stepfamily woes

My eldest is 10. He’s the one that seems to be suffering most through the transition into a new stepfamily. I really feel now that this has actually been an ongoing thing since my separation from my ex. Yesterday, a counsellor told me that his current behaviour (inability to make a decision on anything, having meltdowns, losing his temper and so much more…) is related to his self esteem and lack of self confidence. Ok then.

Here’s the problem, given his behaviour, it’s very hard to be encouraging. I want to help him feel better about himself (along with myself!), but how do I do it without reinforcing his current behaviour? He’s so beligerent!!!

Thanks for any suggestions you can offer 🙂

It’s sadly a vicious circle, isn’t it? He behaves badly, you lose it with him, he behaves even worse and so on. The way off the roundabout is to try and put yourself in his shoes. Ask yourself these simple questions; what is this behaviour ABOUT? Why is he doing this? What does it mean?

You have the most important clue already and realise it is significant; it all began when you and his father split up. And it’s got worse while you have established a new partnership.

When partners split up, you quite naturally and reasonably see it as your business. You may blame your ex, he may blame you, both of you may point the finger at a person or a circumstance outside. Whatever, you probably realise your break up is the adult solution to an adult problem. That’s how you see it.

Not your children. Kids think they are the centre of the universe. When something goes wrong, they often conclude it was their fault. They think “If I’d been better, if I hadn’t been so bad, Mum and Dad would still be a family”. They feel guilt – and from that, they feel often overwhelmingly anger as well as loss and pain. And they can’t stroll up to you and say “I say, Ma and Pa, I’m feeling pretty lousy, you know.” What they do is Act It Out.

All bad behaviour – ALL – is a way of showing bad feelings that can’t be put into words. When he dithers, kicks off into tantrums, sulks or cries, he’s actually saying one thing and one thing only; “My parents split up and I feel so, so very sad about that!”. It’s a cry – no, a scream – for help. And what happens? He gets told off! I know it’s hard on you, and I know his behaviour may be very hard to manage. But when you start seeing it as a cry not an attack, maybe you can see a way though it.

When parents split up and then remake a family, what often happens is that you concentrate on your own immediate feelings and doings, and maybe your kids get put on the back burner for a time. They soon learn that the only way to get attention is to have a meltdown. A quiet tug on your coattails will likely be brushed away. So to get attention, even if it’s negative, he has to misbehave. They way to turn that around is to make a real effort to hug and kiss and affirm him and his behaviour whenever he plays good. AND to hug and kiss and tell him you understand what he’s trying to express when he acts up.

Kiss him, tell him you think he’s fab, tell him it wasn’t his fault. You can say you don’t always like his behaviour, but always, always tell him you love HIM. He has good reason and every right to be expressing pain and loss. That doesn’t mean you were wrong to make your choices. It just means you do have to recognise how he may be seeing it and acknowledge this, for him to come through this. Do read my book ‘Stepfamilies – surviving and thriving in a new family’ (on the books page!) because it covers all these issues and could help. Good luck!!

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