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Q. "My 11-year-old stepdaughter recently moved in with her father and me after a custody battle. She is acting disrespectful toward me, and her father is not sure what to do. She also says she should not have to do chores, and apparently did not have chores when she lived with her mother. We've tried talking to her, and we have a punishment scale based on the severity of her actions, but now we're almost on our last punishment. What else can we do?"
A. This is a difficult time in your young stepdaughter's life, so it's not surprising that she is acting out. Perhaps most important here is that you let her father be the primary disciplinarian and parent, especially as the three of you transition into your new living arrangement. Your role is to support your husband while at the same time beginning to establish a rapport with your stepdaughter. This will require you to be gentle, yet firm, and most of all, patient.
Let's address the three aspects of your question separately. First is the issue of disrespect toward you. When your stepdaughter talks back, is sassy or rude, respond with any of the following options:
Second is the issue of chores. You and your husband should start with one chore, such as cleaning her bedroom. Set specific guidelines on when and how her bedroom should be cleaned -- for example, it should be cleaned by 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Dirty clothes in the hamper, books on the shelves, bed made, and the room vacuumed. It's important that your husband be the arbiter of this rule, and for the first week he should tidy the room with her. The following week he needs to watch her while coaching her along. After the second week, she's on her own. Your job as the stepmother is to not get involved. This task and the enforcement of it are between daughter and daddy alone. If she doesn't complete the task, he can withdraw privileges: no allowance for the week, no TV for the day, or no shopping trips to the mall.
Third is the relationship between you and your stepdaughter. And this is perhaps the toughest challenge of all. Your main task is to build rapport with your stepdaughter, to develop a loving and respectful relationship with her. Below are five ideas:
These five rapport-building activities build up a relationship reservoir that gives you credibility that will sustain the two of you through the tough moments now and into the future.