I am the oldest of 5 children. My mom was diagnosed with cancer and given 6 months to live when I was 11 years old. My parents decided to homeschool me so that I would be able to run the home after my mother passed away. I was the bossy older sister.
I remember the squabbles, the tattle tales and the disunity that came from my sin of failing to lead as Christ commanded and demonstrated.
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; Phil. 2:3
Biblical leadership isn’t about TELLING others, “obey me”, “listen to me”, “do this” it is about serving those we have been called to lead.
That said, our family has not dealt with older siblings who are habitually bossy….yet. (Our older children are girl-15, girl-14, boy-13, girl-11, etc.) I am confident saying this for a few reasons:
- It’s extremely rare for a little one to come to us because an older was “bossing them around”.
- Our older children constantly surprise me with their cheerful service to their younger siblings. They often display more patience than I do, very convicting.
- We are with our children and they are with each other nearly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and despite sharing rooms, chores, education we don’t hear very little bossing or fussing about being bossed.
I suppose that some of this may be the personality of our children and I know that all of it is God’s blessing on our family, but here are some things that we have done from very early on that may have contributed to some of this atmosphere of peace that God has bestowed upon our family.
How to avoid bossy older siblings
Emphasize servant leadership
From the time our children were small, we’ve taught them that being in a position of authority does not mean that they are the ‘boss’, it means that they are the servant.
From the time our big kids were little they’ve had times when they were ‘responsible’ to care for or play with a younger sibling. During these times they knew that their job was to make their younger sibling happy by serving them. At very, very young ages our children have practiced putting aside their desires and choosing to do that which pleases those younger than them.
We’ve been amazed at how this has manifested itself as our children have gotten older. Amber regularly chooses to play ‘baby’ games (Memory, Candyland) with the 7 and under crowd during her free time. Kaitlin regularly gives manicures and pedicures to me and her younger sisters. Alyssa is nearly always the first one to jump up and volunteer to do what nearly anyone asks to be done.
All of our older children look for opportunities to serve in our household and frequently tackle tasks and projects that we haven’t assigned to them.
Our children do not scorn playing with and helping younger children when we are in various social settings. And they often remind me of a family that could use a meal or a little extra help. They just tend to be very “other” focused.
It’s beautiful to watch because it’s something that I didn’t do/wasn’t aware of when I was their age.
Teach them to respectfully take wise counsel
It’s tons easier for an older child to not become a bossy older child, if those little ones have been trained to be respectful and obedient.
Once again this starts very early in our home. Our rule is that our children must obey quickly, cheerfully and completely every time.
When they begin to speak we require them to say, “Yes ma’am (or sir)” OR “Yes mommy (or daddy)”. They may NEVER give a reason why they aren’t going to obey. IF they have something to say about our command then we teach them to say, “Yes mommy.” “Mom, I have a request.” At that point we will either listen to what they have to say or tell them that they must obey anyway.
“Nick (4), I want you to go potty and get into bed.”
Nick says, “Yes Ma’am.” (cheerfully) and then says, “I have a request.”
Nick may NOT say, “I just went potty.” or “Daddy said I may stay up.” even if these things are true.
This “rule” simply gives our little ones a concrete way to obey respectfully even when we, as the parent, may not have all of the information. This also has translated well to their siblings and others in authority over them.
Applying this to sibling interactions
This begins as soon as our children begin to interact with each other. We teach that each of them should ALWAYS cheerfully and respectfully receive wise counsel, no matter where it originates. This means that we require (yes require) older ones to receive wise counsel from younger ones and vice versa.
We implement this in the same manner we implement solving sibling squabbles by role playing and giving specific instructions on how to respond.
This is how it works when the counsel is wise:
1.) 5 year old is jumping on the couch (something that is not allowed in our home).
2.) The 4 year old says (kindly), “5 year old, you should not jump on the couch.” Or better yet, 4 year old says, “5 year old, mom and dad don’t let us jump on the couch.” but either way is fine.
3.) Ideally, 5 year old stops jumping on the couch and thanks 4 year old for the reminder. (It does happen, believe it or not.)
Alternately, 5 year old may think, “Mom told me I may jump on the couch.” If this is the case he is responsible to respond to 4 year old (kindly) and tell him, “Mom and Dad have said I may jump on the couch.” He may NOT ignore 4 year old, that’s rude.
Most likely scenario is that the 5 year old ignores 4 year old and continues jumping on the couch.
4.) At this point we encourage our 4 year old to come kindly and sweetly tell us about the situation.
5.) We deal with 5 year old because he disobeyed mom and dad by jumping on the couch. Additionally we deal with 5 year old because he refused to accept the wise counsel of his sibling. In other words, 5 year old is now in trouble for two different sins.
If I have indeed given 5 year old permission to jump on the couch, I tell 4 year old and he should cheerfully accept my instruction.
This is how it works if the counsel is not necessarily wise:
1.) 5 year old is playing with toy.
2.) 4 year old says (kindly), 5 year old, please will you give me the toy.
3.) 5 year old is NOT allowed to ignore 4 year old! 5 year old says, “I will give you the toy when I’m finished playing with it.”
