I have a question about that — maybe you could do a post on it and offer advice to those of us that are a little behind you in terms of children. I love the idea of the older taking “charge” of a younger sibling, and I’m trying to instill in my boys that they are the protector of their sister. I have a 6 yob, 4yog, 2yob and another little guy coming in December. The 6yo boy takes his responsibility seriously, often continuously reminding the other two of their responsibilities or warning them of their waywardness. The other two simply don’t appreciate it. There are many “you are not my boss!” and “you are not my mom!” being thrown around. The oldest also gets carried away from time to time as well, and I have to remind him that he is NOT their boss and not to take things so personally. So……..at what age do they become “in charge” of a younger sibling and how do you handle the sibling rivalry that results out of a genuine concern — the other is going to get in trouble if they don’t finish cleaning or come right when called, the other is doing something that, if caught, will bring immediate discpline, etc.? I’d love to hear your opinions on this!
Wow! This is a tough set of questions, one that we grapple with constantly. How do we find that delicate balance in which the younger ones respect and obey their older siblings without encouraging and allowing the older ones to “lord it over” the younger ones?
As with any other subject, we’re a long way from having this all figured out, but I’ll give you some of our own guidelines and maybe you will find them useful in your house.
Duties of younger siblings
First of all, the younger ones are to respect the older ones. I often hear myself saying things like, “Your sister is older and wiser than you. When she says you should/shouldn’t do that, you had better listen to her. She’s probably right, and she’s trying to help you stay out of trouble.” Notice that I didn’t say the younger always have to obey the older ones, but I do think they need to establish a pattern of heeding good counsel and respecting their elders – even bossy older sisters.
When a young ones gets in trouble and I learn that the older ones warned her, she’s in double trouble for ignoring good counsel.
Secondly, when the older ones are left in charge (we now have children old enough to babysit), the standard is a little different. The younger ones do have to obey, even if the older ones are – or seem – bossy and unreasonable. In these situations I say something like, “Your sister is in charge of you by my authority. You need to obey your parents in the Lord (Eph. 6:1) by obeying the sister I set over you today. Even if you think she’s being crabby or too bossy, you need to obey her sweetly and talk to me about it later.”
That covers the duties of the younger ones toward the older ones, but we also need to address the reverse.
Duties of older siblings
If I am home, the older ones are not generally allowed to correct their siblings in my presence. “Hello. My name is Kim, and I’m the mom today. Thank you.”
If I’m present but not responding to the actions of a younger one and an older child really think it’s important, she can quietly call my attention without tattling: “Mom, do you realize that she is…?”
If I’m not in the room to witness the need for correction, the older ones should ideally handle it in by invoking the name of a parental unit: “Do Mom and Dad allow you to do that?” instead of “Hey! Quit it!” I often have to remind the older ones that it’s not their job to make their younger sibs obey under these circumstances – only to offer sound advice. While the younger ones are doubly responsible if they fail to heed good advice, the older ones need to know when to step back and let the young ones get themselves into trouble.
If I am not home and have left an older child in charge, she is admonished not to be too bossy. She might be reminded that harshness on her part will encourage rebellion on the part of those under her authority, making her partly responsible for leading them into sin. She is often reminded that we are lending her the authority that God gave us over our children, so she needs to use it carefully and properly. And she’s reminded to see that the house stays clean.
All of these examples use mom instead of dad, but I think it’s worth mentioning that all of this was not just my own doing. Hubby and I have developed this system together, and it all applies equally with either parent. It’s vitally important to follow your husband’s lead in how you deal with and delegate authority among your children, since you and your husband set a highly visible example of authority and obedience for your children each day.