How Should a Stepfather Handle his Defiant Stepdaughter?
John has a 12-year-old stepdaughter. But John is concerned that his stepdaughter, Olivia, has recently become defiant with him and talks back when he asks her to do things.
“For instance, when I tell Olivia it’s time to go to bed or that the dishes need to be put in the dishwasher,” John said, “ she will straight up tell me no.”
John said that because he and his wife work different shifts, he and Olivia are home alone frequently and he has to make her do things.
“But I don’t believe in spanking a child of her age and I will not physically force her to do things — like drag her to her room for bedtime,” John said. “What should I do? I don’t want her to feel she gets away with things, but at the same time I would like for her and me to get along.”
He wonders if it would be easier to just ignore Olivia and let her do what she wants instead of arguing.
John has never had children of his own, although he has helped raise Olivia since she was seven. What he doesn’t understand is that as many children move into adolescence they become more sassy, defiant, and oppositional. This may be especially true with a stepparent who tries to use discipline.
However, since he spends so much time with his stepdaughter, there are bound to be some clashes. It is important that he accept that it is inevitable in any relationship with a teen that there will be conflicts. Even if John were Olivia’s biological father, the same conflicts could be taking place.
It is also important for John – and for you if you are a stepparent in a similar situation — to avoid power struggles with Olivia. You can’t force any teen to do what they choose not to do. Therefore, it’s important to win their cooperation. Establishing a better relationship and winning their cooperation relies on the absence of power struggles.
Often to avoid these battles of wills, you may need to alter how you ask a teen to do things. Furthermore, you should also find alternative ways to respond to their defiance, sassiness, and flippancy.
For example, when it is time for your stepdaughter to go to bed, you could say, “I need you to go to bed soon.” In other words, when you want her to do something, instead of giving an order (“Go to bed”), tell her what you need or what you’d like (“I’d like you to go to bed”). And don’t put a time limit on it. Don’t say, “Go to bed now” or “You have to be in bed at nine o’clock.” Giving an order or a command simply sets up rebellion and defiance.
Also, when she says no or tells you, “I’m not doing that,” you need to be able to either ignore that or to say something which avoids the power struggle. For instance, if she says, “I’m not going to bed; it’s too early,” you can respond, “I know you don’t want to go to bed because it’s too early, but that’s what I want you to do.”
This kind of response indicates you understand her position and you are not really telling her what to do. Instead, you’re letting her know what you’d like her to do. That gives her an out. She still might refuse, but it puts the conversation on a different level if she is responding to something you’d like versus something you are telling her she must do.
If like John, you spend a great deal of time with a stepson or stepdaughter who is now an adolescent, you will be responsible for some of their life and you must provide some guidance. Therefore, you can’t just let them do what they want in order to avoid conflict. At the same time, it’s not about forcing them to do things. As kids become teenager, compromise and negotiation take on a greater role.