What to Do If Your Stepchild Doesn't Like You

Brothers and sister on sofa looking annoyed

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Stepkids and stepparents don't always get along. The new couple may be thrilled but the kids involved aren't always as happy with the new arrangement. Sometimes, stepparents may wonder if their stepchild even likes them. This can be a disheartening experience for all involved.

The truth is that becoming a blended family—and a stepparent—can be a bumpy adjustment, says Lori Sims, a stepparent to four children and a co-founder (with her husband David Sims) of the "nacho parenting" movement, an approach that guides stepparents in how to cultivate happily blended families.

If this is your situation, you're not alone. Around 30% of children now grow up in blended families. Sadly, 70% of those second unions don't last, and research shows that conflict between the kids, stepkids, stepparents, and parents is a big driver of unraveling these marriages.

However, even if it seems like your stepchild doesn't like you, don't despair, says David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. While it's understandably upsetting to be disliked or rejected by the child of your new partner, this is actually quite a common situation—and there are ways to vastly improve it.

With patience, compassion, and solid relationship-building techniques you can turn the situation around and find harmony in your blended home, says Dr. Hill. Learn more about what to do if your stepchild doesn't like you.

Reasons Your Stepchild Might Not Like You

There are many reasons a stepchild might reject their stepparent, few of which have anything to do with your character as a person, explains Dr. Hill. Each individual stepchild/stepparent dynamic is unique but some common reasons for discontent tend to come up, including not accepting that their parent’s marriage ended, having difficulty coping with change, and feeling jealous, rejected, or replaced—and focusing that ire or confusion on the stepparent. 

Not Accepting Their Parents' Divorce

There may be a lot of conflicting emotions for both you and your stepchild that need to be unpacked. And it can take quite a while for some stepchildren to get used to this new family dynamic and accept you as their stepparent. Some kids may also be holding on to hope that their parents may reconcile—or may even blame you for their parent's divorce.

"They may simply be upset that their parent is with someone that’s not their other parent," says Dr. Hill. The stepchild may need help processing their emotions regarding the divorce before they can have a positive relationship with the stepparent.

Issues With Their Parents

While it’s hard not to take being disliked personally, often, it has nothing to do with the individual stepparent. Rather, it’s likely more about the stepchild’s personal issues and relationships with their biological or custodial parents. Sometimes, they might even like you but worry that doing so is disloyal to their other biological or custodial parent, says Sims. Or, the stepchild may feel pressured to dislike the stepparent.

Feeling Threatened

Sometimes, despite the stepparent's intentions, the stepchild may feel that the stepparent is trying to control, change, or replace their other parent, says Sims. The stepchild also may feel that the stepparent is trying to take over, which can threaten their sense of security and routine.

How to Reduce Negative Behaviors From Your Stepchild

Blended families can get off to a harmonious start, but they tend to face unique challenges. This is particularly true when stepchildren are not happy about the new relationship and reject their new stepparent. This leads to the stepparent having to cope with being disliked by their stepchild, a situation no one wants to be in. However, there are ways to be supportive of the stepchild's needs while also curtailing disrespectful or challenging behaviors.

Take It Slow

"I would urge new partners not to try too hard," says Dr. Hill. If you go in too strong, the stepkids may feel steamrolled or uncertain about their new place in the family. Give the relationship time to develop. Meanwhile, involve the kids in creating family rules and expectations and have family meetings where grievances can be discussed.

Enforce Behavior Not Emotions

Give the child space and acceptance, even if they are expressing that they don't like you. You may hear things like, "I hate you" or "you're not my real mom/dad." This is hard to hear but it's important that the stepchild can express their feelings freely. You also may get a whole host of other behaviors, such as silent treatment, backtalk, aggression, or rulebreaking. Make it known that all their feelings are welcomed, however, they are still expected to behave appropriately.

"Establish rules around what respectful behavior looks like in the household and expect everyone to treat everyone that way," recommends Dr. Hill.

They can express that they wish their parents were still married or that they didn't have to shuttle between houses, or even that they just don't like having a stepparent—or like you in particular. But they still need to behave respectfully and follow any other house rules. Note that the age and developmental maturity of the child will also impact your expectations of them.

Many kids will exhibit negative behaviors when they are hurting inside. Externalizing is particularly common in teens and tweens, so creating space for them to talk about what's bothering them can help. Getting in touch with their underlying feelings can help reduce their need to act out.

