It's a constant struggle keeping my 5 year old step-son in line. I want him to have manners and be respectful. I fear that once he starts school he will be in trouble all the time. I fear that my 2 year old, soon to be 3, is picking up all his bad behavior.

I tell him no, I put him in time out (stands in the corner for 5 minutes and time starts over if he does not stay put). I take things away from him (things that I know he enjoys having). I spank him some times depending on the extremity of his behavior. I don't like to spank so I don't do it often and when I do it's only a single to two swats.

I explain to him why he's in trouble and he says "I'm sorry" like he understands but then not 10 minutes go by he's doing the same thing all over again. The thing that irritates me the most is when I tell him no, he then goes behind my back but right in front of me and asks his mom for something after I told him no (if he doesn't eat his dinner he gets nothing, he knows that, but Mom will let him have it anyway, usually it's some kind of sweets). I don't know what to do.

I feel all the work I'm doing to mold manners and good behavior is for nothing and a complete waste of my time. I don't like being mad and I don't like yelling but it's all I can seem to do by the end of the day. I don't know how much longer I can put up with this. I hate being the "bad-guy". I don't want my 2 year old to be like my 5 year old.

I know the obvious answer to all of this would be to have my wife on the same page and I've talked to her about it... all she says is "I want him to be able to do whatever he wants, because I got disciplined all the time by my parents and it changed nothing" It just made me more rebellious". There must still be guide lines.

How do I keep him in line when the Mother turns around and rewards him for bad behavior after I had just got done telling him "no"?

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    Does the mother agree that you should fully parent and discipline your stepson? Are the other children your kids with your stepson's parent?
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:19
  • Yes she agrees that he needs dicipline but thinks i should do it all. The other child is my biological child. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:37
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    I am constantly being underminded and makes me want to give up all togeather. I dont have it in me to give up so i just stay frustrated while shes okay with my step son being out of control. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:40
  • My step son has started to ignore me and talk over me when im telling him something or trying to tell him he is being bad..its like i dont exsist. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:42
  • I think when we yell, it makes most people stop listening. Try talking to him very quietly so that he must almost strain to hear. btw, when you want to talk with anyone you need the @ symbol plus their name. I just happened to check because you are new to the site. To call me, use @Willow
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:44

6 Answers 6


I feel for you as I've been here but I'm afraid you're going to struggle to get anywhere with the mother because it's her child and not yours. This doesn't mean to say it's impossible. 5 years of having a step-son myself and I'm often told by my girlfriend not to tell off her son or be too harsh when I believe I am being reasonable. My step-son is now 7. Her excuse has always been he's just a child and whilst I agree with this on the whole I feel it's not right to let bad behaviour go unnoticed.

After 5 years the thing I've learnt the most is to let the mother do the discipline and for you to back her up. After all it's her child and it's down to her alone on how she wants to raise the child. It's a very difficult situation to be in because you feel they are being naughty and you feel you have to act. I still struggle now when I see my step-son misbehaving. I'll tell him off and 2 seconds later his mother is in asking what's going on? so let her do the disciplining and be there to back her up.

Sit down with your wife and explain to her why you feel it's good to discipline. You don't need to always be on their case to discipline. You just have to set out guidelines the children must follow. Agree these guidelines together and together uphold them.

The things I very much push for with my step-son is similar to you. Manners and to be respectful. This is something that was drilled into me as a child.

Manners. This tactic worked very well with me and my step-son. When they ask for something and forget to say please. Prompt them. Something I say is what's the magic word? or as I've now been doing it for a long time I give him a look which prompts him (raised eyebrows and very slow moving until he says please then I quickly move so he knows). When you hand them something, don't let go until they say thank you. Make sure to prompt them if they are struggling. Don't just hold it and snatch it back. It's about being subtle. By doing this you are helping them understand when it's right to say please and thank you. Other manners such as excuse me can be prompted should they pass wind etc. You must continue to do this for a long period of time. It's not going to sink in overnight and it may even take years.

Respect comes from you. They look up to their parents (including their step-parents) so act respectful and they will start to copy. Opening the door for the mother is a simple act of respect that they will pick up on. Don't argue in front of the child. Make sure you are always saying please and thank you. It's all down to you this. Children love to mimic so make sure to always be respectful yourself.

I would like to add that our relationship (mother and I) is very good on the whole. We are both working parents, with two children (one who I'm step-father too). We have had our ups and downs and the biggest reason we've argued has been because of my step-son. His father is very much involved with him so I've now decided to take a cooler approach and let the mother handle most of the discipline unless of course he is completely out of order. The biggest thing is communication. If I feel I am in the right for disciplining my step-son I will talk to the mother and explain why I told him off. I do this out of sight of the child and when we are both in a calm manner. There is nothing worse than arguing why in front of the child and having it escalate.

