How To Deal With an Older Child Who “Bosses” a Younger Child

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Reader Question:

How do you deal with an older child who thinks she needs to help instruct the younger ? She tends to butt in when we are instructing him.


Hi Christi,

I received this question over and over in many forms, so this must be a fairly common problem.  Generally one child will begin to instruct everyone else, including Mom and Dad when they are becoming “Wise in their own eyes.”  What I mean by that is that they feel superior and more important than others.  Often this starts out rather innocently, and we as parents actually encourage it.  It is a relief to us when big sister can help the younger children tie their shoes, make their beds, etc.  When it become an annoyance is when we are trying to instruct on some basic matter and they chime in, add on, or even interrupt to “gang up” on a little one to add their own voice of authority into the situation.   This is not uncommon.  In our home we have a few pat phrases that we use to bring it to the attention of the child such as: “You are not the “other mother.” or “I will give the instructions.  You are not her authority.”

I had this exact scenario this week.  We were downtown heading into the museum and my youngest son David was getting a little further ahead of me than I liked, especially since we were very near traffic.  I called his name.  Now, all my children stop and answer when I call their names.  They have been trained on this since they were two.  But when a child is running at full tilt, as a grown up, you realize there will be a slight hesitation before it registers in their minds that they have been called.  I am willing to wait a second or two for it to register, then to go on with my instruction.  I waited a second, then went on to say: Stop.  Come to Mom.” However, I was interrupted by his big sister yelling his name again.  He could not hear my instruction because she was yelling.  I held her arm, even as he was turning around in confusion to see what I had said.  I told her firmly, “He cannot hear my important instructions because you are trying to be his “other mother.”  You could be endangering his life.  If he did not stop because he could not hear me say it, he could very well have continued right into the street.  You must realize you are endangering him.”

In a less important scenario, I would have simply asked her to put her hand over her mouth.  Once I had finished my instruction to the other child, I ask:  “Why are you having to sit with your hand on your mouth?” They always know the answer to this one. “because I was bossing her.”  “Then what do you need to do to make it right?” “Apologize.” – Then they do so.  This becomes a very humbling task and will often put the stop on this tendency.

Another thing we must do is to guard how often we put this child in authority over the other children.  It is very hard for the child who is constantly being used as the “Live in Babysitter” to sit back and take a peer role once more.  Be on guard that you are not feeding this tendency by using the older sibling too much in this capacity.  However, do not make the same mistake by having a younger child rule over an older child, even if they do have more maturity or capabilities.  This is a recipe for a disaster.

If a child persists in this behavior, I would spend some time with God’s word and demonstrate to her what the Bible says about “Being Wise in Your Own Eyes” as well as parental authority.  You may also spend some time discussing healthy and unhealthy sibling relationships from God’s word and the results.  Think about Cain and Able, Joseph and his brothers, Noah’s sons, and many more examples.  Talk about what made the relationships good or not good. Use this to share your frustration and concerns regarding them Lording over and instructing their siblings. Explain why it is such an important issue.  You can also ensure them that you do appreciate their help when it is appropriate but that you do not need their assistance in the daily parenting of the other children.

Happy Homemaking!


Here are some resources that may also help:

Teaching the Difficult Child

Loving and Teaching The Difficult Child

Beyond Obedience: Raising Children Who Love God and Others

Biblical Insights Into Child Training

The Delightful Family

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