Step-Daughter Is Afraid of Me

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My step-daughter said she is afraid of me. I know I am stricter than anyone else in her life and that when I raised my voice at my bio children she didn’t like it. I do not hit her but if she throws a fit I do send her to her room or put her in the corner. I don’t always give her what she wants or do what she wants to do. I tried to get her outside of her comfort zone by encouraging she play with the other kids or learn some independence like dressing herself or feeding herself. Her mother never gets her in trouble and they are constantly doing whatever she wants to do because at her mom’s it is just the two of them the whole time and her mother does not work, so she gets constant attention. My husband is going to have her therapist talk to her and find out if I have emotionally damaged her by using discipline. I don’t think I was in the wrong to have rules and not allow fits, but I don’t know if a counselor will use her dislike and fear of getting trouble as a reason to say she doesn’t need to be around me. She was already a socially awkward sensitive child when I met her. I haven’t been allowed around her for two week and haven’t seen my husband for basically the same amount of time. I personally feel like keeping her away from her home and her family is more emotionally damaging than discipline. Even if she is “afraid” of me because I used discipline is this a fixable issue? There is love there, she would ask for me for specific things, ask to call me if I wasn’t around, she trusted me to not allow anything bad to happen to her, and we played so it wasn’t all discipline. I did do special things for her and take the time to reassure her that I still loved her and that we could have a good day after she got in trouble.

A: It is difficult to know all the nuances of this situation because I do not know your stepdaughter’s age. But I’m guessing she is young, and it would make sense that her experiencing all of the rules would be overwhelming.

But it’s important for children to have both love and limits. The research shows that children raised without understanding that there are restrictions in life don’t do as well as those who have encountered this information. Here’s a link to a parent’s site called Say Yes To No. Research is evidence-based and helps parents cope with the necessary limits they must impose on their children (or stepchildren.)

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2014). Step-Daughter Is Afraid of Me. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/07/18/step-daughter-is-afraid-of-me/