As I said above, communicate with the mother. Express you wishes and talk through any issues you encountered through the day. Get her opinion on how to handle the situation. Like I said at the top it is down to her how she wants to raise her child.

A bit of personal advice. Try not to take it too seriously. What I mean by this is don't let it get you down when the mother overturns your decision. Instead take note and talk to her about it later. Whatever you do, you don't need to give up. Children grow up and as they grow they come to understand more. By giving up you're not allowing for your hard work of being a step-parent to show. I've had some real issues myself becoming a step-parent and as I've said in another answer it's harder to be a step-father than a father and that is no exaggeration.

As for your younger son picking up the behaviour of your step-son I wouldn't worry too much just yet. Just make sure you don't show favouritism and ensure both are equally disciplined. Good luck and I really do hope you can stick with it.

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    I upvoted you because I really think you made lemonade from the lemons you were handed. It's not a perfect world and the only person in it that we can control is our own self. By modelling the way you think people should act, and by backing up the mother, you've made it work. Is it ideal? -- of course not. Even a seemingly 'perfect' family is not perfect. You are teaching respect and all sorts of other things. Whether this child ever recognises how hard you've worked, it will likely still make a positive difference.
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 17:52
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    Thank you, @Willow, appreciate it. Your comment makes a lot of sense and it's exactly how I feel about being a step-father. Some days you really do struggle but you've just got to stay strong and make sure you're supportive. It took me a long time to become the person I am today. When I first started out as a step-father I felt very much like the OP does and I spent hours on Google looking for answers. In the end all it took was taking a step back.
    – anon
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:00

You are, I'm sure you know, between a rock and a hard place. Both of you are making mistakes, and it is hurting both your relationships with each other and your relationship with your step-son.

I would strongly advise you both - you and your wife - to start therapy together. Your wife doesn't respect your opinion, and you end up angry and resentful. It's a miserable place to be, and you don't need to be there. If you get advice from a third party on parenting, read the same books, learn to communicate effectively and discuss what you're learning (like more effective means of discipline, and the importance of presenting a united front as parents), you have a chance to have more peace at home and a more respectful child.

If your wife will not participate, please consider going alone. You're in a difficult situation, and I think talking about it with a professional can help you with your worries ("I fear that once he starts school he will be in trouble all the time. I fear that my 2 year old, soon to be 3 is picking up all his bad behaviour."), goals and planning how to achieve those goals. It may not be possible to "win" - to get what you want - in your present situation; you may need to adjust and set more reasonably achievable goals or decide on something altogether not considered in this post.

In any case, I wish you luck.


Raising a child with 2 opposite parenting styles at the same time is less than perfect.

If you were to adopt the mother's style that would certainly be preferable to the current solution of having 2 different styles. If that isn't an option, you will understand why adopting your style and abandoning hers isn't a simple proposition for the mother either.

It's time to start an ongoing discussion about raising children with the mother. The goal is that both of you make informed decisions, together, on how to raise your children. I also suggest reading some books on parenting - it's probably a good idea to have her pick out the first book the 2 of you will read, so she doesn't get the impression that you're just trying to force your point of view on her. You can chose the second book.

If discussions among the 2 of you don't work out, you'll need to involve a 3rd party (a godfather, a therapist, a grandmother, etc.).

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    Some aspects of parenting style will always be different, and that's usually ok - the key point here is that the boundaries the parents set are different, that's particularly problematic.
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 8:21

If the child's mother accepts you as having a full parental responsibily, then yes, you need to be on the same page as her.

While I personally do not think spanking or hitting is the way to go -- I will affirm that spanking or hitting when the message is convoluted is pointless. So if you are going to discipline this way, the child must understand why you feel it is necessary and that his other parent agrees with you. It should never be done in anger.

It doesn't bring any rationality to the issue if the child doesn't understand or if he is getting mixed messages. If the child does not understand, then being mad, yelling and spanking are all ways of saying, "I do this because I am bigger and stronger than you."

If you can, I suggest family/parenteral therapy or classes.

Discipline makes children happier when it is fair and consistent. It says that you care about the child.

Here is one of many sites that talk about the importance of discipline.

Discipline is the structure that helps the child fit into the real world happily and effectively. It is the foundation for the development of the child’s own self-discipline. Effective and positive discipline is about teaching and guiding children, not just forcing them to obey. As with all other interventions aimed at pointing out unacceptable behaviour, the child should always know that the parent loves and supports him or her. Trust between parent and child should be maintained and constantly built upon.

