Problem Stepchildrenby Janece Bass
Every family has its own trials and tribulations. Dealing with stepchildren is different from dealing with your own biological children -- no matter how much you may love your stepchild or want to help. Some children may exhibit problem behavior as a way of dealing with his new family setup. Dealing with a problematic stepchild can ultimately destroy your relationship with your spouse, break apart your family or cause you all to find a way to weather the storm and allow you to become a loving, connected family.
Types of Problems
The type of problem your stepchild is having is a major point to consider. Is she suddenly acting out, rebelling against everything you say and do when you used to get along? She may be having issues other than adjusting to you. For example, she may have problems with her friends. If the whole relationship is new, she may be testing you and her biological parent to see where she fits in. She may feel like she has to compete with you for love and attention. Talk to other parents or read parenting material to see if her problem behavior is typical for her age.
On the other hand, if her grades have plummeted, she's breaking curfew, sleeping around, cutting herself, getting tattoos or piercings or exhibiting signs of eating disorders, she is suffering from a major issue and needs immediate help. The cause could be your marriage -- especially if you have just said "I do" -- or it could be something completely different. Either way, you and your partner need to deal with the issue with her and a professional. Include her other biological parent, if possible.
When Problems Arise
Consider the timing of his problematic behavior. If his behavior was troubling before you came into the picture, there may be larger things to consider, and professional help would likely benefit the entire family. His bad behavior can be a test of trying to see where he fits in if his behavior suddenly turned right after the wedding. His age may be a factor, as well. Adolescents tend to have more emotional issues and act out, no matter the family makeup. Figuring out what other factors may be contributing to his bad behavior can help you and your partner put an end to it by working through his problems with him.
Determine how much of an impact her problematic behavior will have on her future and the future of your family. If she's turned to cutting, drugs or illegal activities, it can impact all of you for the rest of your lives. Consider also that she may still be grieving a deceased parent and feels like you're trying to take the place of her mother. Even worse, she may feel guilty for liking or loving you, like she's betraying her mother.
Becoming a stepparent can be just as difficult as becoming a stepchild -- maybe even more so. You suddenly have to establish a relationship with a child, assert your authority and yet not push him away -- all at the same time. It's important to remember that his behavior may not be because of you, particularly if he's exhibited bad behavior before you entered the picture. Let him set the pace for your relationship, but constantly let him know you care for him and you'll be there for him. Insecurity can be a huge factor in a child's bad behavior.
Sit down with your partner to discuss your household rules and everyone's role in the home. Establishing rules and boundaries is important. The sooner you do this, the better. Include the child's other parent if possible, or keep the rules and boundaries the same across the board when possible. She's more likely to shape up if she sees a united front from all the adults involved, even if it isn't easy for you to sit down with your partner's ex.
You and your partner must always be a united pair. You overstepping your role or him undermining your authority will only serve to confuse her or give her fuel to flame the fire at home.
Seek professional help if her behavior is harmful to herself or anyone else. Family counseling and individual counseling may help everyone in the family come to an understanding.
- Helpguide.org: Stepparenting and Blended Family Advice
- Being a Stepparent: Working Through Your Problems with Your Step Children
- Cyberparent: 6 Common Stepfamily Conflicts
- "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting"; Ericka Lutz; 1998
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images