How To Deal With A Stepchild Who Is Difficult – It’s Common

how to deal with a stepchild who is difficult

Is your stepchild giving you a hard time? Sure he is; why else would you be here? Parenting is without a doubt the most challenging job in the world, but parenting stepchildren takes on a whole new level of difficulty. Not everyone can take it.

Dealing with your stepchild is a tricky business. With all the tantrums and rudeness coming your way, it becomes hard to understand what you did wrong to deserve this. Believe me—it’s not you.

While you want to take every measure to both discipline your stepchildren and make them fall in love with you, you have numerous challenges due to the awkward nature of this relationship. 

What should you do in this situation? 

How do you manage a healthy relationship with your stepchild? And above all, how do you keep your marriage from getting influenced by this relationship? These are the thoughts that occur to you almost on a daily basis. 

You must be filled with numerous questions and doubts and it’s easy to fall apart and give up hope. Don’t get overwhelmed. Dealing with stepchildren is hard but not impossible. 

It is natural that your stepchildren will see you as an outsider and start acting out when they have to share their parent’s love with you. However, you can teach them to be respectful and make this relationship bearable through time and effort.

Are you ready to make those efforts?

Step Parenting a Difficult Child

Step-parenting is an uphill task. Stepchildren give a tough time to their parent’s new spouse due to the changes that have occurred in their lives in a short time: they may have lost a parent and now they have a new one. While you try everything you know to make your stepchildren happy, you cannot replace their biological parent.

Boys are notably harder to handle. They need their mom or dad all the time. They are fussy and needy and they want the world to act on their whims. 

Whether boys or girls, all kids of a young age need solid engagement, especially those from broken families. You have to keep them busy so that their newly formed ideas do not materialize into overthinking and giving you a hard time. You should involve their biological parents as much as you can in their activities. 

They shouldn’t feel lonely or as if you are deliberately trying to make them adapt to a new life. They should accept you willingly. As the child grows with you, he will start to understand his new life and stop being so harsh towards you.

Is it OK To Not Like Your Stepchild?

Reality check: your stepchild is probably going to resent you. Usually, resentment is very common at the beginning of a step relationship. For you, resenting your troublesome stepchild is also very common.

A child’s behavior changes as soon as he realizes that there is another adult in the house besides his biological parent. They see you as a challenge, probably someone who has more authority than them. If they are teenagers, they are going to be paranoid that you are going to keep an eye on them. 

They don’t know the person who has just come to live with them. They have no idea why that new person is sharing their comfort space and home. Most of the time, this resentment breeds mistrust of this new entity (i.e. you) in the child’s life, and it is completely understandable. You have to earn your stepchild’s trust first. 

Parenting fact 101: your tactics won’t always work. You will have to put in a lot of effort and truly earn the respect of your stepchildren. Similarly, you cannot immediately love them unconditionally. Love will only come with time and patience. Till then, you can dislike them as much as you want, just be responsible for them when your spouse leaves them to you.

Is it Normal To Resent Stepchildren?

Don’t be so hard on yourself when you don’t like your stepchild. At times, biological parents even get sick of their children as parenting is hard. If your stepchildren are rude to the extent that you feel hatred boiling up inside you, believe me when I say that it is very normal.

This relationship doesn’t necessarily demand love but mutual respect. You cannot make a young child love you unconditionally, for you are not his/her biological parent. As a stepparent, the best you can do is let them know that you will be respecting their boundaries and try to make family life easier for both of you. In return, all you demand is respect.

Teenagers will be better able to understand this but only in time. Younger kids have to grow up with you to create better bonding and understanding. You can make an arrangement in your house to achieve a peaceful environment for both yourself and your stepchild without creating a loving relationship.

Why Are Stepchildren So Difficult?

Why Are Stepchildren So Difficult?

At times, children suffer from the emotional trauma of their broken homes. It is not easy for them to move on quickly. You need to empathize with them. They were victims of the emotional trauma of a failed marriage at an early age.

You have to adopt a different style for each age group. Emotional trauma exists for a teenager, but when dealing with a toddler, you will have to become accustomed to his/her unique needs and routine. 

Young kids are extremely sensitive and selective when it comes to picking their favorite people, especially within blended families. They will instantly mark you if you don’t appear fun enough to them. You will have to act like both a biological parent and a friend to get to know their habits and do what they like.

Toddlers may throw tantrums from time to time. However, it is easy to win them over as they have a little mind of their own and do not understand the complexities of life as teenagers do. They are more flexible to change than young adults, but you must win them over with care and kindness.

How Do You Deal With A Disrespectful Stepchild?

