Ep 17 – 3 Common Pitfalls Effecting Your Stepchild’s Behavior

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Hello stepparents! For the last 2 weeks I’ve discussed the loyalty conflict that occurs for a stepchild between you, their stepparent, and their other bio parent, your partner’s ex.

Find the show notes for those episodes at synergisticstepparenting.com/15 and synergisticstepparenting.com/16. This week we’re delving deeper into the root cause of what effects your stepchild’s behavior.

Disruptive Communication Patterns in Stepparenting.

It’s easy for you as the stepparent and caregiver – and me as well – to fall into a pattern where you presume you know what you’re seeing from somebody and to quickly categorize said behavior.

Especially if you perceive it to be negative for you in some way – whether it’s disrespectful or straight up upsetting. It’s easy to assume … “Oh, yeah, I know what this is.” “You always do that” “He always does that” “This is so typical.”

But I’m inviting you to approach it a different way. Rather than jumping to thinking this is familiar territory and that you are seeing something you’ve seen before, instead get present and get curious. You will probably have a different experience than expected.

If you observe what’s going on around you and inside of you staying present with what is, you will notice the nuances and that things might be different than you initially perceived.

And most importantly when you take the time to slow down within yourself, and don’t respond right away, it creates opportunity for you to respond differently.

The way you as the caregiver respond is a large contributing factor to whether or not this behavior will continue or something new will emerge. You probably don’t recognize or realize how much power you have just with how you respond.

Before you might have blown up, chastised, lashed out in anger or frustration, punished or grounded, stormed off or yelled at your stepchild. None of which works.

Why Blowing Up and Punishing Your Stepchild Doesn’t Work – Science.

Here’s why …

What happens, especially for kids, is a concept known as “Flipping Your Lid” that is beautifully discussed in a short video by Dr. Daniel Siegel where he explains the hand model of the brain and how emotions effect our brain and body. Find it here.

In our brain we have the amygdala, located in our limbic system which controls the fight, flight, or freeze response which ensures survival.

We also have the advanced part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for logical thinking, planning, cause and effect, self-control, etc. The interesting thing is that these 2 parts of the brain are never online at the same time.

This means that if the fear-based response is activated detecting danger, the logical thinking goes away. As in, when that lid is flipped, it’s impossible to reach your stepchild.

So you might be spewing pearls of wisdom, logic, and reasoning and your stepchild is not listening. Because they are in that fight, flight or freeze mode. The only focus at that moment for their whole organism is to survive.

Until we calm them, and therefore calm that fight, flight or freeze response. So, only once they start to feel safe, will they be reachable. That’s when you can have a conversation, remember and understand what happened and what might be useful to have done differently next time.

Stepparents Want Connection Because as Humans We are Wired for It.

So given this, it’s understandable that those responses that you typically regret and don’t feel good about, don’t feel good for a reason.

Which is that what we as humans want most is to respond with love and to have connection. So it’s frustrating and grating when there is negativity, even if you feel justified in your response. We’ve all been there, it’s part of human nature.  

But what you’re truly desiring is peace, joy, calm and positive energy and interactions. Especially so in your family, since they are who we tend to spend the most time with.

So if you pause and tune in, all of this magic is available to you. I can’t stress enough that it starts with you. It starts with modeling – meaning showing kids a response, interaction or behavior that you want to see them display.

Gone are the days of “do what I say and not what I do.” That never worked and now we have even more proof that it doesn’t.

An Unexpected Response is More Effective at Improving Your Stepchild’s Behavior.


The brain loves going on autopilot and to cut corners wherever possible. So, if there’s a specific pattern or loop that is occurring in your interactions in your relationships, the brain will respond on autopilot and will recreate the pattern. Plus, the brain reads predictability as safe.

For example, say your stepchild does something that upsets you, and you respond in your typical way with anger or yelling “go to your room” or “that’s it, no more X-box for you” or “I’m taking away your phone” or “no more computer, I’m shutting off the WiFi”.

Whatever the response is, it’s most likely a typical response. Because it’s easy to get into these patterns and you tend to stick with what’s effective. But if you’re not completely present you might not recognize that there most likely is a more effective way to respond.

And when you have an unexpected response, it jolts their brain out of that autopilot way of existing. It’s more likely going to get the brain to be present because it disrupts the pattern so the brain has to process what’s going on and decide how to respond to it, since the situation is new.

5 Benefits of Responding Unexpectedly in Stepparenting and How to Do It.  

It’s so tempting to start yelling, screaming and rationalize losing it. But if you throw them off with a response they’re not expecting and don’t get wrapped up in the emotional turmoil, you’ll feel better.


  1. Be more present
  2. Stand firmer in your power
  3. Feel less thrown off
  4. Be less drained after the interaction
  5. Most likely see things blow over quicker for your stepchild too

And that different response could be any of the following…

  1. A lack of response – ignore it or brush it off.
  2. Unexpected response – possibly the opposite of what you would do, as long as it’s not aversive.
  3. A kind response – say something nice or pay them a compliment and leave it at that.
  4. Walk away.

These responses feel unnatural. And they might require some extra awareness to assess things moment by moment and stay present. But this will serve you and your blended family in the long run.

Until next time, be well!

Relevant Episodes:

Best Stepchild Communication Technique

7 Key Components Of A Stepparenting Sanity Routine

What Is Rapid Resolution Therapy?

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