Expert Advice

Setting Limits with Stepson

Middle School Expert Advice from Judith Lee Ladd

Q
I am having problems with my stepson. He tells me he doesn't have to listen to me because I am not related to him in any way. He had a problem at school and I contacted the teacher. He says the teacher is lying and I am the one with the problem. What should I do?
A
You need to work with your husband to determine acceptable standards of behavior for your stepson that both of you can -- and will -- demand from him. Your biological relationship doesn't matter: You are the adult and you must share this responsibility with your husband. To begin, do the following:
  1. Meet privately with your husband and discuss rules and expectations for your stepson. Come to an agreement about his behaviors and decide in advance who will handle what infractions and what the punishments will be.

  2. Meet together with your stepson and share with him your collective decisions.

  3. Mean what you say and do not "let go" of poor behavior rather than confront the issues. It is best to decide how and when to deal with the behaviors. Sending him to his room for a temporary period to cool off is not bad, as long as you follow up with your discipline.

Do not be intimidated by the fact that you are not his natural parent. No matter what the relationship, you must set limits and establish boundaries that enable your family life to proceed with consistency and caring. Keep up the good work, but don't go at it alone. Dad needs to take a strong role now and in the future.

Judith Lee Ladd is a former president of the American School Counselor Association, a national organization of K-12 and post-secondary school counselors.

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