It’s Tough being a Stepparent

               It’s Tough being a Stepparent

A woman recently confessed she didn’t like her 10-year-old stepdaughter.

“When I first met Jennifer,” Samantha said, “we seemed to hit it off and I thought we would become good friends. She and I seemed to have a lot in common —  including love for her father.”

However, once Samantha was married, she and Jennifer no longer seemed to have so much in common. Jennifer seemed to change. She acted resentful of Samantha, was demanding, ungrateful, and jealous of her father’s attention.

“Her behavior was so obnoxious,” Samantha said, “that I began resenting having her around. And she acted like I was in the way, too.”

Mark, a stepparent to 13-year-old Thomas, also saw problems once Mark married Thomas’ mother.

Thomas became disrespectful towards both Mark and his mother. He seemed angry most of the time and didn’t want to be around either Mark or his own mother.

“We got along great in the beginning,” Mark said recently. “He seemed to need a man in his life and I thought we would have this relationship where he and I could hang out together.”

Mark went on to say that he and Thomas’ mother have a exceptional relationship and they are still deeply in love. However, Thomas’ behavior has put a damper on the marriage and family togetherness.

“I wonder sometimes if I should leave,” Mark said. “Thomas doesn’t like me and I don’t see how we can have the kind of marriage I want when Thomas seems to hate me so much.”

A great many remarried couples have problems related to a stepchild’s behavior. Contrary to what many stepparents and biological parents think, it is older children —  particularly teenagers — who have the most difficulty adjusting to a stepparent entering the family.

There are various reasons for this, but often the older child or teen has great difficulty accepting that their parent has remarried and that there is a stepparent in their life. Younger children may be grateful for the love and kindness of a stepparent, but an older child’s adjustment is frequently complicated by feelings of being disloyal to the other parent of they like, or even love, the new stepparent.

Furthermore, adolescents who are dealing with their own sexuality are often forced to deal with the sexuality of their parent who has remarried. When their parent is dating, they may be able to deny their mother or father is having a sexual relationship. When their mother or father gets married, though, and they see more of the love and affection between them, they can no longer deny the sexuality and the feelings they’re struggling with inside themselves.

Furthermore, frequently both biological parents and stepparents have expectations that once they get married, the children will love the stepparent as much as the biological parent loves that person. And both may expect that they will all just become a happy, blended family.

But, it may take years for an older stepchild to come to accept a stepparent. All of the typical feelings stepchildren have need to be resolved at the very same time these kids are trying to cope with all of the aspects of adolescence.

Stepparents usually need very tough skin in order to deal with some of the adjustment problems teens have. If a stepparent holds on to the romantic notion that the stepchild is going to respect and love them  right away, that makes it more difficult for that stepparent to detach and not take things personally.

And that relates to one of the first recommendations for stepparents: Don’t take your stepchild’s adjustment problems personally. It’s not your fault they can’t accept you. Frequently they will act like they hate you and that has to be kept in perspective. It’s not you; it would be the same no matter who their stepparent was.

Sometimes it helps for the family to be involved in counseling. Of course, it may be the stepchild who might need this most in order to learn to adjust to the new family arrangement. But, both biological parents and stepparents often need to be talking to someone who knows and understands the child in order to learn how to better cope with the child’s feelings and behavior.

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Know Your Toddler’s Limits – and Plan Accordingly

Know Your Toddler’s Limits – and Plan Accordingly

I was watching a young parent in a mall recently. This father had stopped to talk to a friend. However, he had his two-year-old child with him. And it was very clear that his toddler was very quickly bored and wanted to move away from his dad to do some exploring on his own.

This father wanted his child to stand by him and be patient. But as his son kept trying to get away, the father became progressively more upset and angry as his young son did not want to stand quietly near him.

This dad hadn’t planned very well. He should have had some toys or objects to distract his son just in case he stopped to talk to a friend or decided to go to lunch.

Despite what some parents might think, toddlers aren’t evil little creatures constantly looking for chances to frustrate their parents. They’re just trying to grow and learn about the environment and how best to operate within their world. And a lot of times, they are not going such a good job – mostly because they have a short attention span. Neither yelling nor stern commands from parents will change that. They will still have a short attention span.

In living with a toddler, there will be many situations – say when you’re talking to a friend, traveling in the car, or having lunch in a restaurant – which require the use of distractions.

