As a step-parent, discipline is one of the most challenging parts of dealing with your spouse’s children. Being able to discipline effectively starts with building a good relationship with your step-children. This is another challenge, but if you build a solid foundation, it will make your other obstacles much easier to deal with. A divorce and remarriage can be big changes for children, and you need to communicate how much you care for and support them.
Building rapport does mean always being their “buddy,” though. You have to establish boundaries early on that are clear, consistent and well defined. You have to be a parent first, then a friend. Start out with consistency, which is one of the primary keys to effective discipline. With your spouse, discuss what rules and boundaries the children are familiar with and make sure that both of you are on the same page. This way you can support each other and handle problems in a similar manner.
When you say you will do something, do it. When a child sees that you follow through with what you say, he or she will develop trust and respect for you. Threats and hollow promises quickly wear off, so make sure that whatever consequences you choose for a behavior are appropriate and that you carry them out. For example, if your step-child refuses to go to bed at a certain hour, you can have the consequence of removing television an hour earlier in the evening. With consistency, problems decrease in time.
With younger children, this is incredibly important. When you discipline a younger child, limit what you say and remember not to take what they say or do personally. Young children will sometimes say things like “I hate you,” or “You’re not my real dad.” Do not let these statements bother you, as the child does not really mean them and is dealing with their emotions the only way that they know how to. Stay calm, firm and use a consistent consequence, such as time out, until they are calm.
Another key aspect of effective discipline is communication. Get to know your step-children by talking with them often, spend time with them and learn about their interests. This helps you keep touch on their activities and on how they are doing. You will be able to detect problems before they get started and deal with them more effectively. Part of communication is setting clear expectations. Let the child know what your expectations are and remind him or her when a mistake is make. This helps the child be clear on what the boundaries are. Rules and consequences have to be communicated in a calm, consistent manner. If you get upset, the child will feed off of that and a power struggle will ensue.
A good way to learn how to effectively discipline step-children is to take a parenting class. These are offered through local community agencies and family support services. These will give you other techniques that are successful in a variety of circumstances. Take advantage of these resources and you will be surprised at what you can learn. With patience, a calm attitude and consistency you will become effective at dealing with your step-children’s behavior issues.