Creating a successful blended family can be challenging and stressful at times. Part of the difficulty for many blended families is establishing and managing relationships with stepchildren. When your stepchild is disrespectful, you might feel like you're at your wits' end and you can't take another moment of her behavior. But you don't have to throw in the towel. By being patient, maintaining an attitude of compassion and using stress management techniques, you can learn to successfully deal with a disrespectful stepchild.
Assume that your relationship is going to take time to build, advises speaker, author and psychologist Joshua Coleman in an article for his website. Relationships with stepchildren are often difficult and combative, especially in the beginning, but it's not unusual for it to take years for a real bond to form. In some cases, the bond never forms and you'll be -- at best -- able to tolerate each other. But don't give up hope -- be patient and consistent. Remember that the disrespect is probably stemming from feelings of mixed loyalties and the changes inherent to belonging to a blended family.
Lay down the law with your partner from the very beginning. Although it's no guarantee that your stepchildren will respect you, establishing ground rules can help set the tone for your relationship. In an article for Empowering Parents, social worker James Lehman advises saying something such as, "This is what a parent is in our family now." Explain that your stepchildren don't have to love you, but they will need to show respect.
Avoid power struggles during times of conflict. If your stepchild engages in disrespectful behavior, don't get inadvertently drawn into a battle. In an article for "Ladies Home Journal," parenting expert Jan Faull, M.Ed., advises saying something like, "I can't handle it when you speak disrespectfully," then leaving the room. When you consistently refuse to tolerate disrespectful behavior, you send the message that your stepchild needs to change his attitude if he wants to communicate with you.
Develop a hard shell. Avoid taking their actions personally and don't counter-attack. Disrespectful behavior might be a sign that you're trying too hard to get them to like or accept you -- and they're rebelling against your attempts. Stepchildren need time and space to adjust and may feel torn between feelings of resentment and enthusiasm about your presence, says the Children's Trust, a non-profit advocacy organization for children and families in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Engage in mutually enjoyable activities to help build your relationship, advises Faull. Show interest in the activities she enjoys. When your stepchild sees that you're only human and you're trying your best to make things work, she might back off, start to see you in a new light and develop a more respectful attitude.
Dealing with a disrespectful stepchild can be stressful. To help reduce stress, take good care of yourself and engage in stress-relieving activities on a daily basis. If possible, set aside at least 30 minutes a day where you can be alone to relax and unwind. Try yoga, deep breathing, exercising or even watching a funny television program.