Getting Real With Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC

During summer break, it seems like kids get the “green light” to misbehave. For blended families with teenagers, it’s often twice the challenge to parent stepkids along with your own children. Stepchildren often don’t want to listen to their stepmom or stepdad, causing friction in the household. Sibling rivalry and conflict is also common when two families become one.

As a stepparent your role is a bit different from the parent.   Here are a few tips when it comes to disciplining stepkids and having a calm home during the summer break:

 1.       Establish rules. Present rules with the other parent so both your own children and your stepchildren know that they are expected to follow these rules. Say “no” when necessary–take a firm stand if it is in the child’s best interest. Before deciding a rule or how to discipline, discuss with the other parent first.

2.       Pause, breathe, and wait. Don’t immediately respond just because you’re in the heat of the moment. Take the time you need to gather your thoughts, ground yourself, and think about how you’ll handle the situation. Finding the space between your child’s action and your reaction allows you to calm down. Know when to step back and breathe, breathe, breathe at those times.

3.       Question instead of judge. When you are ready to talk (not scream), ask yourself, “What’s going on? How can I communicate in a calm way?” If your stepchild is still upset, say to him, “We’re not going to talk until you calm down. I’m going to give you time to think and we’ll talk later.” This way, both you and your child will have time to cool off and be proactive instead of reactive.

4.       Commit to getting calm. As the parent, it’s your responsibility to lead by example. If you’re calm, all your kids—biological and step—are more likely to calm down. Take charge and promise yourself you’ll no longer let yourself be emotionally pulled into arguments, even when your child is pushing your buttons. You’ll find that having that emotional distance allows you to be more objective and rational.

5.       Create structure. Kids often fight when they are bored and want to get a reaction, because getting that reaction (even if it’s negative) is a way of staying connected to you. Make it a goal to plan time when they are away from each other. Older teens can get a summer job and younger kids can enroll in a sport or camp. If they still argue (and they probably will from time to time), let them work their problems out alone. Simply say, “If you guys are going to fight, you need to do it in another room. I don’t want to hear the noise.” Keep in mind that for older teenagers, both parent and stepparent may need to be more consultants than managers with them.

Be there for your stepkids as a support and for guidance. Be a friend and that will help your stepkids eventually trust you and be willing to be influenced by you. Remember that good relationships take time to develop, so try not to expect instant love. Do, however, expect respect.

It is possible to reduce the stress in your household over the summer. Remember: The only person you have control of is yourself. So, take charge and commit to staying calm. It seems simple, but you will be surprised how kids will react. Calm is contagious, and if parents are calm, kids will soon learn how to better manage their emotions, too.

For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.