4 Moms on bossy big sisters (and brothers)

What to do about bossy big sisters?  I am the bossy big sister! 4 Moms

To be honest, this is a subject Perry and I have discussed many times as we try to find that fine line between granting older children authority over younger ones and encouraging them to be bossy overlords.  Trust me, it’s not easy.  Perry and I were both oldest children in large families, and for many years we were the bossy older sibling, with varying levels of delegated authority from our parents.

We have learned both from our own experience and from our children that it’s not fair to ask an older child to babysit younger ones without granting authority, but once they taste authority it’s also far too easy for older children to abuse that authority and become tyrants over their younger siblings.

It’s a line that needs to be Biblically defined and clearly taught from both perspectives: that of the older child wielding the authority, and that of the younger child who must obey.

Of course we try to teach this from a Biblical perspective: when we correct children for disobedience, we begin with Ephesians 6:1. Even the littlest ones in our house can recite this verse: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  We remind them that they must obey us not because we are bigger, older or stronger, but because God said.  They must obey God, and He told them to obey us.  If we delegate that authority to an older sibling, the younger ones must obey.  They must obey rightful authority in the Lord, i.e. they must not obey if they are being required to sin. If an older sibling is not requiring the younger one to sin, the younger one needs to be respectful and obedient.

If the younger one feels that the older one is being too mean or bossy, that can be appealed and addressed with parents as soon as possible, but in the meantime they must respect and obey their older siblings. That is the duty of the younger ones to the older ones.  Exactly how it works out depends on the individuals: their maturity levels, their temperaments, the level of authority delegated to them, and other factors.

When we delegate authority to an older sibling, we emphasize that they have no authority of their own.  They act as our representative and by our authority that we have granted them, just as we act by the authority God grants us over them.  To abuse authority is to act as a dishonorable representative of the One who grants us that authority.  We use our authority to lead and disciple them, ultimately teaching them to serve God, not to boss them around and make them do what we want – although it may sometimes seem that way.  🙂

25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~Matthew  20:25-28

Yes, Christ gave and gives His people many commands and they (we) must obey Him.  To some that may seem bossy or controlling, and as humans we often do exercise authority in a bossy and controlling way, but this is not how it should be.  We need to hold ourselves and our children to the Biblical standard and definition of leadership: being a servant of others.

If an older children is being too bossy, this is a problem.  If a child is giving younger siblings commands that I wouldn’t give, I might take her aside and ask, “Are you telling her to do this by your own authority, or are you helping her to obey me?  Do I usually require her to do this?  Does God require her to do this?”

If a child is giving commands in an overbearing way, I might ask, “When you order her around in a rude bossy tone, are you helping her to obey with a good attitude, or are you making it harder for her, leading her into sin and rebellion?”

It never hurts to ask ourselves the same questions: Am I leading and correcting my children in a way that makes it easier or harder for them to respond respectfully and obediently?  Why am I issuing this particular command – does it ultimately serve God’s kingdom in some way, or does it only please me?  Am I demonstrating to my children how to exercise authority properly, lovingly, and with accountability?

Bossiness?  We’ve got it.  I don’t like the way some of my older ones talk to some of my younger ones, some of the time.  I also don’t like the way Perry and I talk to the children sometimes, though we try to model kind and loving exercise of authority and ask forgiveness when we fail.  It’s amazing and convicting how often our children can mirror our own shortcomings, and how much worse those shortcomings seem to look in that mirror than they do on ourselves.  I’m so thankful to serve a God who gives us these little mirrors, forgives our shortcomings and is patient as we work to overcome them.

How do you handle bossy older children? From the other Moms:

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  1. This is an issue we are beginning to see more and more of in our home. Haley is 10 and our family is at that stage where she takes on most of the duties. Sure we call on the 8 (boy) and 5yo as well but Haley is the one we know will get it done. She enjoys helping but I am seeing more and more bossiness come in and it leads to lots of crying from the 5yo. I plan on implementing today the fabulous questions you wrote. Our 3yo (boy), ironically, is just like the 10yo. SO. BOSSY. I think the birth order restarts every 3 children :P…which means my 1yo will be another 2nd born *sigh*

    • Sorry, I might be way out of line and off track here, but I know it can be tempting to expect the oldest kid to do way more than their fair share b/c it’s easier than training the youngers or doing more yourself, but it’s posible the 10yo has too much on her plate

      • No doubt that occurs in many families! I laughed when I read your comment though because I suffer from doing WAY too much for my children. I need to get them working more!

  2. Excellent post! I was actually looking forward to this one, wondering if it occurred in your home too. You know, because I think you’ve got it all together. :o) j/k I love your outlook on it. We haven’t had to deal with bossiness until about 2 years ago and we’ve struggled with what to say to them. Thanks for sharing your words.

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