4.) At this point, the 4 year old may continue to play nicely OR if he/she believes they have been wronged, may bring it to mom and dad.
Notes on both scenarios:
2.) We deal with 4 year old’s sin if he/she speaks in an unkind manner. The heart of this should be serving 5 year old by reminding him of our home’s standards and avoiding mom and dad having to remind him.
4.) Once again, 4 year old must come with a servant’s heart if not we deal with his sin. IF, in the second scenario, his counsel is deceitful, self-serving, etc. (“Mom said, you have to give me the toy.” when mom said no such thing.) we deal with 4 year old’s sin.
If the 5 year old wonders if the counsel is wise he is required to bring it to mom and dad.
I realize that a lot of parents would rather not be bothered with all of the situations that will need to be dealt with if you have these types of standards (for this and sibling squabbles). I’ve heard parents say that children need to learn to handle their own conflicts, so the parents refuse to get involved.
I think the key to this is Matthew 18 and the first 3 steps of the above scenarios. If the children each respond in a biblical manner, they will have solved the problem themselves, but once one or the other of them refuses to respond biblically, we believe that they need outside help otherwise they will gain wonderful practice in disobedience.
As we look at Matthew 18, God does not leave us (adults) to duke it out and settle our own disputes. He also doesn’t allow us to determine for ourselves whether or not the authority over us is right or wrong, rather He lays out a method for bringing in outside help and authority as needed. We are all always to be a people UNDER authority. This is what we’ve based our standard on.
For our family, this has paid off in a huge way. We really, honestly do not have much, if any, fighting among our children older than 5. Don’t get me wrong, we do have to correct for impatient speech or lack of thoughtfulness, but I can’t think of the last time our older children had a real quarrel. (I just asked them and they also can’t remember their last real quarrel, although Alyssa (11) said they do sometimes call each other stupido and they all cracked up laughing.)
General rules and answers to your questions
The following are questions that you asked about this topic on the 4 Moms, 35+ Kids Facebook page.
How do you help children differentiate between bossing and being mom’s helper by instructing younger children.
The goal of leadership should always be service. They should always be seeking the good of their siblings.
Generally speaking our house operates on the above principles. If our 15 year old asks our 5 year old to do something (or vice versa), they each have those same avenues for settling the situation as listed above.We always deal with children who refuse to listen to wise counsel and we always deal with children who dish up unwise counsel.
What about babysitting or when an older sibling has been put in charge?
First of all, when we leave one of the older children to babysit (or put them in charge because parents are unavailable) we clearly explain to all of the children WHO is in charge. (Sometimes we have one of the younger, older children bear the authority because, remember, the leader MUST be the servant and that is good for all of our children to learn. It’s also good for our older children to learn to submit to those who are younger than them.)
The children must all obey the child-in-charge as they would obey mom or dad. This means that even if the child-in-charge gives unwise counsel, the younger ones are required to obey, unless it would require them to break the law of God. (i.e. Older child commands younger children to complete all of older child’s chores while older child sits on the couch. We would expect younger children to obey cheerfully, quickly and completely because there is nothing sinful about doing older child’s chores.)
If there is doubt about whether a command is sinful (i.e. Older child commands younger children to break mom and dad’s rules) the younger children are encouraged to call mom and dad.
If older child has given unwise counsel (and required the younger children to do the chores he/she should have done, for example) we deal with their sin.
When we first began leaving the children home alone, it seemed that we went through a learning curve. We had the child-in-charge call anytime he/she had any problem and we came home and dealt with problems immediately.
As the children have become accustomed to the fact that they don’t get away with disobedience even when mom or dad are gone we’ve been able to relax a little bit and deal with some things after we get home (without rushing straight home immediately). Again, I realize that many parents won’t want to commit to canceling plans or not finishing an errand in order to focus on training their children. In our home, this is our priority.
To what extent do you allow older siblings to discipline younger ones?
We don’t other than what is outlined above. All discipline is carried out by mom or dad.
Actually it goes farther than that, we don’t allow anyone other than Mark or me to discipline our children. We believe that this is a responsibility that God has given to parents because parents love their children more than anyone else in the world loves those children.
Perhaps this will change as our older children get even older, but for now, with our oldest being 15, this is how we operate.
Yes, this is a big commitment. Yes, it means that times away from children are extremely limited. Yes, it means that my day is almost guaranteed to have a lot of interruptions. But God has blessed me with 11 eternal souls to raise for His honor and glory. I don’t think that running errands without little children in tow is more important than me spending that time teaching them and training them in the way that they should go.
You may also be interested in:
- My mom’s cancer story
- Schedule when we had 4 children under 4 – You can see where 3 year old Amber was scheduled to spend time ‘babysitting’ newborn Alyssa.
- Solving Sibling Squabbles
- Building Strong Sibling Relationships
- Keeping your child’s heart: Discipline
- Keeping your patience
- How car/van seating arrangements to help with character training
- Bossy Older Siblings: Part 2
Be sure to visit the other 4 Moms to read what they have to say about this topic:
For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.