T Nation

Step Kids - Need Some Advice

I have a stepson who is six and another that is three.

The three year old is wonderful. He listens well and does what he is told. He genuinly wants to be a good kid he is very helpful, almost to the point of being a hinderance. All in all this kid is great. He has his moments when he acts like a three yr old and throws a fit but I can usually bring him out of it by sending him to his room.

The six yr old is a different story. He is pretty intelligent but he uses his intellect to manipulate people. He tells us things like his brain knew it was wrong but his body wouldn’t listen when he does things that are against the rules. After he has finished beating on his little brother he feigns an injury and acts like the three yr old started everything. What this little guy doesnt know is that I have been standing there watching it all go down! There are a lot of these examples. His newest thing is to start bawling and throwing a fit whenever he is told NO or if I raise my voice.

My wife caves in and caters to this kid. It is time to come down on him, probably too late actually, and she wont do it. She makes excuses for him and babies him to the point that I dont know how much more I can stand. I know what kind of kid he is going to be if left to his own devices my wife is niave. But then perhaps I am wrong? This may be normal behaivor. This morning he came downstairs, it was too early to get out of bed so I told him to go back to bed. He tells me no and then starts blubbering. My wife makes promises that if he does then he will get to do something fun blah blah.

If I would have told my parents no when they told me to do something my ass would have been sore for a few hours. Instead this kid gets rewarded?
I am to the point where I am either going to stop trying to be a father to him or I am going to leave completely and let someone else deal with it. One of the problems is if I let him turn out to be a shitty person then he will corrupt the three yr old. We also have a baby girl together so I dont know what the hell to do!

I dont know maybe this is normal and I am making too much of it??

How old was the six year-old when his parents split up?

It sounds to me like the kid is just acting out for some attention. More specifically, it seems he is jealous of you and is trying to win the war of his mom’s attention.

It’s a tough spot to be sure. But until mom gets on board with discipline, or at the very least standing up to him, he will continue to act out.

You spending time with him, building some trust between the two of you, is about all you have right now. He has to really know that you love him, then he can trust you. If he trusts you, then there will be less need for competition for mom’s attention.


Don’t give up on him now. I don’t know what age you came to represent his father figure, but if he can remember his old one, he already knows what it feels like to be abandoned.

#1. You and your wife NEED to get on the same page with discipline. If he knows he can go to his mom and get ‘rewarded’—you just can’t allow that.

#2. Consistancy. Again both you and your wife need to be consistant with both criticism and rewards. You need to establish guidelines and he needs to know there are limits and what those limits are.

#3. Establish some type of common activity you and your stepchild can do together that will build trust. What are his interests?

Start there and best of luck to you. It’s your responsibility to lead. Children love and need boundries. Establish those bounderies and consistantly monitor them.

Be positive. Tell him how much you love him and why it hurts when rules are not followed. Give him a hug for no reason at all. It will take some time–not as long as you may think though–and soon these problems will give way to the teenage years.

It WILL be worth it when you watch him grow into a strong, secure, loving, and caring young man who knows compassion and respects authority. When he passes these traits on to his kids, you will be rewarded a thousand times over.

Thanks RJ and Sas.

I have been in the picture for about two years. His father is still around but is more of the Disneyland Dad than anything, you know buys them stuff instead of spending real time with them.

Both of the boys call me Dad and they started doing this on their own about a year ago before that we always made it a point to correct them but it was ultimately up to what they felt comfortable with.

I am probably too hard on the six yr old. I guess that I feel that I am responsible for what kind of man I make out of him and I dont want to raise someone that will be a menace or a drain to society. I want the best for them both and therefore I dont let anything get by.

You are right in that I need to spend more time doing things with them. And I will make it point to start doing that again. I used to read to them everynight but then things got busy and I stopped doing something that only took 10-15 minutes out of my time. I taught him to ride his bike and last year I took him out at least once a week, I haven’t done that yet this year and I really should. I am sure now that it is an attention thing and I will make the changes in my schedule for them. I need to get on my wife about consistency and about spending real time with them too.

Thanks again!

When I got married my step-daugter was 4. She was a spoiled little kid, and she was really good about playing my wife and her ex against each other. My wife felt guilty (rightfully so) about a lot of the crap the girl had gone through, and as a result wouldn’t really discipline her.

We were dirt poor, living literally day to day, but my daughters behavior was the biggest source of stress in the house.

I finally set my wife down and said, “Look , I know you feel guilty, but letting your daughter turn out to be a spoiled little shit isn’t going to make up for the past. You’ve got to be a mom now.” Thank God she listened. Now my daughter is 10, straight A student, violin prodigy, great kid. I love her so much and I’m so proud of her.

You’ve got to get your wife on the same page before anything will change. Good luck.

Excellent advice from all. When you make more time and give them more attention, make sure you have some one-on-one time with just the six year old. Develop a relationship between the two of you, maybe find a special activity just you two share. Do the same with each of your kids, but right now focus more on him.

