8 Tip Guide To Parenting a Manipulative Stepdaughter Effectively

You have discovered your perfect match and are ready to advance in your relationship (or have already done so), but a problem has emerged.

The stepdaughter is throwing several wrenches into your happiness plans with manipulative behavior.

Now what? While your initial reactions may be to give up on the relationship or get into loggerheads with your stepdaughter, stop and breathe.

You can take several approaches to minimize the discomfort and develop a healthy and happy bond between you and your stepdaughter without distressing your partner.

How do you deal with a manipulative stepdaughter?

  • Model good behavior
  • Educate yourself about manipulation 
  • Always show love
  • Consult with your partner about your role as a stepparent (develop a discipline plan)
  • Don’t make it a game of outwitting
  • Remain firm
  • Attempt heart-to-heart discussions
  • Be a friend as well as a parent

While dealing with a manipulative stepdaughter can be stressful and may even make you fear the end of your relationship, stay calm.

With the right understanding of manipulation and actionable steps to deal with it, you stand a good chance of turning around the relationship with your stepdaughter — or at the very least, developing an amicable relationship.

Read on to learn more.

8 Tips for Dealing With a Manipulative Stepdaughter

Below are 8 simple ways to start dealing more effectively with your stepdaughter:

1. Model Good Behavior

You can’t expect your stepdaughter to behave appropriately or kindly if you don’t, so the first step is to adjust your behavior to match what you’re expecting from your stepdaughter.

Adopt a cheerful and lighthearted attitude when spending time with your stepdaughter. It may be frustrating initially, but even if she reacts negatively, continue.

2. Educate Yourself About Manipulation

Many people misinterpret manipulation. In most instances, children use manipulation when they don’t know other ways to communicate their feelings.

In fact, manipulation could be a way of masking how they’re truly feeling.

For example, manipulative behavior toward a parent could be a side effect of resentment toward a parent, worry that they might lose their place in their parent’s priorities list, or feeling overshadowed by other people in the home.

When you understand where manipulation comes from, you may be able to be more empathetic.

3. Always Show Love

If your stepdaughter is acting manipulative, saying that you care may fall on deaf ears. Actions always speak louder than words.

You can show your stepdaughter that you care by trying to bond with her in several small ways. Talk to her as if she is one of the inner circle. Listen to her, ask about her friends, and try to make her laugh.

Small gestures can make a big difference. Knowing your stepdaughter’s love languages might help you better show her love.

4. Consult Your Partner on Your Role and Develop a Discipline Plan

At no point is it ever acceptable to down-talk or badmouth your stepdaughter to your partner, but you can ask him/her your expected role as a stepmother and how to handle tough situations.

You may find that your partner has some insightful guidance in managing the situation. 

5. Don’t Make It a Game of Outwitting

Don’t stoop to the child’s level if your stepdaughter is firing off smart remarks and retorts, whining, acting sad, etc.

The best way of dealing with it is to remain calm and communicate assertively. Acknowledge what she is saying, but be firm about boundaries and never stoop to insulting or trying to outsmart her.

Listen to what she has to say, and don’t interrupt or get offensive.

Before responding calmly, paraphrase what she has said to ensure you’ve understood and then provide an assertive response such as, “I know you have helped around the house a lot this week, but I cannot extend your curfew on Friday night because 8 p.m. is the rule.

6. Remain Firm

When being manipulated, it’s okay to feel exhausted or worn down. However, don’t cave to their demands or negotiate with them even though you feel tired.

If boundaries and rules are in place, remain calm and cheerful, but don’t budge. 

A woman and a young girl sit on the couch for a serious conversation.

7. Attempt Heart-to-Heart Discussions

Having a heart-to-heart with your stepdaughter may help her realize that you only have good intentions. Ask her if she can spare some time for a chat with you. Be careful not to go in guns blazing.

Instead, explain that you feel you’re picking up on some tension and would like to find out if anything is bothering her.

Discuss what may be frustrating for her (and you) and what actions can be set to create healthy boundaries and help you cohabit together happily.

8. Be a Friend as Well as a Parent

If you’re implementing rules, giving orders, and being an authoritarian, chances are that your stepdaughter isn’t going to want to get close to you.

Strike a careful balance between being a friend and a parent, and you’ll see your relationship grow. This means being firm but playful (without being mean or condescending).

Leave a cheeky note with a treat in her lunch box (or under her pillow), talk about boys (or friends), and share stories of your life from when you were her age.

Offer to do fun things with her (find out what her hobbies are and show an interest).

Manipulative Child Behavior

Studies have shown that children as young as 15 months old can learn to be manipulative. Just think about that baby who cries for no reason other than for attention.

It takes a little while for a child to learn that certain manipulative behaviors get results. Children between 3 and 7 already have a good understanding of manipulation.

Manipulation can be self-serving, for social acceptance, or a result of having to be resilient. 

Manipulation typically looks like this:

  • Tantrums
  • Lies (and deceit)
  • Accusing others
  • Playing people against each other
  • Whining or crying

Why Children Resort To Using Manipulation

Children usually manipulate stepparents because:

  • They feel guilty for liking someone other than their other parent.
  • They want to establish power.
  • They need reassurance of their place in the family.
  • They want privileges they can’t authentically get or want to get out of punishment or consequences.

Related Questions:

What Should a Step-Parent’s Role Be?

As a stepparent, your main responsibility is to help your blended family run as smoothly as possible.

You may be involved in the day-to-day running of the home and ensuring that visitations and picking up/dropping off kids go according to plan and so on.

When it comes to discipline and guidance, that’s certainly a conversation you need to have with your partner. Sometimes, partners only want their new wife/husband to play a supporting role but not take the lead.

How Involved Should Stepparents Be?

This is a tricky one to answer. This depends on your relationship with your partner, the bond you develop with the children in question, and how the other parent feels about it.

According to Palm Law, children should be encouraged to respect their stepparents, and stepparents, when it comes to discipline, should have the same responsibility and authority with children as their teachers and babysitters do.

Final Thoughts

If you’re dealing with a stepdaughter who is manipulative or disrespectful, stay calm, and work through the points above.

You may find that your relationship with your stepdaughter will grow with understanding, a gentle approach, and patience.