I chose this title in good humor bearing the fact that I have a real life red-headed step child (hold your atta boys till the end). Obviously there are a million-billion ideas on parenting out there. Some of them have scientific research behind them, and some of them are based on nothing more than opinions. I think the most useful ones are the ones based on experience. Every family has different dynamics. Abuse, drug or alcohol use, or other dynamics that cause harm to children should be dealt with prior to focusing on parenting. Harmful dynamics trump lacking parenting skills a million to one.
Boundaries are very important, and it is also the most common area in which we as parents have trouble. We all know how children like to test the boundaries and push as far as possible. But, it is very important, for your sanity and for their stability, to have some ironclad boundaries. this starts with simply saying "this is not okay." You can expect your kids to keep the house clean. If you've never told them that leaving it a mess is not okay. I think there's tons of information out there on how to do this but if you had to use one rule of thumb to start with, I think it would be just not to say yes after you have already said no. I know it seems silly to be like this when it comes to things like eating all their cereal and picking up their clothing off the bathroom floor, but being strict in areas like this make it easier when life-changing issues come up, like drugs and alcohol, abusive mates and other things that really matter. Besides that, do you really want to be picking up after your kids when they should be learning how to do it themselves? I know that if I don't play the parent role, like if I stay in my bedroom and write, my house is an utter disaster in one day flat. There will be half eaten bowls of cereal and Top Ramen all over my living room, a pile of clothes on the bathroom floor and toys all over the living room. That's just the start of it. One time I had the flu and was sick for two days, when I came out of my room it was like coming into a war zone. All I had to say was, "what the hell is this" and both kids scrambled like bacon in a hot pan. The house was picked up in 20 min. flat.
If there is more than one child in the house it is important to maintain an environment of fairness and not promote favoritism. This is a hard one for me. I have a son who has autism, and my biggest struggle with parenting him, is to not coddle him. this can end up feeling like he is a favorite to the other child. I also have a precocious red-haired, 11-year-old step daughter who asked 1 million questions, wants to play mommy, and has a little bit of a mean streak in her. This is enough to make me want to pull my hair out some days. I found the easiest way to ensure that I treat them equally is by starting small. I had to make sure that they both started riding in the cart when I went grocery shopping or they both did not. not one and not the other. At the end of the shopping trip I had to make sure they both got something out of the gun ball machine, not just one or the other. And when we went swimming they both had to follow the same set of rules.
This seems like it would be a given but you'd be surprised how many step parents utterly detest their step kids. Even though they don't yell and scream at them. It's totally clear from the outside, which means on some level the kids know too. A example that I see all the time, is when the step parent talks sweet as pie to their kid, then in the next sentence snarl at the step children. The key to this for me is treating them with respect like complete strangers, while loving them like they are my only child. I say "can you please" and "thank you". This goes a long way towards earning mutual respect. When we sit on the couch or walk down the street we cuddle or hold hands.
So yesterday I went to the restaurant with my family, and the family in the next table over were a complete mess. They had four kids, two toddlers, who were screaming, and two kids that were roughly 10 years old, and were talking back to their mother and father. My stepdaughter looks at her mom and asked why are they acting like that? She replied, "lack of discipline". Discipline is a pretty straight forward thing in our house, most the time. It's usually just a timeout in the room or the corner. I try to be loving, while being as firm as possible. You do not have to scream like a banshee for your children to listen to you, but I think the 80/20 rule applies here. My children follow direction 80% of the time and get disciplined 20% of the time. It is okay to say no and in a nice way, and if the children continued to argue with us and throw a fit, they are given the options of going in timeout or getting their butt spanked and then going in timeout. Opting for a swat on the butt does not give them the privilege to not do as they were told, they still have to mind. We've only had to spank our children a couple times. Some of you may disagree with this but the truth be told, I'm a little scared to think of what will happen to our country when it's ran by a bunch of kids who were never spanked and were given trophies just for participating their whole life. That's just not how it worked when I was growing up.
Making sure their needs are met...
Another aspect of kids behaving well is making sure that their needs are met. We explained to my stepdaughter that the family sitting next to us would've prevented a majority of the children's behavior by taking care of them properly. They were obviously over hungary, as one kid stated he hadn't eaten all day, over tired, and were allowed to talk back on a regular basis. Sure this happens sometimes, sometimes they don't nap and get over tired, but when kids misbehave under these circumstances it is no one's fault but your own. I use an acronym here called H. A. L. T. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. And most the time when I am in a horrible mood. It usually boils down to these few things. I've noticed my kids are the same way and usually when I evaluate and attend to these issues, the situation dissipates.
Being on the same page with the other parent...
I am surprised by how many people we talked to on a regular basis who are not on the same page with you the other parent. Not just the other biological parent of the child, but the other parent as in the step parent. Things need to be discussed on a regular basis. The most important of these things are discipline, scheduling, diets and how the family time is going to be spent. This will provide a consistent environment for the kids, making them feel more secure, and also eradicates inconsistencies with discipline and behavior.
One of the most important things to remember is you are now this childs parent and they need your unconditional love. When you are angry it's ok to say "I am angry with you right now" or "I am disappointed in your behavior", but as a parent it is our job to be the source of love from which our children can gain and grow a sense of security, self worth and morality.