I am a step-mother to two children.

They obviously come from a split family. This past year that the Father and I have been together, and court proceedings for custody continue, we have noticed huge attitude changes in both children.

Our eldest is a female aged 5. It came to our attention that in Feb '13 the mother's partner was abusing her. Then, more recently, we found out that it was all lies started by the mother and fed through this poor little girl. She has had ups and downs regularly.

Since such a change in their lifestyle their behaviour is horrible. She has been regularly, hitting her brother, swearing, back chatting, pulling our cats tails, drawing on walls, using rubbish from our household rubbish bin as a toy, hiding food in her room, being disruptive and breaking things.

This is really abnormal behaviour for her. At the beginning of the year, she was a gorgeous little girl who was not like this. I know where the changes are stemming from, the majority of which are routine changes and the mother's lifestyle. She will have the children up to 11pm and later and her house is a mess. The children get shoved to the side and chooses to not spend the time with them. Our girl has picked up on these bad habits, especially the lying. The mother will say to the daughter "Daddy doesn't even love you" "Daddy is nasty". We know this because the Mother says these things at her Kindergarten.

Our boy had developmental issues. He didn't talk until not long after he turned 3, and he has extremely flexible hands making the use of his hands difficult. As the Occupational Therapist stated, it is like he is double-jointed in his hands, but is not. Our boy has anger issues, which stems from these development issues. If we cannot understand him, he will break things, if something wont work, cars will get thrown around his room. Toilet training has been very difficult, and we are still suffering it. And sometimes he just does not think. He is very much a copy cat of his sister, destroys things, pulls the animals tails, etc.

We have a bedtime for them of 7 o'clock so they get the rest they need. They get to do loving activities with us, like I have taught our girl to write, Taught our boy to use scissors, do puzzles, play with toys, and they get fed well here. I have even come to the point of seeking advice from a dietitian as our boy was coming home with either severe constipation or diarrhea. And in 2013 our boy returned home with salmonella poisoning, which the mother had not bothered to acknowledge and take him to the doctor.

I am at loss with how to show this love, yet still discipline accordingly so they will grow up to be the beautiful children that I know they are. Our current discipline (naughty chair for 5mins) is not working anymore. They sit there and tolerate it, they will tell us what they did that was naughty, yet 5mins after the naughty chair they will do it again. I even had them sit down with me and the father and write down the house rules, so I know what they consider to be naughty but that didn't even work. The children are starting to cry themselves to sleep, so something in the back of their minds is not happy, and they wake up at early hours of the morning asking my partner to talk about Mummy.

I need new tactics, can someone please help me?

  • 2
    (Not a kid-behavior answer, but...) Is there a court mediator who stays in contact with both parents and the court as a part of the custody agreement? If so, perhaps this person could be brought in to observe what's going on and get the mother into some much-needed parenting classes. And maybe the kids in to see a child psychologist; they're obviously hurting from this treatment. You're doing a great job, in that you're giving them much-needed stability and love in a time when they're not seeing a whole lot of that elsewhere.
    – Valkyrie
    Jan 9, 2014 at 11:48
  • No we don't have a court mediator. Our court process has been so stupid.. I wish we did because the mother is so difficult to talk to. Just wish she would realise the harm she is causing. Hmm, I may talk to my partner about applying for one to be allocated. That was a really good tip. Might help to improve her lifestyle that the children are being subjected to and relationship build with the kids. Every child deserves a Mother and I am not here to replace her. I love the kids dearly but things really have to change.
    – user6421
    Jan 11, 2014 at 3:26

4 Answers 4


It sounds like the little girl is acting out because she is insecure about her relationship with her parents, and that insecurity is being fed by her mother, both through poor physical care and through emotional manipulation. It's a special case of helping a child feel loved and secure.

There isn't anything you can do about the time they spend with their mother, but you can let them know that things are different when they share time with you and their father. Some of this you are doing already, by keeping a routine and caring for them and loving them.

So draw a clear line with your discipline (it sounds like you are doing this). These are your house rules. They may be different elsewhere, but in your house, the expectations are clear and discipline is consistent. To ease the issue with their mother trash-talking their father, make a house rule that no trash-talking is allowed about anybody. Make sure you and their father follow this rule too. They don't understand the situation from your perspective, and negativity about the other parent will make them feel conflicted and possibly ashamed of their love for that parent. You can also use it to deflect "Well, but Mommy says..." in a less negative way: "In Mommy's house, the rules are different. In our house, these are the rules."

Also make sure that you are inviting them to talk to you about how they feel. If you don't express disapproval of their mother, they may be more willing to open up to you about how they feel when they are there and when they are with you. If they sense you don't like her, they may not share the good parts of being there for fear that you will disapprove of them as well. So invite them to talk to you about the good parts, help them feel positive about their time with their mother, and then use that information to help them develop positive coping strategies for the other, less pleasant parts.

You might also consider a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with children in blended families. This person can help a child open up and talk about their parents and the situation in ways that an adult who is directly involved in the situation cannot.


I have no direct advise for you but I can say that attending a parenting class with other parents can be really really valuable. Just having a safe space to chat with other parents and share your pain and your joy can make a big difference. Teachers you know or admire might be able to help in letting you know where to find a good course otherwise noticeboards at relevant places can also be good.

