Don’t be the evil step-parent


BEING a step-parent is without a doubt hard. You will find yourself treading in uncertain territory when dealing with your stepchildren and disciplining and parenting your step-children can sometimes be complicated, especially when they are being difficult. How do you instill discipline without being hated or labelled as the mean step-mom when your step children are ill-mannered? Move! speaks to Wilma Calvert, a counsellor at The Family Life Centre (Famsa), on ways to reprimand your step-children and still have a healthy relationship with them.


Wilma emphasises that every household needs rules, and children, whether they are yours or not, should follow these rules. Setting up rules in your home is fundamental in them learning how to act appropriately as adults. “Society operates on a system of behavioral guidelines and one of the most important tasks of parents is to prepare their children to become well-functioning members of society and that training begins in the home. Teaching children to speak and behave in a manner that honours other people helps them understand appropriate behaviour, as well as gives them a base of self-respect and good impulse control,” says Wilma. “Children can and should be encouraged to express their emotions, but it is important that they learn to do so without hurting others. Disrespectful back talking, refusal to comply with house rules or selfish expectations are all examples of habits that children can easily acquire if their parents or step-parents do not show them that this behavior will not be tolerated. Children need to have a clear idea of what is expected of them and they must also be made aware of the consequences, should they choose to behave otherwise,” an extract from a website called Empowering Parents reads.


As the biological parent, you should be on the same page with your partner to ensure discipline measures are properly implemented in your home. Wilma also states that stepparents who have the support of the biological parents will have it easier when reprimanding the children. “A parenting plan is of vital importance. This places all those involved, biological or step-parents, as well as the children, on the same page. Included in this plan would be discipline measures to be taken and the roles of the step-parents. In essence, both sets of parents then speak the ‘same language’,” says Wilma. “Step-parents who have the support of their partners have a much better chance of getting the step-children to treat them with respect and comply with house rules than those whose spouses fail to stand up and make their positions clear. In the beginning, children may be more prone to take instructions from their biological parent rather than from a step-parent, who they may view as an unwelcomed intruder. The adults in the home need to decide on a set of rules for the children and then present them together, sending the message that stubborn or disrespectful behaviour will not be accepted by either parent.”


Wilma says using a harsh method of disciplining your children will not get you the respect you want from them. Instead, talking to them will work out better for you and them. She adds that most of the time, cancelling a few privileges works wonders. “The discipline has to be administered in a calm and kind manner. The older children can be included in finding solutions to resolve issues. Cancelling privileges like watching TV or denying them their pocket money are some measures that could be implemented. Regular communication helps to facilitate better relationships,” she says.


Wilma says teaching your children respect requires that they be disciplined in a kind and respectful manner. “Children may learn a bit from listening to a list of rules, but they are more heavily influenced by observing the important adults in their lives. Gentle, yet firm guidance will help your children understand that they do not need to behave in a disrespectful way in order to be noticed and understood,” she says. She says one of the responsibilities of every parent is to provide constant discipline, but for step-parents, who may hope to become the child's friend as well as a parental figure, finding a balance can take some time. As a step-parent, it is important that you also play a role in disciplining the children. “If the children have not been properly prepared for the changes, there could be problems. Stepmothers particularly have a bad reputation.”

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