Becoming a parent is very challenging. But in many ways, becoming a stepparent is even harder. As a new stepparent, you are entering into a family environment that may still be suffering as the result of divorce or the death of a parent. Your stepchildren may resent you for the time you spend with your spouse or for your mere presence in the household. When your spouse’s ex spends time with your stepchildren, he or she may badmouth and denigrate you. If your birth children are joining your stepchildren to create a mixed family, additional tensions and problems can arise.

But with patience and dedication, you can overcome such difficulties and win the admiration, affection and love of your stepchildren. Here are some pointers that can minimize family problems and help you become a great stepparent:

Focus on satisfying your stepchildren’s needs, not their wants – Most of all, kids need love, attention and guidance from involved parents. This will prove to them the important place they hold in your life and help them maintain their self-esteem. Trying to win their affection by bribing them with candy or gifts will only serve to undermine your relationship with your stepchildren.

Maintain and enforce consistent rules – This is especially important when forming a mixed family. Treat your stepchildren and your birth children fairly, and apply equal standards of discipline to all. Favoritism shown to an individual child, your birth children or your stepchildren will only sow discord and resentment.

Show respect to your spouse’s ex – If the ex-spouse is entitled to parenting time, he or she has legal rights that are enforceable by the court. Don’t interfere with those rights and don’t say bad things about the ex-spouse in the presence of your stepchildren. If the birth parent is deceased, be sensitive to your stepchildren’s feelings.

Don’t pump your stepchildren for information about the other household – Your stepchildren should be able to enjoy good relations with their birth parents without interference from a stepparent. Communicate directly with the birth parent and don’t use your stepchildren as messengers or go-betweens.

Communicate with your spouse – As the birth parent of your stepchildren, your spouse knows things about them that you will never know. Every child has a unique personality, and your spouse may know the best way to deal with that child. This is especially important when addressing disciplinary matters.