Distraction can be a fine art when thoughtfully used with a toddler. By simply drawing your child’s attention from an unwanted action or behavior to something more interesting, you can solve some immediate behavior problem or prevent a temper tantrum.

It is always best to know the abilities of your toddler – and to bring along some supplies which will suit his abilities.

The 12- to 18-Month-Old Toddler

At this age, distraction is most likely to be used in a very deliberate way. But it’s important to know the attention span of the normal child from 12 to 18 months. Their attention span ranges from a few seconds to about three minutes.

Children of this age can look at pictures in a book for a few seconds and may spend a few concentrated minutes exploring an unfamiliar object or toy. But they have a hard time dealing with confinement, so they will get restless and squirmy fairly quickly, which may mean one possible distraction is to get them moving.

Your best bet for distraction at this age is to bring along a new toy or one your child hasn’t seen for a while. More complex toys – with texture, sounds, and colors – will keep a toddler busy longer. You can also use snacks that are eaten one little piece at a time as a distraction.

The 18- to 24-Month-Old Toddler

At this age, the child’s attention span will range from about one minute to seven minutes. Since this slightly older toddler has a better ability to concentrate, she may sit quietly for several minutes with a book, toy, or video.

The best bet for distraction at this age is to use toys that inspire her to use her imagination. Dressing and undressing a doll, coloring on a sheet of paper, putting different shapes in a form board, or playing with simple puzzles can work well.

The 24- to 30-Month-Old Toddler

The older toddler’s attention span has increased from about five minutes to 15 minutes. Two-year-olds are continually gaining in concentration abilities, but remain highly distractible and move quickly from one activity to another.

The best ways to provide distraction now are to fill up a bag with surprises for your child to discover one at a time. Or let him choose several toys to bring along. But you should have that bag handy with several toys and other distractions. Other good distractions for children of this age include beads to be strung, stickers to be placed in a book, coloring books, and audiotapes with headphones which include a book that goes with the audiotape.

Have distractions available and you’ll never have to try to enforce patience or compliance with a stern voice.

Dealing with a Challenging Teen is a Daunting Task

Dealing with a Challenging Teen is a Daunting Task

Thirteen-year-old Brock is a difficult youngster. He doesn’t come home from school on time, he talks back to his teachers, and he refuses to obey many requests or orders from his mother and stepfather. He’s also been in trouble for stealing. He’s generally angry at his teachers and his parents, and he says he wishes they would “just stop yelling at me.”

When his parents try to restrict him, Brock tells them it’s unfair. He says that being grounded or restricted to the house doesn’t do any good.  “It just makes me hyper and I get into more trouble,” Brock contends.

His parents have tried other punishments to attempt to get him to conform to the rules and to their expectations. They’ve taken away his bike, the use of a phone, his privilege of watching TV, and his iPod. Brock says he has to be good “for a little while” and then he gets back whatever was taken away. He adds, “My stepfather softens up after a while no matter how long he says he’s going to keep my stuff. My mom just can’t handle it when I give her a hard time, so my stepdad lets me off the punishment so my mom isn’t upset.”

Brock has learned to work the system in his home without really changing any of his behavior. All he has to do is yell at his mother, destroy something in the home, or just make life miserable for his parents, and they tell him to leave because “they can’t stand me anymore.”

When children who have been stubborn, oppositional, or defiant for several years get to be in their early teenage years, and their parents lack the training or skills to deal with them, they may be similar to Brock. Given Brock’s problems at home and at school, and given his consistent anger, along with his ability “to work the system,” it is very likely that he will continue to get into trouble and he could well end up in the juvenile justice system.

For some parents, having a teen like Brock end up in the justice system may be a welcome relief. They may feel like they’ve exhausted their ability to handle their adolescent. However, the reality is that a juvenile court or a family court can only offer some support and structure, and a court is unlikely to be able to undo everything that has led a young person like Brock to be what he is at this stage in his life.

There are, of course, other alternatives. Seeking professional help and having the teen attend a therapy group may be useful. Even more useful, though, might be family therapy. Family therapy can be particularly important in opening up lines of communication, changing reinforcement patterns in the family, and decreasing negative and critical interactions.

When an older child or adolescent, like Brock, is presenting serious and persistent oppositional and acting-out problems, parents must examine their own role in the development of the problem. It is often necessary for parents to accept that they will have to make some changes.

