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Step-Sibling Rivalry

Elementary School Expert Advice from Barbara Potts

Q: My husband's daughter left her mother to come live with us. The problems started when we had a baby four months ago. My stepdaughter started acting up in school, not paying attention, and now has started lying. She even forged a daily grade that the teacher sends home. We have tried punishment, talking, and compromising, but nothing seems to work. We're going to see if a therapist can shed some light on the subject. We realize that the new baby is a big adjustment for her, but it shouldn't be life-altering since she has another baby brother who lives with her mom.

A: Your husband's daughter has been through a great deal of change. You don't indicate how old she is, but to young children, change can feel the same as loss. Your stepdaughter has lost daily contact with her mom and brother, has lost her home, and now has lost the full attention of you and your husband to a new baby.

Working with a therapist is a great idea. He or she will help your stepdaughter deal with the changes she has experienced, as well as help you with suggestions for some behavior-management strategies. You might also want to talk with the school counselor at your stepdaughter's school; the counselor may be able to give her some individual time or include her in a small group on having a new baby in the family.

Think about your stepdaughter's behavior as her attempt to get attention. For some children, it doesn't matter if the attention is positive or negative as long as they get it. Try giving her attention when her behavior is appropriate. Include her in tasks with the baby (she can fetch diapers or help with bath time) so that she doesn't feel left out.

Look for children's books that deal with having a new baby in the family and read them with your stepdaughter. Make sure that she gets some time alone with her dad and with you when she has your full attention. It may take some time to address these problems, but hang in there and don't give up on her.

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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.


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