Parents who have more than one child face this dilemma early on: Should your older child be able to tell your younger child what to do?
I was amazed to find that my two year old, with great poise and perfect voice inflection, could accurately mimic my instructions to him to his little sister. “Evy Beth, don’t touch that,” he would say as she reached to open a kitchen cupboard. Or, better yet, “You can’t have that Evy Beth, mom said ‘No’.” At first I found this type of instruction from him to be rather cute. However, before long, his cute little admonishing gave way to bossy domination that seemed to extend from sunrise to sunset. There had to be a line, but where should I draw it? here is what I determined:
1. An older child should be allowed to tell a younger child “No”, if the child is doing something dangerous. Teaching your children to be concerned for each other is important and beneficial for the whole family. If you banish all nay-saying in your house between siblings, you may discourage your children from speaking up when one of your children is doing something that is potentially harmful.
2. An older child must understand that you, not he, is in charge. Countless times I have told my son, “It is up to mommy whether or not Evy can do that,” This is especially true when it is something that is not wrong, but simply his preference. At the same time, you need to praise your child for being concerned for his little sibling. After all, he is only modeling what you do when you tell him what to do.
3. Being involved in your children’s activities will decrease bossiness. Often my son wants to boss his sister when I’m preoccupied with something else. He knows that I am distracted, so he takes the opportunity to “parent” his sister. You will greatly reduce the bossiness of your children if you are engaged and participating in what they are doing.
4. If your child is correct in what he is telling his sibling to do, you might not want to let him know it. By affirming his rebuking behavior, you are asking for much more of it in the future. It is best to address the situation with the younger child, and down-play the tattling role of your older child. However, if he stopped the sibling from doing something harmful, praise him profusely.
5. When your older child is bossing your younger child, explain to your younger child that his big brother or sister cares about him. Though you and your younger child should not tolerate the endless bossing by your older child, your younger child should know that you all want what is best for him.
Tattling and bossing is a normal part of every family where there is more than one child. Though it is not particularly harmful, it must be kept in check in order to preserve yours as well as your younger child’s sanity. Encourage your children to tell each other and you when they are in trouble. Otherwise, minimize bossing behavior by discussing it with your older child and telling him who the real “boss” is.