If a child, like Brock, has reached the adolescent years and is as out of control as Brock is, then it very likely means that there have been too many ongoing conflicts and battles within the family, and too little parental understanding of children and how they express negativism and independence. Of course, it almost never is exclusively the fault of a parent that a boy like Brock develops. However, it might well be the case that parents have likely mishandled at least some aspects of discipline.

But what can you do at this point?

A good place to start is to understand that there is no magical solution to getting a teen under control. It usually requires patience, perseverance, strength, and determination to bring about changes. In addition, there will have to be work to set clear limits and rules. Rules and expectations will have to be communicated clearly. Parents will have to learn to be consistent and firm in enforcing rules. And they will have to offer close monitoring and supervision.

But with all of that, outside help is usually required because the task of bringing about changes in a stubborn and defiant teen is daunting.

What Can You Do When Your Teenager Runs Away from Home?

What Can You Do When Your Teenager Runs Away from Home?

 

Mary Lynn, age 14, ran away from home because she said she didn’t like living with her parents. However, for several weeks prior to running away, her mother and father were aware of changes in her personality. She was more withdrawn, was skipping classes at school, lied frequently, and was angry much of the time. It wasn’t until she ran away that her parents discovered she had a boyfriend and she was involved in drug use.

Boyd, age 16, left home after an argument with his stepfather. The argument became physical and his stepfather punched him in the face. Boyd stormed out of the house saying he was never coming back. Before this argument there were several altercations between Boyd and his stepfather, with several resulting in his stepfather hitting Boyd with his fists or a belt. Boyd had been determined to stick it out at home because he loved his mother, but he just couldn’t take the abuse by his stepfather.

Lejeanne, age 15, ran away after she was slapped by her mother during an argument about her school grades. Lejeanne said she wasn’t going to live in a house where she was abused and she preferred to live with people who loved her and respected her. Leajeanne and her mother didn’t have many arguments, but their arguments when they occurred were often intense that often left both of their crying.

It is not uncommon for adolescents to run away from home. Often, they return home within a day or so, and the problems leading to the truancy get worked out. However, in general, teens run away from home because of communication problems between themselves and their parents.

But sometimes, as in the case of Mary Lynn, there can be other factors that lead adolescents to want to leave home. Many teens are abused by a parent. This is especially true for girls who experience physical or sexual abuse. For some, like Mary Lynn, they have difficulty making the transition to adolescence and may get involved with older boys, seek out peer relationships with negative peers, or may begin using drugs or alcohol. These same adolescents may find the rules at home too restrictive and prefer to live elsewhere so they have more freedom and independence.

Sometimes, because both the teen and his parents need a cooling off period, allowing them to spend a few days with a friend or a relative can lead to a successful reunion when they return home. This was true for Lejeanne, who accused her mother of abusing her. While their argument clearly got out of hand, there was no pattern of abuse in the relationship. When Lejeanne had a few days to calm down at her grandmother’s house, she realized this and returned home. At home both Lejeanne and her mother apologized to each other and talked about ways to keep their disagreements and arguments under better control.

But suppose your adolescent doesn’t want to return home?

This is exactly what happened with Mary Lynn.

Her mother recognized that they needed to rebuild their relationship with each other and talk about what she was experiencing and why she ran away. However, before she returned home, she began hanging with her previous friends who were older, more involved in drugs, and uninterested in school. While Mary Lynn’s mother thought they were making progress in their phone conversations, Mary Lynn told her mother she wasn’t coming back home. She said she would run away again if forced to live at home or with a relative.

When a teen is below the age of 16, they really don’t have much choice but to return home and try to work out the problems. A teen can be reported to the police as a runaway and a complaint can be filed with the juvenile court. Obviously, teens are minors and incapable of making decisions about their life. But the purpose of a police report and a juvenile court complaint is not to punish a teen or get them in trouble, but to force them to return home and for the family to get help.

A runaway adolescent should be regarded as a symptom of a family problem and the help should involve the parents and teen seeing a therapist. If you file a complaint in the juvenile court and the case is accepted, the adolescent is likely to be placed on probation with specific restrictions. Since parents can’t stop a determined teen from running away, some back-up help is needed. That’s where a juvenile court can be helpful.