Ask Dr. Zoe – Handling a Step Child’s Jealousy

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‘Stepmom Wanting to Do the Best for Her Crew’ Asked:

I find, like most siblings, that in a family that has children from two households, there is a love-hate between them. However, I have noticed jealousy in the child that is not with us full time. I am sympathetic to the situation and love him but do not want to accept bad behavior just because the circumstance is challenging. Nor do I want that behavior to impact my biological child.

Do you have any thoughts or ideas to approach these conversations or actions I can take to curb bad behavior while offering understanding? I want to act before it becomes a more significant issue.

Stepmom Wanting to Do the Best for Her Crew

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Hi Stepmom Wanting to Do the Best for Her Crew,

No parent should accept bad behavior. But it’s important to understand that his bad behavior may be the only way that he feels he can communicate his feelings right now. And yes, a love-hate relationship can be common among siblings.

Behavior is Communication

Repeat this mantra before you have a difficult interaction with your stepson: “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This means that you need to focus on building a relationship with him for now, knowing that you are laying a foundation where discipline can be well received.

The good news is that if he is feeling jealous, it’s because he wants to belong. He’s not checked out. He is a little confused about where his place is and he wants reassurance that he is an important part of your family, especially because he knows he is not there all of the time and he knows he is not your biological child.

Don’t reward his jealous or negative behavior with any attention and be sure to give him praise and attention when he is doing well. Positive reinforcement really does work best, but this takes practice on your part. You and your husband should sit down with him and make sure that he is clear on all of the rules and that you two are a united front regarding consequences. Until you have established a clear and healthy positive relationship with him, major consequences should be left to his father. Until then, you need to be clear about which behaviors will generate a reaction from you and which you need to ignore.

Focus on the Relationship

Establishing a regular date night with each of your children will go a long way towards establishing that foundation of care.

A rule of thumb is that bad attitudes shouldn’t be consequenced, but rather ignored. Bad behavior should be consequenced. All good behavior should be praised. When it comes to arguments between your children, don’t rush in to intervene or protect. Rather, teach and model problem-solving skills to both of them and sometimes request that they “work it out.” This requires resisting your mama urge to step in unless one of them is about to get hurt.

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A difficult reality is that all siblings’ behaviors impact each other. The good news is that your younger son witnessing the negative behaviors of his older stepbrother will not likely have the horrible effect that you are worried it will have as long as he sees that there is no positive outcome to his brother’s negative behavior. In fact, watching his brother behave badly and having consequences is the best deterrent for a younger child.

Bottom line: don’t ever ignore bad behavior. This teaches a lesson you don’t want to teach to either child. Focus on the relationship first. Be willing to acknowledge with him the difficult parts of being a stepchild and that you want to understand his position.

Hang in there! You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!

Dr. Zoe

To hear more from Dr. Zoe on this topic, listen to this episode from This Grit and Grace Life podcast: A Therapist’s Practical Advice for Blended Families with Dr. Zoe Shaw – 050!

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