Episode 13: How Should Step-Parents Discipline?

Step-parents run into all kinds of situations at home.  Just because you’ve married into a new family, does not mean you get to be the enforcer.  This episode can help you get a handle on keeping the peace, without getting over your head.  I’m sharing tips on creating structure and setting boundaries in a new blended family.

In this episode, we talk about…

[1:29] Seeing the world through the child’s eyes

As someone who has been in middle and upper school classrooms as a teacher, and as someone who lives in a blended family household, I know that things can get very dramatic.  The drama can get under our skin, especially if we are step-parents or in a newly blended family. 

 Just know this: kids are doing their best to adjust.  They might shut down, or become uncommunicative or defiant, but they’re there.  As adults, we’re not doing them any favors if we force them to see the world for our eyes.  They have the right to see life through their eyes. If they live in two homes, they may get very different messages depending on where they are.


[2:11] Setting firm but gentle boundaries in the home

I think it’s really important to set firm, but gentle boundaries in the home.  But what if the house rules are established, and a child is acting out?  Does the step-parent have a right to discipline the child? How far is too far?  Experts will say, keep your side of the street clean.  If your stepchild acts out, it is not your right to hit, spank, or discipline severely.  I personally don’t advocate this parenting method at all, ever, so I want to reiterate: It is not your place to hit, push, or harm a child.  Yelling or screaming is not recommended either, but violence is a total stop for me.


[3:08] Who should dole out consequences

Be sure to communicate with the parent of origin when it comes to consequences.  It helps to have guidelines for how to regulate these house rules.  In our home, we talk about consequences and responsibility.  If you’re going to talk to me that way, there will be consequences.  For us, consequences usually involve removing access to devices.  If the step-parent is doling out consequences, however, it can backfire.  Keep your cool, even if it means you need to step away from a conversation when you are fired up.  You can also tell them that you want to hear what they have to say, but you need to cool down.  A simple, “I’m going to talk about this with your mom when she gets home,” can be a good place to start. 

This strategy avoids mistakes made out of frustration.  Respectful interactions are critical for everyone involved.   


[4:04] Relating to the child

It is important to build trust and cultivate a relationship with the child.  The “I heard you say” can go a long way here.  For example, you can tell the child, “I heard you say you hate school and I can’t make you go.”  You can then say something that helps them to relate to you, such as, “There were days when I hated school too.  It was so boring and the kids could be so annoying.”  Then pause and give them an opportunity to speak.

You want to make sure to keep things in “I” language:  “I wasn’t the best in math, and my math teacher was super mean, and I hated it.”  You might get silence in return, but you’ll probably notice a little softening of that hateful glare.  Being relatable takes you out of the line of fire.

I might say something like, “If you’re going to refuse to go to school, I’m going to have to call your dad, and that might not work out really well because there are going to be consequences.  So let’s just try to get through this day and make it to school, and talk afterwards if there is something you want to talk about.”  Listen, be relatable, and be the good coach you want to have on your team.  

The takeaways about step-parents disciplining are:

  • Don’t hit or spank your stepchild.  You don’t want them to be scared of you.
  • Listen.
  • Relate.
  • Defer to the parent of origin.
  • Establish house rules with consequences and stay consistent.


[5:54] Kids need consistent adults

That last point is crucial.  Kids need consistent adults.  If you say no gaming after 11PM and you let them do it anyway, they will take you for a ride every time.  You’ve got this, Solo Nation.  If it’s really overwhelming, find a good family therapist who can help you (and the rest of the family) learn to cope with the enormous tasks of step-parenting and blending a family.

Being a step-parent is not easy.  If you learn tools to keep the peace at home, however, it will pay off as time goes on.

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About author

Joly Herman

Editor-In Chief, Founder, and CEO of Solo Parent Magazine, Joly Herman is a writer and educator, who has been writing professionally for print and web publications since 1998. She was among the first television review editors at Common Sense Media, where she also served as a movie, DVD and book reviewer from 2004 to 2014. Having earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, Joly was a recipient of the Rackham Fellowship and taught undergraduate Creative Writing. She is a Montessori Primary Teacher who has headed classrooms in San Francisco, Kansas City, Berlin and Düsseldorf, Germany. An advocate for healthy children and healthy families, Joly founded Solo Parent, LLC in 2014 to promote the vision that all families be viewed as normal, that all families be seen as whole.

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