Having difficult stepchildren is not uncommon. You don’t have to be lenient to win your stepchild over. You must set healthy boundaries if you want your relationship with your stepchild to work. Disrespectful behavior should not be tolerated at any cost.

But how, exactly, can you keep your stepchildren in line without becoming the bad guy? There are ways that can lead you to forge a successful relationship.

Of course, you will not instantly become the most important person for your stepchild. Blended families don’t work like that, but you will be able to create a healthy relationship in your own home.

Teenager Strategy

Remember how hard it was to be a teen? Dealing with school, social pressures, hormones, and zero understanding of what was to come next. Now combine that with a nasty divorce. How does that sound? Brutal, right? That’s exactly how your teenage stepchild is feeling right now.

Your stepchild was already facing the toughest decisions of his/her life. Peer pressures and career tensions, parental divorce, and remarriage rocking the world for him/her can make things seem absolutely insane. Naturally, you will see them flip out. That’s the normal reaction.

You must empathize with the child. He/she is having a hard time. Try to use the following strategies to help him/her out of this hard phase:

  1. Talk With Them

Your stepchild is misbehaving and doesn’t listen to you? At times children don’t understand new parenting styles, and it becomes hard for them to adapt to the changes in their house. Talk to them. Find out their reservations, and then work on your ways.

Even if you are not doing anything wrong and the child is misconstruing your behavior, let them know calmly that it is for their own good. Even if they don’t understand it, try to accommodate them in any other way. Remember, you must be flexible and bend your will if you want to survive a blended family.

Moreover, letting your stepchildren express themselves will give them a positive image of you. It will tell them that you are a sensible and respectful adult, not a dictator trying to sabotage their life. 

Communication is the key. If they are better able to express themselves, there will surely be fewer problems. Talk and discuss as much as you can. Hold weekly family meetings if you have to, but talk to be on the same page.

  1. Set Boundaries

Rules give foundation to any home. All children need to have some boundaries that they shouldn’t be allowed to cross. Your stepchild may have been spoiled as a consolation when their biological parents split, but you cannot let that routine go on.

House rules may make you unpopular with your stepchild; however, you have to make difficult decisions if you want your stepchild to turn out as a good person.

If they don’t follow the given boundaries, you can decline any of their realistic requests till the time that they behave. You can also turn this into a kind of reinforcement where you reward good behaviors with small treats or things your teenager wants.

  1. Give Personal Space

Having a close relationship doesn’t mean you are going to invade your stepchild’s privacy. Even your biological children will not forgive that. They need personal space as well as space with their biological parent.

What you need to do is accept and acknowledge that your spouse and your stepchild need time together without getting jealous of them being together. If you do this, your stepchild will start to see you as a facilitator and start to respect your own time with your spouse. This is not going to happen magically, but at least you will know that you did the right thing.

  1. Try Counseling

A family therapist will counsel both you and your stepchild. You should try to make them understand the situation politely. Let them know that you and the biological parent are going to go to all lengths to make the stepchild feel comforted.

If your stepchild is resentful towards a parent who left, try to help them understand. Allow them to see and acknowledge the hardships of a parent’s life; only after doing that will they be able to understand your situation and be respectful towards you.

  1. Try New Things

Changing your ways with your stepchild can prove extremely beneficial. At times, you may take advice from another stepparent and apply their strategy to your household, and it leaves everybody more miserable than before. 

This is because not every strategy works for all blended families. Each family is different as each stepchild is different from the other. Instead of getting quack advice, try and implement your own strategies based on your family’s needs. Modify them as you go. If one strategy doesn’t work, do not despair; another one will.

You can take advice from a family therapist, too, as he must be aware of your stepchild’s circumstances. Whatever he suggests will surely work out.

Toddler Strategy

You can make teens understand your point of view, but for toddlers, you have to be extra cautious. Below are some things to keep in mind when dealing with toddlers as stepchildren.

  1. Meeting Physical Needs

Toddlers are fussier than everyone else because they are the pampered royalty of the house. Dealing with them isn’t a piece of cake, but it isn’t emotionally complicated. Toddlers usually just want their basic needs fulfilled. Most of the time, toddlers cry or make a fuss because their physical needs aren’t met. Either they are hungry or sleepy or just want play time with you.

The difficult part for you is to point out what they need at a specific time. Once you can successfully diagnose their problem, it will take no time to remedy it. We are not suggesting that toddlers will not give you a hard time. However, they can become accustomed to having you around during meals and playing. This will make them realize that you are their groupie, and they will become softer towards you.