In my opinion as a parent and social worker/family therapist and retired teacher -- discipline is one of the most important gifts/tools we give children. It is a constant message that we love and care about our children.

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    I appreciate your answer and time. After reading i understand i have things to work on as a parent. I dont like spanking my child. I agree with dicipline and what it stands for. I just need to know/learn to do it more effectively without getting angry or gettimg to that point. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:51
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    Why is it that i need to be on the same page as my wife when i feel she just lets him walk all over us. Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 15:53
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    @VinceHildreth No one really agrees with rewards for bad behaviours. It sounds like his mother isn't interested in discipline at all. Her lack of interest appears to be what you're up against. I think that rewards for good behaviours and natural consequences for poor choices or naughty behaviours is the way to go. This child needs a reason to listen to you. Yelling isn't working. His mother's mixed messages are a hinderance. Perhaps take the child to the park and bring him home if he is naughty. He'll learn to listen if he wants your time.
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 16:15
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    I really struggle sometimes to see why some people don't discipline and why they think it's a bad thing.
    – anon
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:07
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    @Bugs I do too because that is my/our(?) personality type. Over the years I've met quite a few who think discipline is only punitive or that it curtails the child from 'being who they are'. Mostly it works out regardless. By far the cleanest house I've ever been in, belongs to the daughter of the biggest slob I've ever known. This is not OCD or any 'problem', it's a reaction to her upbringing. However, I've also counselled parents who wonder 'where did they go wrong?' -- and the simple answer was that they did not parent. It is not one way or the other and certainly not one size fits all.
    – WRX
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 18:52

Like it or not, unless you have adopted him, you are not the 5 year old's father. You don't really have the authority to discipline him except to the extent it is delegated by his mother or, less likely, his father. If his mother wants to raise him in a permissive way, you are going to have to live with that.

Unilateral attempts on your part to "mold" his "manners and good behavior" feel like a waste of time because they are a waste of time. Quit wasting your time. Treat him like you would a roommate's child: if he starts seriously annoying you, ask his mother to do something about it; otherwise, let it drop.

Your bigger problem is how your 2 year old is going to be raised. In his case, you actually have the authority to "mold manners and good behavior". However, given what you say your wife's attitude is toward discipline - and assuming she's the 2 year old's mother - he's getting some seriously mixed signals if you're taking the same disciplinarian approach you are taking with his older half brother.

You need to get on the same page with your wife on the 2 year old. This may require the help of a counselor, as others have suggested. Once you've jointly agreed to a parenting strategy on the 2 year old, you can hope that your wife may adjust her strategy with the 5 year old on her own.


Your problem is quite challenging, as it may represent multiple issues combined into a single main one.

Trying to simplify things, I can explode it as follows.

First, I would suggest you to try to adopt a similar parenting strategy with the mother. You can use a good cop-bad cop approach (a gentle one with occasional switching of roles), but only if it is willfully chosen by both of you. Otherwise, it will be simply playing with disaster. If you cannot agree on a common standard with the mother, then try to follow her approach with your step-son. This does not mean you cannot be more rigid with your own son, though.

Second, avoid physical punishment (even spanking at 5 years old is at least marginally abusive) and minimize yelling. If you continue with such attitude, you will end up appearing as the bad parent even if you were right in the first place, and will increase the confrontation with the step-son.

Third, explore the deeper roots of the step-son's behavior. Occasionally, a mother who is separating from a former husband may use unconsciously her child to physically isolate the husband, and when she finally finds another man, the child ends up feeling culpable for the separation and also put aside by the new man. This phenomenon has been called emotional incest syndrome, and some references are available online (for instance, look at this contribution by Dr. Patricia Love). This needs to be carefully weighed and addressed.

Fourth, what is the impact of the biological father? Is he OK with you raising his son? Has he a different standard? Does he use his son to challenge your role or the mother's one? Only by managing the biological father's impact on your step-son you will be able to parent him effectively.

In conclusion, try to disentangle the different issues at play, and seek counseling for you, your spouse, the kid, or all of you together.

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    I think "good cop, bad cop" is a very problematic strategy and "typically, ... a mother uses her child" seems a bit strong - otherwise a good answer. Would you care to tone down these two points a bit?
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 8:18
  • @sleske I beg to not tone down my answer, as I think this is a crucial yet often overlooked issue. See for instance this URL and edited post: drbeckywahkinney.vpweb.com/upload/… Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 8:44
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    No problem, I like your edits - and at any rate it's your answer.
    – sleske
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 9:24

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