Bossy Older Siblings: 4 Moms

Bossy Older Siblings: Part 2

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.moms of many manage

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:

  1. It’s extremely rare for a little one to come to us because an older was “bossing them around”.
  2. Our older children constantly surprise me with their cheerful service to their younger siblings. They often display more patience than I do, very convicting.
  3. 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.

For example,

“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.

Amber (15) Isabella (1) and Nicholas (3)

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.

Sadie (8) helps Isabella (1) ride her bike

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:


Be sure to visit the other 4 Moms to read what they have to say about this topic:

KimC at Life in a Shoe
Connie at Smockity Frocks
Headmistress at The Common Room

For more Moms of Many posts visit the 4 Moms page.

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30 Responses to Bossy Older Siblings: 4 Moms
  1. Karyn
    August 2, 2012 | 9:57 am

    All I can think of to say is WOW! Yes and Amen. Thank you Kimberley! Wholeheartedly agree – this is going to help me so much with some struggles we’ve had lately. Thank you so much for going into all of this so thoroughly. We SO appreciate your family’s Biblical approach and the time you take to share it!


  2. Heidi
    August 2, 2012 | 10:06 am

    I just wanted to say how sorry I am to hear of your deep suffering over the loss of your mother at such an early age. My own dear mother passed away two years ago from cancer and I was 28 but that seemed too early to me! I can’t imagine how difficult that would be for a young girl. Perhaps that is partly why you seem to have the vocation (besides being a wife and mother) of gently and kindly giving hope and encouragement to those defending and protecting growing families. I believe God has blessed you abundantly for how beautifully and graciously you have responded to His Will. You truly inspire me. God love you!


    Shannon Reply:

    Heidi, you need to read all of her linked page about how she started homeschooling and her mother.
    God does still baffle the experts:D


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Heidi,

    It’s not clear in this post, but if you read the link you’ll learn that my mother survived cancer and is still living today.

    Sorry for the confusion.


    Heidi Reply:

    Okay, sorry, I’m pretty new to your blog and haven’t read all your stories yet—but I’ll get there!


  3. Heather
    August 2, 2012 | 10:40 am

    This is wonderful, practical advice! I have 2 “groups” of kids-16yrs and older, and 8yrs and younger. I wish someone had spelled out creating servant leadership when my older crowd was younger. I am definately going to be working on this with the younger crowd. We call our 8yr old The Sheepdog because he is always trying to corral and take care of his younger sisters, unfortunately he tends to do it in a bossy way.(So does the 16yr old)I tell them that they will make great fathers! Helping them realize it takes a servant’s heart is so important!


  4. Janee Campbell
    August 2, 2012 | 10:53 am

    Love this post. This has been somewhat of an issue with my oldest for years. She is now 14 and I think I will have her read this. I tried for years to teach her the “wise counsel” principle but not necessarily from a biblical point of view. I put it more in the sense of helping one another to do what is right instead of bossing and then tattling when they don’t obey you. Anyway, I love this approach. I will share it with my homeschool group. Thanks.


  5. Trisha
    August 2, 2012 | 11:33 am

    Do you think there is hope for my family? I have boy-8, girl-6, boy-3, and twin boys-13 months. I have totally failed at teaching kindness and respect among my kids, and my oldest is extremely bossy and unkind to our 6 and 3-year-old. When I read this post I cried. It seems impossible to implement such a system at this point. I’m trusting God to help me turn onto a path that honors him in my parenting, but somet


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Yes, I know there is hope for your family!!! It’s never too late!

    Eight is still young, but it may be more challenging.

    First, talk with your husband, if you are on the same page, pray and ask God for forgiveness and for the wisdom to raise your children for His glory.

    Then the two of you should go to your children, repent and ask forgiveness for how you believe you have failed to train them. Then clearly explain to them what will be expected from here on out.

    You can do this, God will equip you for the task that He has called you to do.

    There have been times when Mark and I have had to go through the steps above. We fail constantly and there are times when our children’s behavior clearly demonstrates our failures. God is good and forgiving and He promises to work all for our good and His glory.

    It will be hard. It is hard for us, but God is good, His mercy endures forever and He showers blessings upon us that are greater than we could ever ask or think.

    May God grant you His wisdom and peace.


  6. Trisha
    August 2, 2012 | 11:36 am

    (Oops – typing on my phone!). Sometimes it seems hopeless. I know there is always hope in Christ, but I’m really struggling.


