we have. I have gone out of my way to help her in the past...bought her a car, helped her during her teenage pregnancy, etc. but she is disrespectful, manipulative, stubborn, rebellious, etc. She hops from one man to the next for support even though she has a college degree and is capable of working. Any suggestions?

    Comment By : Tracy

    sounds great what if the dad of stepchild want back you up?

    Comment By : chead

    * To ‘chead’: It can be so frustrating when you and your spouse are not on the same page, and very difficult to support your spouse when you disagree with their parenting strategy. When it comes to blended families, James Lehman suggests that it’s most effective for the child’s biological parent to take the leading role in setting limits and rules for his own child. He implies that it’s best for the step-parent to take on more of a supporting role. He says, in Part I of this two part series, “If your spouse isn’t parenting your child the way you think they should be, you need to be able to communicate with them about that and work things out. If there’s a disagreement, the birth parent’s decision takes primacy and the stepparent has to be mature enough and trusting enough in the relationship to go along with it.” In some situations it can be really helpful to get some local support (i.e.: a counselor, therapist, support group, or religious leader if applicable) to help you learn the most effective ways to communicate with your spouse about your disagreement. Even if your spouse is resistant, you could still learn some helpful strategies to use that may lead to a resolution. It only takes one person to create change in a relationship. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this. Take care.

    Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

    i am a step parent child is 18.For seven years I've been putting up with back talk and laziness her mother always upholds her and they live with me.well I finally said sge need to go stay with her dad am i wrong? DESPERATE PLEASE ANSWER ME ASAP!!!!!

    Comment By : DESPERATE

    * To ‘DESPERATE’: It sounds like you are pretty fed up with your step-child’s attitude. Typically James suggests that in blended families it’s most effective for the biological parent to take the leading role in setting limits and giving consequences to their own children. He suggests that the best thing for a step-parent to do is try their best to support the bio parent. On the flip side, James also does suggest that even though backtalk is not okay, it’s most effective to ignore backtalk and attitude and instead focus on the behavior—is your step-daughter doing what she’s been asked to do, for example, and how can you hold her accountable if she is not? Your case does sound a bit unique as your comment leads me to believe that you are in a home that you owned by yourself since before your marriage. It’s really difficult for us to weigh in in these types of cases, and I want to share a few articles with you on working with adult children so you can see some possible alternatives that might work for you. I know this must be very difficult for you. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this.
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part II
    Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part III

    Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

    I am in a horrible situation. I am step-parenting 4 girls, 16,15, and 13 yr old twins. I have not problems with the other children. The 15 will lie in any and all situations. Dad says to me so what! All teenagers lie.

    Comment By : Kim

    Ihave 2 step kids that lost thier mother 6 years ago and i get nothing but attitude and disrespect fromt he oldest. He is 15 gonna be 16 and is only nice when he needs, wnats or gets something. Heblamesme alot because i am the one home and that runs the house. I feel so trapped like I must decide wether to stay. even ifhis father which is not his real dad talks to him he still does it but not when dad is around. Then I feel like im picking on him by complaining alot, but all i want is for his dad to see what i deal with. The kids never says sorry for anything he does. I am so torn because i love his dad alot.

    Comment By : rachel

    My husband and i have been married for 23 yrs, we have tried to blend our families. Our children have grown up with children of their own, I have accepted the fact of being the outsider to my husbands children, we only see them during the holidays, no interaction at all. My husband blows it off "its only once a yr" next. My husband will not say anything to them, and my husbands family is no support and only adds to the challenges. How can this be resolved or is it tooooo late.

    Comment By : Katy

    * To Katy: It sounds like you have a difficult situation with your husband’s family. While you cannot force everyone to get along, you can request a certain level of treatment. We recommend talking with your husband about what the expectations are for how his children will treat you when they are in your home, and getting on the same page about that. If his children then treat you disrespectfully during the holidays, we recommend that your husband address that directly with his children. You can also take control of the situation by thinking about how you will respond as well, and planning how to be calm during their visit. For example, if his children have a negative attitude, you can choose to ignore that, or do something else such as a craft project, or taking a walk. I am including a link to an article which I think you might find helpful about finding your calm during the holidays: http://www.empoweringparents.com/How-to-Keep-Calm-and-Avoid-Fighting-with-Your-Kids.php Holiday Stress: How to Keep Calm and Avoid Fighting with Your Kids Good luck to you as you continue to work through this.

