“Just do what I tell you to do!”
I could hear the “discussion” escalating from my bedroom upstairs. I knew immediately who was involved, and I knew exactly how this set of siblings had ended up in this heated conversation…again.
The older sibling was trying to help the younger one with a homeschool project, but had ended up angry over a perceived disrespect. The younger sibling felt trampled on and didn’t want to listen anymore and was making it very obvious. And now the older sibling was yelling at the top of her lungs trying to command respect.
This set of siblings is notorious for being at each other in this way. But, I keep putting them back together because they both need the practice.
It is sort of cliche’ – the notion that older siblings (particularly sisters) are bossy. Some of it is simply perception. The younger sibling thinks they know just as much and try to assert themselves which ends up grating on the older sibling’s nerves. And then some of it is simply personality. Some older siblings are naturally more commanding and domineering, and tend to come off bossy and arrogant even when they don’t mean to.
As homeschool moms, we often want and need older siblings to step up and help out, but let’s be honest…nearly everyone put in a position of power tends to act bossy from time to time. We should “expect” that an older sibling put in charge will be tempted to rule with an iron fist. We have to put a few rules of our own in place to cut down on this temptation.
Before I share some ideas with you on how to curb bossy behavior in your children, I need to ask you one tough question…
Do you sound bossy when you talk to your kids?
There’s a chance your child learned this bossiness from you, and if that’s the case, it’s time you nipped your own behavior in the bud! Yes, parents need to sound bossy on occasion, but NOT ALL THE TIME!
The best way I have found to avoid sounding bossy as a parent is to simply say “Please” and “Thank You” and ASK more than you TELL.
It takes more time and energy to be polite to our kids, but it is so necessary if we want them to talk kindly to their siblings. Also, consider how you speak to your spouse. Your kids are watching and learning!
How to Stop Your Child from Being Bossy With Their Siblings
*Start small. We tend to throw our older children into the deep end with huge tasks. We have to slowly get them to a position of leadership. It starts with holding a child’s hand across the street. Buckling a baby into a carseat. Washing a little one’s face. Helping a toddler get a coat on. From there, we build into bigger projects that take more effort, but we’ve already given guidance on how to properly relate to a younger sibling while establishing the authority of the older sibling as our emissary.
*Give clear instructions and guidance. Instead of telling an older sibling to go help a younger sibling, show them what you need them to help out with and give clear advice on how to help. This will cut down on the frustration that often leads to yelling matches between siblings.
*Be their backup. Bossiness is often about control. Make sure your older child understands that you will not tolerate bossiness in them, but you also will not tolerate insubordination in the younger sibling. YOU are the final authority, NOT the older sibling, so make sure they know they must come to you if there is an altercation. You will help them control the situation. Because you are the ultimate authority in this relationship and are there to be their backup, they have no need to resort to bossiness.
NOTE: The reason this works is because YOU sent the older sibling to HELP. They are there as your emissary, so more often than not you should be siding with them. This is particularly true if they have restrained themselves from becoming bossy and have come straight to you for help.
*Let them know they are leaders and what that means. The mark of a good leader is that people follow you not because you told them what to do but because you convinced them the direction you lead them in was their idea. Being a leader is humbling because you rarely get to take credit for what you’ve done. It also carries a tremendous amount of responsibility and privilege. In other words, the fact that you are asking an older sibling to help a younger sibling is a BIG DEAL.
For more on giving privileges to older siblings, read Raising Little Kids Alongside Big Kids.
*Give a time limit. As moms, we know that weariness leads to frustration. For children just learning how to lead, weariness comes quickly. They don’t have a toolbox filled with experience that helps them to work through a whole host of problems. So, as they are starting out, give them a time limit – “help Johnny for 15 minutes” or “stop whatever you working on at 3pm no matter what.” This gives them a break without breaking them.
*Mix it up. It’s our tendency to want to keep the peace and put the siblings who work well together in a position to help each other. However, in adulthood, your children will need to learn to work with people who are not like them and even grate on their nerves. Occasionally, put the children who don’t work well together on the same project and be nearby to coach them through the relationship.
*Make a big deal about positive sibling relationships. Too many parents make a big deal about sibling rivalry and end up alienating their children from each other. Focus on the positive and cultivate happy relationships between your children. There is no need to chalk everything up to sibling rivalry. It just ends up breeding more negativity.
*Praise the efforts of the older AND the younger sibling. When you see your children working well together (even if you didn’t assign them to do it) praise it! It is a well known fact that praise makes people want to keep trying and doing well so they will receive more praise! Heap it on, mama!
Ultimately, we are working with sinful people in a sinful world, so grace needs to be our constant companion when dealing with sibling relationships. Keep guiding, keep teaching, keep explaining. And keep in mind that bossiness can become a strength if tempered with humility and a heart for the Lord!