Parenting is challenging enough but when you’re given the job of stepparent, there’s a whole new set of barriers to break down. In today’s post, we want to focus on the unique challenges of disciplining a toddler and how you can help your child to achieve milestones as a stepparent.
Children are very sensitive which means that introducing someone new to the equation may cause all types of emotional response. While toddlers will usually have a limited understanding about divorce, separation, death and remarriage, they will be sensitive to the shifting dynamic.
A stepfamily will naturally adopt different structures and foundations and your toddler might be fearful, oversensitive or act up. They may become overly clingy with their ‘original’ parent. Or they may be absolutely fine and just get on with it. Be prepared for all eventualities!
Treat your stepchild as your own from day one and offer love, support and compassion as you would your own child. Spend quality time together, either with your partner and your toddler or just the two of you to build up their trust and security.
Getting involved in the day-to-day tasks such as changing nappies, taking your toddler to the toilet or reading them a book will show your child that they can trust you and rely on you as they would their own parent. It will also show you in a positive light, helping to guide them in the right direction to achieve milestones and just enjoying the day to day together in a relaxed way.
If you have recently come into your step-toddler’s life, keep a respectful distance and don’t get too involved, too quickly, in potentially hazardous situations before the child is entirely comfortable with you. These might be temper tantrums and milestones such as potty training or disagreements between the toddler and your partner.
Being respectful of boundaries will avoid insecurity, fear, anger, tension and/or resentment. None of these are emotions are conducive with a healthy relationship and may cause problems further down the line or regression in your toddler’s milestones.
Your role as a stepparent will vary widely depending on a number of factors, such as the child’s age and whether your partner’s ex still maintains a consistent presence in their child’s life. Discuss with your partner the role they would like you to adopt and choose one that will make everyone feel comfortable.
Every parent and step-parent should feel comfortable disciplining the child as assuming a position of authority is part of creating a strong bond. Take a supportive attitude towards discipline, which is often far easier with toddlers and younger children who are more flexible towards changes. However, be prepared that it may still take time to earn the same Brownie points as your spouse. Love and respect work both ways. The best results are usually achieved by not unduly pushing, but by taking a more patient approach.
This also means that you can both play an active role in crucial parts of their life both now – with toddler milestones – and in the future with other significant developments. As a part of this, be sure to communicate with your ex-spouse and maintain continuity between households, if you can be open and honest with your partner's ex and even ask for advice if the relationship allows. Milestones such as potty training are challenging enough for your toddler. Work with them to establish consistent house rules.