Also, there are a lot of good parenting books out there. Maybe your wife needs to read from an outside source that he needs more discipline. You definitely need to work together as a team to parent well.

The fact that you care enough for it to bother you so much and to look for answers says a lot. Best wishes!

I have a 4 year old step daughter…The only advice I can give that I think would be the absolute key is…TEAMWORK…Parents have to be in agreement or at least appear that they are in front of the kids. They have to work as a team and respect and follow through with the other parent. That’s the only way any of it can work.

It sounds like your wife has fallen into what I call the single/divorced mother discipline trap.

Instead of choosing the battles appropriately and winning the little battles so you don’t get big ones, she chooses to pacify the child. I saw this a lot when I was dating. My Wife is no exception. She will do this today, and I ride her for it. My now 15 year old step daughter is turning out fine but she was handful at the start.

I also have other children one of which is a 5 year old who is strong willed. He is also good looking and manipulative. He wraps women around his little finger faster than Bill Clinton unwraps a cigar. To get my wife, and babysitters to hold him to appropriate behavior limits was hard.

The message that finally sunk into their brains was this.

" The way you allow him to treat you is how he is going to treat every woman he is around. If you teach him that it’s ok to lie, demand, and manipulate that’s what he’s going to do. Do you want to create a date-raper or wife beater? Do you want to visit him at the Gray Bar Hotel? Do you want him to have problems with authority or troubles holding a job? Yes he’s 6 but he has to learn the easy lessons now before they become out of hand. Don’t let your guilt or feelings of inadequacies ruin this child’s life. As long as you allow him to manipulate his way around the rules he will see this as a viable option. You need to make him mind from the get go and not give in to his games. Giving in because it’s easy, you are tired, on the phone, or making dinner is a lazy cop out. Hang up the phone, get up off your ass, or turn the stove off and deal with his misbehavior right away. Once he learns you mean business he will stop, and your day will become less stressful. "

Now strong willed spirited people made the USA what it is and I’d bet money many of the T-Nation members fit this description. You don’t want to break his spirit which inappropriate beatings will do. You need to find a way to harness his spirit and direct it into appropriate actions. It has taken me 2 years of hard work to get my 5 year old to a spot where he follows the rules. I had to watch him like a thief. Simple things like saying please he would refuse to do. Stay strong and consistent in your dealings with him.

The problem is, this is more her fight than yours. She has to be the one to SEE what it is she is creating. I bet she doesn’t. Family counseling might be a good step to try. Especially if you are thinking of bailing out over this.

Sasquatch is pretty much dead on with this one.
I have an 8 year old stepson. I came into his life just before his 5th birthday. I made sure that my wife and I were on the same page with discipline and raising before we got married because I watched a coworker’s marriage end for that very reason. I had (and still do) dreaded and prepared the time when he rebells and gives the “your not my father” comeback (need the control not to rip his head off if he ever does), but I don’t think that will ever happen- I got lucky (he’s more like your 3 year old by your description).

He still tries to play each other off on one another (like any kid) from time to time (i.e. I say no- he goes to Mom and vice versa). We made it clear to him this is unacceptable and he will get in trouble for it.

It is IMPERITIVE that neither one of you override each other’s authority with your kids, ESPECIALLY in front of the children. This demands that you be on the same page. There have been several times that I didn’t agree with something my wife handed down to him, but you can’t undermine each other’s authority. Wait and discuss it privately. I’ve seen no less than six marriages end for this reason alone.

Good luck and God bless!

Yeah, though not easy, see if you can get the mother to understand her behavior and how it will be destructive to the boy.

This does not need to be a confrontational series of discussions. It is just talking about child raising, the things children need to learn and the ages at which they are capable of learning it.

Among other things, she might believe in a different philosophy of upbringing than yourself. The two of you simply have to reach an understanding so that you are on the same page. Both of you can shift somewhat in order to get there.

I would want a partner that wants to be a team. Also, PICK YOUR BATTLES! Not everything has to be an issue. Some things can be left alone so the child can learn from their mistakes.

Beat him with a broomstick.

Haha, only kidding. Just use your belt.

sasquatch gives some great advice here. I would also suggest read as much as you can stomach on discipline, etc. It’s never too late to start discipline, although it does make it harder the longer the problems have been going on. My wife is reading a very good book right now titled “Positive Discipline”. I recommend this as it covers reasons behind misbehaviour and that the motivation is not always attention (although it often is). We have read others with very good advice as well. The bottom line is that they are all wonderful sources when you’re reading them and the “real life” examples they give are all a little too perfect. Kids adapt pretty well too so you have to have a lot of different approaches in your arsenal. But again, Sasquatch was dead on with the pillars: be on the same page as the mother, and be consistent. Without adherence to these two, all approaches will be shot to hell. Good luck.


Also, praise good behavior often.