  1. Meeting Emotional Needs

Toddlers, as mentioned before, are used to having their way. They are known to throw tantrums and fry your brain if you fail to fulfill their emotional needs. Yes, there are needs beyond the physical ones.

You need to show your presence to your stepchild. Toddlers need to feel that more because they are unable to fully express their own feelings. Spend one on one time with them. Tell them stories. Train them in overcoming their fears.

You can also read them stories and show your care through certain toddler activities to keep them mentally engaged. Encourage good behavior and shun bad behavior in a positive way.

Keeping Your Spouse in the Loop

Both you and your spouse may need additional help when dealing with your stepkid’s life. If you are having parenting issues or life is extremely difficult due to disobedience and disrespect of your stepson or stepdaughter, you can always resort to family therapy.

Your spouse is the biological parent and therefore has the trust and confidence of the child. Moreover, he understands his children completely due to years of experience living together. He will be better able to deal with the child.

If the child disrespects you, you don’t have to deal with it alone. You can always ask for your spouse’s assistance. Don’t be a nagging stepparent; instead, explain to them your efforts and how those efforts are not working and that they should take over.

When it comes to giving punishment, your spouse should be fully involved in order for your child to understand that you are not targeting him.

The most important thing you need to do is to be on the same page with your spouse. You may have different expectations from family life. Whatever differences may occur, you have to project a united front for the sake of your family. Don’t let that image of the family strength break. Instead, let your stepchild know that all of you are a part of the same team; therefore, you must act in order to make each other happy.

Once a child starts to feel that he/she belongs, he/she will definitely make efforts to contribute to the family.

Things You Should Never Do With Your Stepchild

While there are strategies you should follow and things that you must do to earn your stepchild’s confidence, there are also numerous aspects of this relationship you must consider and avoid. These step-parent’s don’ts include the following:

  1. Avoid Swift Change

A child is already undergoing a lot when you make an entry into their lives as a step-parent. Dealing with their parent’s divorce, a new family, a new parent, and possibly new siblings is all extremely overwhelming for a young soul.

In this respect, you should empathize with your stepchild and not try to uproot their entire existence on the first day. Making your place in your new home is all about making gradual changes. If you don’t take the opinion of your stepchild before imposing new rules in his house, he might start feeling like an outsider and possibly isolated. This will not help matters in any way.

If the child wants to visit his biological parent or wishes to have more time with your spouse, you must give it to him instead of imposing a new fixed routine. Otherwise, the consequences will be devastating. To avoid that, avoid quick changes in the house.

  1. Defer to Your Spouse

You can make rules in your new home. However, you shouldn’t be the only one imposing those rules. If you punish your stepchildren for rule-breaking, they will not only see you as the enemy but also manipulate the situation in front of your spouse. 

To avoid that, leave the consequences of rule-breaking to your child’s biological parent. Let them know what their child has been up to. Taking a more passive role in this regard will prove beneficial as the children won’t feel attacked.

  1. Don’t Mind Much!

It is really easy for you to judge your stepchildren for their bad behavior. Their attacks, their disobedience, and their disrespect all feel very personal when, in fact, they are all normal reactions to a bitter divorce. These poor souls need space and time to think and accept the new reality.

If it is the very beginning of your marriage, we suggest you ignore their outbursts. Just don’t mind their bad behavior. It is not of their making but rather a way of catharsis. If time passes and they are still not making an effort to be respectful, it is then time to talk to your spouse. Discuss with them that the kids are causing you hurt and you have to put your foot down.

You must remember one thing: even if you do everything right, something is bound to go south. Children are very unpredictable, and if they don’t like you, they won’t easily grow out of that phase. Your ultimate bet is to try to minimize the impact of that dislike.

Let’s Deal With Your Stepchild

The point of this entire discussion is that you will be facing difficulties as a stepparent. It is hard to make your stepchildren understand that you are working towards their better present and future. You can always make constructive efforts to let them see you as a friend more than an authority figure. 

Beware, children are extremely sensitive and need all the physical and emotional care they can get in the world. You might be in a step-relationship, but at least for the child, you are present as a responsible adult. 

A stepparent is better than an absent parent. Whatever you do, make efforts, empathize, give them space and acknowledge their presence in the house. You will definitely earn their trust and love and create a long-lasting bond of friendship.

Stephanie Edenburgh

I'm Steph, a mom to 3 beautiful children and lover all things having to do with my family and being a mom. I've learned a lot raising my own children and working in education and healthcare roles throughout my career. Living in beautiful Southern California I enjoy documenting and writing about all of the hard work us mom's do on a daily basis.

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