    Annie Reply:

    I don’t have an answer, just a consolation that I am there too! I feel so convicted and challenged by this post! I was not raised this way and I have no clue how to implement this. It seems impossible, but obviously it’s not!!
    I just want you to not feel alone and to know I will pray for you as I struggle towards this also!!!!


  7. Rachel
    August 2, 2012 | 2:19 pm

    I’m curious as to what the training process looks like when initially teaching the way to obey. If the child were to say no and run away, or say yes, but then fail to complete the task, what happens next? Do you just remind them what is expected of them and wait for it to be done correctly, or is there some kind of consequence / motivation to comply?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    From the post:

    We implement this in the same manner we implement solving sibling squabbles by role playing and giving specific instructions on how to respond.

    Keeping Your Child’s Heart: Discipline


  8. Inga
    August 2, 2012 | 4:21 pm

    Thank-you, Kimberly- great advice. I am also working on first-time obedience in my family. Just this morning, I experienced both ends of the spectrum. My 6 yr old son refused to get dressed in a timely manner, and we went several rounds of giving consequences and refusing to obey, before he finally complied. Meanwhile, my 3 yr old grand-daughter was also asked to get dressed. She answered respectfully, and came running out about 2 minutes later. Her pants were on backwards, and she needed help buttoning the shirt. When I went to help with the pants, I discovered a bigger problem- she wasn’t wearing panties! She obeyed quickly, and cheerfully, but I’m not sure about completely! 🙂


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    So cute! Although, I’m thinking that no panties would probably be considered ‘completely’ if our 2 year old got that far. 🙂


  9. Inga
    August 2, 2012 | 6:28 pm

    I also want to encourage you. It is definitely not too late! All of my children are adopted or came through foster care, and none were younger than age 4 when they arrived. My oldest was 15 when I got her, and had been abused, emotionally and spiritually neglected, and deeply betrayed by her parents. While I was far from the perfect parent, she has come a long way in a short time. Pray, be diligent, and don’t give up!


  10. abba12
    August 2, 2012 | 8:14 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve never liked the ‘oldest is in charge’ mindset, but I know siblings need some avenue to correct behaviour. I’m a very verbal person so I’ve always found your manner of child rearing makes sense to me, but this has managed to show me almost exactly the sort of sibling relationship I imagine but couldn’t figure out how to implement. I’m sending this post over to my husband to see. I was the oldest of 4 and my husband the second of 8, so we both come from an older sibling perspective. I like that the children don’t have authority so much as a common duty to wise counsel, that’s a good lesson to teach. And that there is a system when one does actually have authority, like babysitting, means everyone is on the same page.


  11. Sarah
    August 2, 2012 | 9:28 pm

    What a beautiful picture of the grace of God at work in your family. This post touched me deeply. If the Lord ever brings a husband and children into my life, this is the kind of relationships and the kind of servant leadership I want to implement. And it’s what I desire to build and model in my own life even now.

    Thank you so much for sharing and for giving hope that this IS possible by God’s grace! May the Lord bless you and your family.


  12. Inga
    August 3, 2012 | 12:02 am

    Kimberly, I have used your idea of having a toddler entertain a baby with my grand-daughters. I asked the 3 year old to keep the baby for a specific period of time, and set a timer so I could teach an older child. Emmy, 3, would sit on the floor and sing a song,” Chesa- I’m keeping you HAA-pee, I am keeping you Ha-PEE; Chesa, are you happy?” This song could sometimes last until the timer went off. There was frequently an accompanying dance! Not exactly what I had in mind, but it worked!


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Singing and dancing is almost always how our little ones ‘babysit’ the baby. Better get it on video.


  13. Emily M.
    August 3, 2012 | 2:02 am

    Thank you for such a detailed, thoughtful, and godly post on this topic! I read it this morning and I have though about it all day. I have also sent it to my husband to read so we can discuss it. 🙂


  14. PJB
    August 4, 2012 | 4:39 pm

    Are you sure that things like, “Not listening to wise counsel” and “Speaking in an unkind manner” etc. are, in fact, sins?

    I’d like to know what definition of sin you use in your home — and how you distinguish ‘sin’ from other things, such as mistakes, misbehavior, or a child’s inability think well or fully control themself.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Sin is defined by disobedience to the law of God.