Seek Professional Help

Divorce and remarriage are big changes for kids to deal with, so it's natural for them to struggle a bit or even lash out. Don't just assume that the stepchild will quickly adjust and accept their new situation. And don't assume you even know what is truly upsetting them and causing them to dislike you.

Getting them professional counseling gives them a safe, controlled space to work on their issues, process their grief, and learn effective coping skills, says Dr. Hill. In order to heal the relationship and develop a stronger one, you—and they—need to fully understand what their resistance to you is really about.

Consider Your Role

It's also important to look at ways that you may be contributing to negativity between you and your stepchild. Unfortunately, it can be easy for the stepparent to get trapped in power struggles with their stepchild, which can exacerbate the issue.

Yes, they are likely the one acting out and possibly saying cruel things to you. However, you may unwittingly be pushing your stepchild's buttons, even when you are acting with the best of intentions, says Sims.

For example, you might expect them to act or speak in certain ways that they aren't used to, or you might do things with them that they wish they were doing with their other parent. Try to track when issues occur and then take responsibility for the ways in which you might be adding fuel to the fire. Then, consider how you might change your behavior to reduce the conflict.

Let their "Parent" Take the Lead

It can be confusing and upsetting for the stepchild to suddenly be parented by someone other than one of their parents. Remove this source of tension by creating a family structure that maintains the status quo for the stepchild and prioritizes their parent-child relationship as much as possible.

"Be very clear about the new person’s role and responsibility in the children’s lives," says Dr. Hill. "Ideally, the parent makes the rules and the stepparent enforces the rules." It's not about ignoring or neglecting the stepchild. The stepparent is also involved, but lets the parent take the lead with their own child and sort out the bigger issues. This approach offers security to the stepchild and lets the stepparent focus on engaging positively with the child rather than on discipline.

It can be helpful for the parent and stepparent to check in with the stepchild. "Ask them what is going on, what is working, and what isn't," says Dr. Hill. "Sometimes, they just may not like [their stepparent] and you might have to accept that’s how it’s going to be." But with time and patience, many stepkids will soften and learn to accept—and even really love—their stepparent.

Give Yourself a Break

Stepparenting is not easy. "We don't always think about how hard these stepparents are struggling and how the stress is impacting them," says Sims. "It can even impact their health and cause anxiety and depression." So, give yourself—and your stepchild—grace as you work toward a more positive relationship. "Acknowledge that everyone is having a hard time." Prioritize self-care, know that doing your best is all you can do, and ask for help and guidance from your spouse, as needed.

How to Connect With Your Stepchild

Know that just because your stepchild doesn’t like you that doesn't mean that they never will. Naturally, this situation can temper the joy of the new marriage and create a difficult dynamic for the entire family. However, don’t give up hope on fostering a positive relationship with your stepchild. There are ways to lessen the negativity and improve the relationship, which can benefit the entire family.

Don't ever force the stepkid to call the stepparent "mom" or "dad," says Dr. Hill.

Don't Do Everything Together

Make sure the bio parent spends alone time with their biological or custodial children, suggests Sims. It is very important for them to continue to foster that parent-child relationship. Not everything has to be done as "one big happy family". It's okay to be separate families that "blend" together like a Venn diagram, says Sims.

Show an Interest

Express interest in your stepchild and look for ways to bond, advises Sims. Ask them questions about their likes and dislikes and truly listen. Doing so can mean so much to them, even if they don't show it, says Sims. She discovered that one of her stepkids liked the same TV show she did, so she made a point to watch it together, which gave them common ground and something to talk about, vastly improving their bond.

Do Fun Things Together

Instead of being the bad guy, seek opportunities to have fun together. Suggest getting ice cream or having a movie night. If you know they love tacos, pick that up for dinner. If they like basketball, suggest a pickup game. If they like dinosaurs, read a book about them together. There are endless ways to incorporate more positive interactions into your relationship—and over time, your efforts will pay off.

A Word From Verywell

Realizing that your stepchild doesn’t like you can be hard to cope with. However, if you tackle the issue with compassion, honesty, open communication, and patience, it’s likely that your stepchild will come around. Either way, with the support of your spouse, you can instill expectations of respect and kindness for every member of the family that will help smooth the way to a more relaxed and happily blended family.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Stepfamilies.

  2. Lin IF, Brown SL, Cupka CJ. A national portrait of stepfamilies in later life. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2018;73(6):1043-1054. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbx150

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Adjusting to divorce.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to support children after their parents separate or divorce.

  5. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Children and divorce.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to shape and manage your young child's behavior.

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.