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Line Advisor

    The problem I have is that Im dealing with a 20 year old stepdaughter that does not respect me in any way. I have tried talking to dad it does no good. He feels it will blow over. This child lives with us, alos her boyfriend and babvy. They refuse to clean up after themselves, cook for themselves. Everytime I get into a disagreement with her she tells me that she will F me up.

    Comment By : angel

    WHat about when the parent and step-parent/ girlfriend model disrespect? When the behavior is a result of adult bullying?

    Comment By : Bridget

    * To Bridget: You ask a good question here. James Lehman talks about creating a culture of accountability between you and your child. This is basically an understanding of “This is how you treat me; this is how I treat you. These are the rules that you are responsible for following, and this is how I will hold you accountable to them.” You cannot control what happens outside of your home, or what happens at the home of another parent. You also cannot control how another parent responds to their child. You can do some problem solving with your child about what s/he can do when at the other parent’s home and how they can handle different situations that come up. We also recommend setting some limits with your child about their behavior. For example, you might say, “Talking like that is against the rules of this house. You may be able to talk like that to Dad (or Mom), however, in this house, we don’t swear at each other.” If you are concerned about your child’s safety while visiting the other parent, we encourage you to reach out to local supports to help you. A good place to start is www.211.org. 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. I am including a link to an article you might find helpful: How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

    I need advice. My wife is not getting along with my daughter from previous marriage who is now 18. My daughter's mom is an ex addict and put us through hell. Needless to say, my wife hates my ex wife. My wife basically raised my 3 kids. She had one younger daughter when we married. They are all teens now. When my daugher turned 18 9 months ago, she got a tattoo. Her mom took her. My ex wife lied to us at first and said she did not take her. Now, her reason is that my daughter would have gotten the tatto anyways and she wanted to make sure that she got the tattoo at a nice shop. Anyways, my wife was really hurt by the lies from my daughter and their relationshi went down hill since. My wife gave my daughter the silence treatment for almost a couple of months. I finally had to say something to my wife which did not go well. Now, every time there is a disagreement regarding my oldest daughter, my wife brings up the tattoo thing and says that my daughter never apologized even though I was there when my daughter did apologize. My wife can't get over the fact that my daughter lied to her about how she got the tattoo. My wife keeps saying that my duaghter should be the one to make things better by acting remorseful, but I seee it different. I think that my wife should make the effort to make things better since she is the parent and she raised my daughter after all. I dont see love between them like it used to be, and I think it was due to my wife pushing my daughter away for so long after the tattoo. Its a little more complicated than that, but maybe you can give some advice.

    Comment By : at odds parent

    * To 'at odds parent': It sounds like you are in a tough spot between your wife and your daughter and wanting to support both of them in this disagreement. We recommend talking with your wife in private about any disagreements that you might have over your oldest daughter, and redirecting to the issue at hand. Ultimately, it is going to be helpful to focus on what each of you can control-namely, yourselves. You cannot control your wife, your ex-wife or your daughter; you can only control yourself and your own responses. That same fact applies to your wife and your daughter. It is going to be up to your wife and your daughter to put in the work to fix their relationship. I am including a link to an article I think you might find helpful, and you might want to consider sharing this with your wife: Fighting with Your Teen? What to Do After the Blowout: 7 Steps to Defuse the Tension. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

    What to do?- my son is trying to get a tattoo he is 17 and this is something we do not support? we feel he is making a premature choice..any advise/any resources we can use. Thanks

    Comment By : mom in md

    * To ‘mom in md’: This is a very difficult situation, not only because of your son’s age but because of the clash with your values and the permanency of his decision should he decide to follow through! James does recommend that you set firm boundaries on things that relate to personal safety but to try to be more flexible with boundaries around self-expression such as hair, clothes, etc. He also talks a lot about picking your battles. If this is a topic that you feel is really non-negotiable for you (and it sounds like it is), what you might do is focus on how you can hold your son accountable if he decides to get a tattoo. This means to accept that you won’t be able to stop him if this is what he really wants, which is really tough to do. The best thing to do is focus on what you can control which might mean taking a look at what privileges you provide like a cell phone, gas money, car insurance, or a car to name a few examples. Pick one and let him know that if he decides to get a tattoo, you will no longer provide that privilege to him because tattoos are not allowed in your home. Once you set that limit, it’s best to try to stay quiet on the issue. If you overstate your opposition and frequently tell him how against this you are, it might simply motivate him even more to get this tattoo done. If you take the power out of it, you might reduce the appeal it has to him currently and he might make a better choice. We know this is really challenging and we wish your family luck as you work through this. Take care.

    Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

    How do I keep my sanity dealing with 2 very rude and disespectful teenage girls. One is 19 the other is 16. Neither live with us but walk into our house like they own it. Disrespect is constant to the point where I have now told them that until they learn to behave accordingly they are not welcome in our home. Its very hard when the rest of the family (Aunts and Grandparents) continually make excuses for their behaviour. I am tired of being the "bad guy" when all I want is for them to understand that outside of our home they can act how they wish (and suffer any consequences for it) but inside our home they cant.

    Comment By : Ruth

    * To “Ruth”: Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I can hear how challenging this behavior is for you. The way you are responding is spot on for what we would suggest. You are correct in setting the limit for how you expect them to behave while in your home. You can’t make them be respectful but you can establish expectations for their behavior and then hold them accountable when they don’t meet those expectations. Good for you for not making excuses for their behavior. As difficult as it may be to not allow them in your house when they are being disrespectful, making excuses for them is not going to help them in the long run. As to how you can keep your sanity in these situations we would suggest finding ways of taking care of yourself. Find some things you can do to stay calm and recharge when your daughters’ behaviors are causing you distress. A great article for how to remain calm when your children are pushing your buttons is Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child's Behavior Make You Crazy. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this trying situation.

    Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

    My 16 yo daughter and I were on our own for nearly 14 years, although several of those years we lived with my parents. Now, we are living with my boyfriend for 1.5 years. She absolutely refuses to show any type of gratitude toward anything he does for her/us. When he paid for her 16th birthday dinner she had to be forced to say thank you. When he gave her his laptop the same thing happend. This also goes on for the little, day-to-day things. She was never like this before. Is this a normal part of teenage development or should we be taking a deeper look?

    Comment By : kati

    * To “kati”: Thank you for asking such a great question. It can be extremely frustrating when your child doesn’t seem to be grateful or appreciative of the things you or others do for her. It’s not unusual for teens to be less appreciative of their parents than when they were younger. As adolescents develop, they begin to gradually separate from their parents. This separation can take on many different forms, from not wanting to spend as much time with their parents and family to not being as respectful of them. Even if it is a normal part of teen development, it doesn’t mean the behavior is OK. We would suggest continuing to give her reminders to thank the person who has given her the gifts. You might also sit down with her and discuss your family’s expectations around thanking people when they do something special for you. Keep in mind, you may need to remind her over and over again. As Janet Lehman advises in her article A Message from Janet Lehman: Does Parenting Feel Like a Thankless Job? (Then Read This.), most of the time, you can’t really expect appreciation from you child for the things you do. Those thanks will come a bit later. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to address this issue. Take care.

    Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

    I'm stuck in a bad situation and don't know what I should do. Me and my ex fiance are separating and I have been a homemaker to my son and his 3 boys that are ages my son is 7 his are now 16,15,11. his 11 yr old and my 7 yr old are best buddies. My son doesn't want to leave his dad or brothers should I keep them in my son's life or should I keep them out of our lives. I don't want to hurt my son any more so I need advise what would be the best thing for my son?

    Comment By : 2twocent

    * To “2twocent”: Thank you for sharing your story with us. I can understand your indecision when trying to figure out which option is going to be the best choice in the long run. There isn’t a right or wrong answer; it’s more about what’s going to work best for you and your family. It might be helpful to take some time to think about the possible pros and cons of each choice and then make your decision. Keep in mind this is going to be a transition for everyone, not just you and your ex-fiancé. It’s going to be beneficial to give everyone some time to adjust to the changes and new routines. We wish everyone luck as you work through this challenge. Take care.

    Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

    Iam a step parent to a 6 year old boy. He has just recently in the last 7 months come to live with us. He was taken away from his mom by social severices. He has an older brother who is 10 living with his bio dad. My step son didn't have a lot of structure and discipline in his mothers home. At times his 10year old brother watched him more than his mom. He is very disrespectful to me and gets very angry when he's asked to do something he doesn't want to do. I feel bad i know i can't blame him but i get so frustrated at the lack that his mother showed.. He was subject to maybe horrible things at his moms drug,bad boyfriends and more. I need advice i wanna help him become a more respectful person to me /others, manage his anger/frustration and help him to understand why he needs structure.

