You’ve married the love of your life. You’re ready to step into a new role and move into the next phase of your life. The only problem is your wife has an oppositional defiant child and you’re a new step-father. You didn’t create the oppositional defiant child. Your step-child’s behavior up until this point is not your fault, but you still can’t help noticing the stares you get from the people next to you at the grocery store while your oppositional defiant step-child has a tantrum. So what do you do? How do you step into the role of being a step-father?
The first step in learning to discipline an oppositional defiant step-child is to NOT discipline the child. You are not the child’s parent. You don’t have the natural bond that the child has with his or her biological parents. Your new wife may be expecting you to suddenly take up the role of disciplinarian, but that is a recipe for disaster.
The first thing you need to do is develop a positive parenting relationship with your new step-child. Figure out what it is that your step-child likes to do and participate in those activities with the child. Say your step-son plays baseball. Even if you don’t like baseball, attend his games. After the game take him out for ice cream. Tell him what a good job he did. Show your new step-child that you’re interested in him. Play with your new step-child. If you both love video games, play a video game together. Let him show you how to beat a game (Even if you’ve already beaten the game yourself 20 times!)
The key to ultimately being able to help manage your oppositional defiant step-child is to build a Positive Parenting relationship from the start. You need to take the back seat when it comes to disciplining your step-child until you’ve solidified a positive parenting relationship with the child. A positive parenting relationship with your step-child should start with showing your step-child that you are genuinely interested in him and then move on to a place of mutual respect.
Need more ideas on how to create a positive parenting environment in your new blended family? Becoming a Great Step-Dad offers some realistic advice for your role as a new step-dad from a new step-dad.
- Don’t be Dad. Your step children (in most cases) already have a father. Whatever you do, don’t try to step into his place! And don’t’ ask them to call you “Dad.” And don’t ever badmouth their dad, no matter how much you don’t like him.
- Be a Dad. While insisting on being called “Dad” is a bad idea, that doesn’t excuse you from actually being a father-figure. Act responsibly, be there for the kids when they need you, share their joys and sorrows with them, build them up as much as you can, help them with their homework, offer advice, explain how things work, organize their day, and so on — all the things you’d do if you were their actual father.
- Have one-on-one time. It’s easy to avoid getting close to your step-children; take some time alone with your step-children to interact with them as individuals instead of just as a “family”.
- Don’t talk down to them. Involve the kids in decisions, let them know what is going on each day, and just generally treat them with respect in conversations.
- You’re in this together, you and your step-children — both of you have to work out the whole step-relationship thing, and it’s not easy. Make sure you listen and respond to their concerns.
- Take cues from mom. Keep in mind that mom and your step-kids have worked out a living arrangement over years that may not make much sense to you at first but which makes sense to them. Deal with major disagreements out of earshot of the kids.
- Can’t Buy Me Love. Don’t try to win them over with gifts. Most kids are pretty savvy and will end up using your over-eagerness to manipulate you. Plus, you’ll rest your relationship on a foundation that you can’t possibly keep up — eventually you’ll run out of gifts to give.
- Be open about your life, career, likes and dislikes, and interests — and make an effort to learn about theirs. Take part in their activities and involve them in yours.
Step-fathers have a lot going against them when they first become part of a blended family. The key to building long-term success in your role as a new step-father is to make the parenting as positive as possible from the start. As the years go by and your step-child learns to respect you, the discipline will naturally fall in place.