Good luck in your journey. The fact you are seeking answers to make things better shows you care very much. All the best to you.

  • I have done parenting classes as well as run my home-based mothers group. I have done separated family courses etc. as well as positive parenting. My mother-in-law is a psycologist. But still haven't found anything to help.
    – user6421
    Jan 9, 2014 at 10:33

Before around age 8 children live in a world of creativity. Sounds like things are getting very serious. Forget all this logic adult thinking, recreate your view as a the world being a fun joyous place. Just think how can you bring more joy. Rewatch 'Mary Poppins' and 'A Beautiful Life (1997)' for yourself. I'm not wanting to discount all the seriousness and complexity of what is going on around the children and Im sure others will have practical advise there, my feedback is to focus on creating joy. Ease off a little for now and focus on relationship, do more fun things and just bring a bit more happiness for the kids. Also get them out of the house and away from any screen time and do stuff outdoors, walks, explore, museums, libraries.. take em on adventures. It's the old if nothings working try something else. Get the kids as much as possible deep into feeling with all their senses, get them away from all this head driven anguish. Focus on being active and connecting.

  • Good thinking. But yes, we do all that. We even turned simple pies is PIRATE PIES ARGGH ME HEARTIES ;) haha but it's more of when they do naughty things, what are new forms of disciplining them. I feel as though they are getting away with a lot as me and my partner are tip toeing around them not trying to "upset them" because of how their mother acts. They are still naughty even when we have a really really good day :/
    – user6421
    Jan 10, 2014 at 16:10
  • It is very much so just attention seeking. But even when we don't provide the attention to bad behaviour, she gets worse.
    – user6421
    Jan 10, 2014 at 16:34

Wow, it's playing with fire to put children in the middle of these things like that. There are so many landmines in a breakup already without the added nonsense.

My parents split up when I was young and I remember some of the doubts or fears that I had. When my ex and I broke up we did our utmost to protect them from any those fears. Obviously, that is not happening in this situation. I don't know if I have any ideas you haven't already tried but I'll jot a few things down anyway as maybe it help unlock other ideas for you or others.

First, children find all kinds of ways to blame themselves for things. Did mommy and daddy break up because of me/us? They simply have to know that there was nothing they did or could have done that that would cause this. Who knows what they are hearing at home. They will certainly wonder if mommy and daddy still love them? If mom isn't treating them as treasured and at the same time is making the kids believe daddy doesn't love them -- they must be absolutely lost.

Children don't mind discipline (and by discipline I mean rules and structure). In fact, not knowing the boundaries or having inconsistent boundaries may cause confusion or stress. As noted by Evolve make it point to stress the change of rules when infractions happen upon a return. It takes a while to switch to a new set of rules -- but they can eventually do so with prompting as long as they know what to consistently expect.

Avoid having the children be put in the middle -- as it appears the mom is doing. Help take them out of the middle when they are put there. Find a way to insulate them without having them report back anything that the mother will be able to develop a new grudge with. For example, don't criticize the mother's actions. You can talk about how good food is important, how germs and garbage can make them sick, how sleep is important for a developing young mind and never have to say anything about the mother. The children will connect the dots over time and realize things for themselves if things don't improve.

You can also stress that as a parent your job is to help steward their future, and that is why you have the rules you do. This can also deflect ploys such as spoiling to win favor (doesn't not sound like an issue). Young ones will learn that being spoiled all the time makes it difficult to be happy -- as the world will stop doing that. Basically, their future, and your love for them and rules that result all join together as parental duties done due to your love for them and hopes for their future. More dots for them to put together over time.

This also gives them much more than just comforting words but a series of interlocking behaviors that they can think about when nonsense is happening elsewhere. If they don't know it they can probably make the decision to go to bed when they are tired instead of staying up until they are put to bed. I don't see it too often in my house but on a weekend when I give them a bit of extra time they sometimes just say they'd like to go to bed.

Also, they do need those comforting words. If they are being borderline neglected half the time their self-confidence is probably suffering. They need to know they are wonderful and important. They need to know you have confidence in their abilities. They need to know that even if you are upset, or tired, or they are misbehaving -- no matter what, how you feel about them never changes. You can be upset at a behavior but that is just a behavior and has nothing to do with your feelings for them.

Going back to discipline, I've often found that children will learn better if I can make them reason out what I would otherwise simply tell them. For example, don't play with the garbage! If I haven't become exasperated I can ask if they understand how dirty garbage is. I can ask if they like being sick. I can connect the dots and ask if they think playing with garbage is a good idea. If they give the right answer I can ask why they are doing so then.

Oh, something that has worked well for me, is sending my children to their rooms for a time out when they do something requiring immediate action. They are to go to their room, think about what they did, and come back when they are ready to apologize. Not common any more but if they are still in tears after the apology they get a hug and a reminder I'm mad at their behavior but always love them. Nowadays I get the "I know" before I can finish saying it. They know! ;)

Anyway, a lot of rambling but this question reminds me of self-doubt as a young child and worrying about potential impacts on my own children.

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