Q&A: What About A Child Who Wants To Boss His Siblings?
Often we’re asked, what do you do about a child who wants to police his younger brother, boss him around, and assume authority over him?
Is it ever appropriate for an older sibling to have authority over a younger one? Well, sure — sometimes your teenager is babysitting the little ones, or driving his siblings to baseball practice or dance rehearsal, or leading a household project. For safety and efficiency’s sake, someone has to be in charge, and this is a natural job for the “senior brother” in the group. These are great opportunities to train your older children in leadership skills.
In this case, we appoint his as Mom and Dad’s deputy. In fact, we’ll make a formal announcement to be sure everybody understands:
“Kids, while Mom and I are at this meeting, Robert is in charge. He’s representing us while we’re gone, so don’t argue or give him trouble, or you’ll have to deal with us when we get back.
Robert, you’ll be responsible until we return. You don’t have permission to spank anybody, but if they are disobedient or give you too much flak, just send them to bed and we’ll take care of it when we’re home.”
That makes is plain that big brother Robert has not been crowned Dictator For Life, but for a specific time and reason, he is given limited authority to go with his responsibility. (If you want to issue a badge of authority, that’s fine 🙂 And be sure to ask both the big brother and the younger ones, “How’d it go?” afterward … and deal with whatever you find happened!
It’s important that big brother is properly prepared for this role. For example, we send our young guys to a program called “Safe Sitter,” taught at our local hospital, to get trained on how to be in charge of younger children in all kinds of situations — and when to call for help!
But what about a more general desire just to be in charge and lord it over the younger siblings?
Look to Jesus’ example. When the disciples squabbled over who would be the greatest among them, Jesus said,
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘Benefactors;’ but not so among you. On the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)
Often people only see the public aspect of leadership — the leader gets to choose direction, or give orders, or make the final decision. Our children see us parents and think, “I wish I got to make all the choices, like they do!” What neither see is the hours of work and service behind the scenes, and the frequent troubles that a leader has to just handle or endure. Harry Truman’s dictum was, “The buck stops here.” It’s not, “The bus stops here, and it’s all for me!”
Explain there’s a hidden cost to leadership perks. One thing we found helpful is to explain to the bossy child, “When you have authority over something, you also carry the responsibility for it. The captain of the ship is responsible for the actions of his crew. Your parents are responsible for the behavior of you children. And so, if you want to have authority over your little brother, you know we’ll have to make you responsible for him, too. If he doesn’t clean up his toys, you’ll have to be punished just like he will. If he doesn’t behave and has to take a nap, you probably will have to take one, too. Is that what you wanted?”
Certainly, there are blessings and honors which come from being a faithful leader. From our kids’ perspective, being a grown up and a parent must be a pretty sweet deal. Let’s counter their naturally selfish desire to be In Charge, with a good example of service and responsibility we hope they grow up to follow!
Hal and Melanie
Do you wonder how to balance teaching your son to obey his parents and follow instructions, with preparing him to be a leader of a family, church, or community some day?
How do you get a well-behaved boy today, without squelching his ambition to step out and take the lead as an adult?
We spend a whole chapter on this in our book, Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys. You can read a sample chapter here, or you can order your copy below – in print, audio CD, or downloadable formats!