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Acting Out Towards Stepfather


Though my son can be kind, helpful and cooperative at times, I’m concerned about his relationship with his stepfather, my husband. My son is 12-years old and can yell and sound angry at times. Specifically, he can be extremely stubborn and defiant, especially with his stepfather and I am afraid that their relationship is destructive. Sometimes, after my son acts out, my husband will swear at him or give him the cold shoulder for days, and sometimes he even makes snide remarks to my son when he isn’t acting out. I know my husband genuinely cares about my son because he gets involved with his school and has stepped in to prevent other kids from bullying my son. How can I help my son and spouse get along better and treat each other with respect?


Thank you for contacting us about the conflict that’s occurring between your son and your husband. Your concern about this situation is valid and deserves attention.

Bringing a new spouse into a family can be tricky, and bonding takes time. It appears that your husband cares about your son and that they have formed a relationship. On the other hand, it also appears that at times your husband is having difficulty adjusting to his role in the family. Have you discussed your concerns with your husband? Would he be willing to listen to suggestions from you about how he could deal with your son's behavior and respond to him more appropriately?

It sounds like your son's use of a loud voice when he is upset is triggering your husband’s response. You may want to help your son practice more appropriate ways of dealing with his feelings. Teach your son to recognize when he is starting to get frustrated and to respond by doing something that he finds relaxing. He could sit in a quiet room and read a book, or draw a picture. He should do this until he is calm and ready to speak in a calm manner. Explaining and practicing these strategies with him when he isn’t upset will help him develop a more appropriate way of expressing his frustration. Remember to heap praise upon your son when you see him exercise self-control. When he starts to raise his voice, remind him to use his self-control strategy. It may help to add a consequence such as removing 15 minutes of TV time from him or requiring him to complete a small chore, when he is not able to exercise self-control.

As your son learns to control his temper, it may eliminate some of the tension between himself and your husband. However, it is still important to address your husband's reaction and help him learn how to remain calm, rather than making snide remarks or using negative language with your son. You might suggest that your husband walk away for a few minutes to take his own "self-control" time.

Consider family counseling to help you and your spouse learn how to parent as a unit and stay on the same page. Thanks again for reaching out and please email or call us with any further questions or to get a referral to a good family counselor in your area. You can reach us 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000.

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