Issues of discipline in blended families can be complicated. Reaching a point where parents can instill discipline consistently and comfortably to all of the children in the family is not an easy or immediate process. So, how do you get there?

  • Bond with your stepchild(ren).   Discipline works best when there is a foundation of trust. Spend time getting to know your stepchild’s interests and personality. Developing a trusting relationship will improve your ability to instill discipline effectively. Until you develop that bond…
  • Develop expectations with your co-parent.  If you are creating a blended family, you and your partner should have discussions about parenting values and expectations before you blend your families. Talk about rules and consequences. Discuss issues such as schoolwork, chores, allowances and behavioral expectations. Some families are casual and leave the table at the end of the meal and others are more formal, having children request to be excused. Neither is right or wrong, they are simply different. Try to be open to your new partner’s way of doing things, while also making sure you express those values that are important to you.
  • Have a family conversation about rules and consequences.  Have a conversation about expectations, rules and consequences with each child.   Every child and parent has a different history and expectation of discipline.  Be sure to communicate rules clearly and consistently so the child understands what you expect from them.
  • Enforce consequences.  Once you have made the rules, make sure you enforce consequences. Kids feel safe and secure when they understand the boundaries. Developing rules but not enforcing consequences sends out mixed messages that undermines your authority and confuses your kids.

It is ideal if the biological parent does the discipline for their child during the initial period when the stepparent is working on developing a relationship with their new stepchild.  

However, we know that things don’t always work out the way we want.  Sometimes, kids need disciplining at a moment when only the stepparent is available. When a situation arises that requires immediate discipline, the family rules that have been discussed with everyone need to serve as the basis for consequences.  This type of enforcement allows for consistency and a sense of fairness.

Remember that all parenting is a work in progress.  Children change and need different things from their parents.   The strategies used with a 3-year old are not what you would use with a 9-year old or 14-year old. Also, while consistency is important, so is some degree of flexibility. Recognizing when something isn’t working or needs to be adjusted due to changing needs is a sign of strength within a family system.