Even in the early stages of your relationship with a divorced Dad, you’re warned early and often “it’s not your job to punish the kids.” Followed up with the unnecessary reminder “they’re not your kids.”
Yet, once you become a stepmom, you’re expected to contribute to the care and feeding of your stepchildren. And love them like your own.
In fact, many stepmoms spend more time with their stepchildren than either biological parent.
It’s not fair to Stepmom or the kids to leave them in the care of someone lacking the authority of a biological parent, or even that of a teacher or childcare provider.
We’re told to leave the discipline to Dad. Sounds good in theory, right?
Truth be told, many dads feel too guilty to discipline the kids, or they’re afraid the kids won’t want to visit if he comes down on them.
It’s a crappy role for you to be in, and for the kids.
Despite all of this, in most instances, I agree it’s best to avoid punishing your stepkids.
As a stepmom your relationship with the kids is fragile, especially in the beginning. Kids are not born with an innate need for you the way they are for their biological parents.
But, don’t fret, you CAN influence their behavior without punishment.
You do this by focusing on connection. Once connection is established, you’re in a position to influence. And the role of an influencer is far more powerful role than a disciplinarian.
Here are 3 strategies for successfully influencing your child’s behavior, without punishment:
1. Make them feel important.
Overall, our culture lacks respect for children.
Kids aren’t allowed to show disappointment when they’re told no. It’s considered disrespectful for them to challenge an adult’s thinking.
If they’re in school, young kids are even told how to sit (criss cross applesauce) and to “catch a bubble” when walking the halls or during story time as a way of keeping them quiet.
Imagine if you were treated like that day in day out.
What would your response be to that one person in your world who actually encourages you to talk about yourself, empowers you to express yourself, and offers you undivided attention?
Are you going to turn your back on that one person who acknowledges you’re important? No way. You’re going to want to please that person, as much as they please you.
Research shows talking, tweeting or facebooking about ourselves is more rewarding than food and money. Be one of the few adults in their world who takes the time to make them feel important.
2. Validate their feelings.
When encouraging them to talk about themselves, you’re job is to put your ego aside. Don’t judge their statements as right or wrong, simply seek to understand. Connect without an agenda.
The stronger your connection, the more likely they are to come to you and ask for help when they get older and are confronted with big, scary decisions.
Until they come to you for advice your job is to show interest, ask questions and encourage critical thinking.
If they’re sharing something positive with you, ask them to tell you every detail. Celebrate with them.
“I’m so happy for you! Tell me all about it, don’t leave out any details!”
If they’re sharing something upsetting, label their feelings and paraphrase back what you think you heard.
“That must have made you feel so sad when they wouldn’t let you sit with them.”
By validating their feelings, you’ll be a safe person for them to come running to in times of need. Or when they feel guilt or shame for misbehaving.
3. Communicate boundaries using “I” statements.
The most compassionate people in the world have strong boundaries. Without strong boundaries, we quickly become depleted, unable to offer empathy.
Being a good stepmom is emotionally demanding, and the last thing your family needs is you playing the part of the sacrificial lamb.
Boundaries are guidelines on how we are to be treated. Holding a boundary requires action on our part. We can do this without disciplining another.
If you had plans to take your stepdaughter out and she’s behaving disrespectfully towards you, you hold your boundary by stating what need is not being met, and what action is required to meet that need. Such as:
“When I ask something of you and you ignore me or roll your eyes, my need for respect is not being met. If we’re going to continue with our plans, I need to know I’ll be treated with respect. Going forward, please be kind with your words.”
By focusing on your needs, instead of criticizing your child, the child is able to hear you without feeling defensive. You’ve also clearly stated what behavior is required of her to meet your need for respect.
If she ignores your request, you have the option of canceling your plans. She’s experiencing a natural consequence of being rude to another, and it doesn’t require you to control her behavior.
With that said, pick your battles, pre-teens and teens are age appropriately moody and hormonal, and they’re unable to control every impulse. Just keep prioritizing connection over control and you’re on your way to being an influencer.
1. Make her feel important by being a good listener: Ask her for details. Match her emotions. If she’s excited, be excited. If she’s sad, offer empathy.
2. Validate her feelings: Paraphrase back what you heard. Don’t offer advice unless asked.
3. Communicate boundaries with “I” statements: Describe the offensive behavior, state what need is not being met, follow up with action she can take to meet your need.