    I, as a sinful human being, have no right to define sin apart from His Word nor to say that something that violates the law of God is not sinful, but merely a ‘mistake’. If I do that then I have placed myself as judge over the God of the universe.

    The Bible clearly and repeatedly commands children to obey their parents. Therefore, when a child disobeys his parents he has sinned against God.

    Of course there are other standards within the law of God and because we love our children and wish for them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, (in John 14:21 Jesus says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”) we have tried to consistently teach them God’s standards for their lives.

    As for your specific examples, Romans 12:10 says,

    Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

    and also Ephesians 4:32,

    Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

    The Bible also repeatedly talks about receiving wise counsel,

    Listen to counsel and accept discipline, That you may be wise the rest of your days. Prov 19:20

    A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel Prov. 1:5

    Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Prov. 11:14

    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Prov 12:15

    Through insolence comes nothing but strife, But wisdom is with those who receive counsel. Prov 13:10

    Because of these (and many other passages) we require that our children speak kindly and accept wise counsel.

    The amazing and beautiful thing is that, even in the midst of our frequent failure and inconsistency, God has abundantly blessed the time that we’ve taken to patiently explain, help role-play and correct our children. This has paid off with children who, for the most part speak kindly and listen to wise counsel, not only from their siblings, but also from others.

    People (strangers and friends) frequently say they have never seen such well behaved and happy children. Often, complete strangers will come up and comment about how much our kids love each other and how happy they being together. This is not something that we could hope to accomplish by a set of human standards, this is only by the blessing and mercy of God in giving our children changed hearts that love us, love Him and love others.


  15. Elizabeth McBride
    August 4, 2012 | 9:54 pm

    You say “The Bible clearly and repeatedly commands children to obey their parents. Therefore, when a child disobeys his parents he has sinned against God.” I understand this. I had good parents, they never asked me to do something that was wrong but what happens when parents ask a child to do something that is wrong? One example: the parent tells a child to answer the phone and tell the boss “I’m sick.” The child knows the parent isn’t sick, he’s going fishing with his buddies. Or the parent who tells a child to lie about his age so they can pay less for admission to the movies or wherever? There are more serious examples but you get my point. There are families where the father is sexually abusing a daughter, the mother knows. Why does this child have to obey her parents?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Authority is simple in the Bible. All authority is derived from God (who is the ultimate authority). Therefore anyone under authority is not responsible to obey when the authority commands them to disobey God.


  16. sheila hammons
    August 6, 2012 | 4:57 pm

    This is an off topic question; I am working on switching my children to Sonlight curriculums but am feeling overwhelmed and nervous about the switch. Your blog came up during a search for sonlight support. Might I send you some questions? I have been homeschooling for 4 years and am worn out from piecing together three different curriculums and always feeling like someone got short changed. If you are too busy no worries. I pray you have a good day. Thank you for your time.


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Sheila,

    You are welcome to send me questions via my contact form


  17. Maggie
    August 7, 2012 | 8:18 pm

    You said that you and your husband are the only ones to discipline the children. How does that work with grandparents and extended family? My husband’s youngest sister gets on my kids for every little thing, even when I don’t have a problem with the behavior. For example, she yelled at my 8 YO for playing with a baby toy at my niece’s birthday party and took it away. She also took away the balloons the kids were playing with. (To be clear, she was not the hostess- we were at the other sister’s house) I don’t want her to pick on my kids, but I don’t want to encourge them to be disrespectful, either. How can I tell the kids that their aunt has no authority over them? How should I tell them to respond if she starts in on them and I’m not right there to intervene? She will get upset if they simply ignore her. Or, how do I tell my IL’s not to discipline my kids?


    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    Hi Maggie,

    I answered your question in today’s Q & A post. Hope that is helpful. 🙂


  18. Susan
    June 28, 2014 | 2:38 am

    I’m really new to your blog (like today) although I’ve now read a ton of your posts! I appreciate you addressing the hard subjects and answering the tough comments. Your clear words bring clarity to my own thinking about such things(individually decided and mutually agreed). Thank you for all of your posts.

    In several you mention how when a child sins you “deal” with them on it (lying, not accepting wise counsel etc). This “deal” is something I struggle with for my own children. Would you mind elaborating on how that plays out? (If I missed a detailed post, sorry! I looked around before I asked)


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