    Comment By : kaylee234

    * To kaylee234: It sounds like your stepson has been through a lot so far in his young life, and he is lucky to have people who are able to give him the skills and care he needs. James Lehman reminds us that kids act out because they do not have effective problem-solving skills, and the acting out behavior has worked for them in the past. It might be helpful for you to talk about his anger in terms of what he does when he is angry, and what he can do differently so that he is following your rules around respect. Incentives tend to work well for younger kids when learning new responses, so you might consider using a behavior chart to help track his progress. It’s pretty normal for kids to reject structure, especially if it’s something they are not used to. We recommend focusing on following the rules of the house, not getting him to understand why there are rules. I am including links to other articles I think you might find helpful. Take care and we wish you the best.
    Angry Child Outbursts: The 10 Rules of Dealing with an Angry Child
    Consistent Parenting: Unlock the Secret

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

    Hi. I have three teenage children. Two of them do not give my fiance any respect. The issue in the past has been their mother, my ex, telling lies about my fiance and myeslf. We have been together for over 5 years and still the children ignore my fiance and act as if she is not present. This is very upsetting for both of us. In the past my attitude has been that they will grow up and mature and accept that Mum and Dad are no longer together and they both have new partners now. What suggestions would you have for getting come change in their behaviour so that they at least give my fiance some respect?

    Comment By : JohnJ

    * To JohnJ: It can be incredibly frustrating when your children refuse to acknowledge your current partner, especially when you have been together for a while and plan to be together long-term. It is normal for kids to feel loyalty to their biological parents, and to show that loyalty by behaving rudely to a parent’s new partner. It will be more helpful for you to define what you mean by respect in terms of behavior, rather than a feeling. For example, you might have house rules that spell out no swearing, no name calling and doing things the first time you are asked. You cannot make your children feel respect for your fiancée; however, you can hold them accountable if they choose to behave in disrespectful ways. I am including links to some articles you might find helpful as you continue to work through this, and we wish you the best.
    Disrespectful Kids and Teens: 5 Rules to Help You Handle Their Behavior
    How to Create a Culture of Accountability in Your Home

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

    My husband and I married 4 years ago. At that time, my daughter was 12. She loved her step-dad and they got along great for a while. We have both explained that he is not trying to be her father, but is an authority figure and she has to listen to him as she would me. She is now 17. We don’t really have any problems with her except her lying, disrespectful attitude, irresponsibility and her amazing ability to deflect blame. The 3 of us were arguing the other night and she told us that she didn’t like my husband. Actually she said that she “couldn’t tolerate” him. She said that he isn’t her father and she doesn’t like that he tries to discipline her, especially when her father doesn’t do it. She also said that I always take his side and she never gets to spend alone time with me. She seems to have a hard time comprehending things. She takes what we say and pulls out the words she wants to hear and twists things around. The only time my husband and I argue is over her and her discipline. I’m at a loss, and don’t know what to do. Is this normal teenage behavior?

    Comment By : dvarvel

    I enjoy your articles and have found many helpful with my parenting. I have a blended family myself-My own son from previous marriage, a stepdaughter from my husbands previous marriage, and we have a 3 year old together. My son's father is not in his life, however my stepdaughter sees her mother for regular visitation. I have raised my stepdaughter for 7 years (since she was 2) and her mother just now decided to start regular visitation... it is awkward for my 9 year old step daughter, and now she has figured out when she sees her mother she can have everything she wants, even if it is an inappropriate item her dad and I have said no to. HELP!!!

    Comment By : marie284

    * To marie284: Thank you for writing in and your kind words. It is not uncommon for kids to figure out that there are different rules and expectations at different houses. Unfortunately, you cannot control what happens when your stepdaughter visits her mom; you can control what your house rules and expectations are. James Lehman calls this “creating a culture of accountability.” We recommend responding to your stepdaughter talking about rules at mom’s house in a very matter of fact, objective way; for example, “That’s great that you are allowed to do x at your mom’s house. In this house, you are not allowed to do x, and if you choose to do x here, there will be consequences.” Megan Devine discusses this more in her article How to Control Your Kids Outside of the House (Hint: You Can't) We wish you the best as you continue to work through this.

    Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

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