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Bossy Older Siblings

Henry Jurney, 6, was happy to have his two younger brothers help him build a spaceship, but only if they did it his way. And he's not the only Jurney brother who thinks he's in charge -- their mom, Erika, of Palo Alto, CA, recently overheard 5-year-old Eddie scold 3-year-old Charlie, "No more screen time!"

Bossing younger siblings around is typical for kids ages 5 to 7, says Jerry Wyckoff, Ph.D., child psychologist and coauthor of How to Discipline Your Six- to Twelve-Year-Old...Without Losing Your Mind. "It's natural that they want to try out what it feels like to tell others what to do," he explains. But this overbearing behavior still needs to be tempered. Wyckoff suggests the following tips:

  • Make it clear that parents make the rules, and discuss this out of earshot of the younger sib, since you don't want to seem like you're taking sides.
  • Act out scenarios to help your older child distinguish between protecting his siblings ("Don't touch -- that pot is hot!") and throwing his weight around ("Give me your crayon!"). Suggest language that he can use, such as "Please give me that yellow crayon when you're done."
  • Encourage empathy. Talk about (and, when needed, remind him) how he dislikes being ordered to do things.
  • Consider whether you're too authoritarian. If a child's tone is particularly forceful and he mercilessly nitpicks everything his brother or sister does, think about where he may have learned this behavior!

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