Two-year-old Lucas Fell of Montclair, NJ, sometimes screams when he sees Mom or Dad reach for the shampoo. That's when his big sister, Eliza, 5, often saves the day. "She pretends they're at the hair salon, and Lukey always goes along," says their dad, Michael.
Until they start to look like adults themselves, older kids have amazing power over their toddler sibs. For little ones in the "I can do it" phase -- which kicks in at 22 to 24 months and continues to around age 3 -- big kids become models for your toddler's desire for independence, says Geri Fox, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute of Juvenile Research.
Plus, it's easier for your child to answer to the big brother she looks up to, rather than a grown-up, who, with the change of a diaper, snaps her out of her bid for autonomy.
So take advantage of the extra pair of hands. Your toddler will win her idol's attention, your older child will get to show off his skills, and you'll have two kids who get along (for now, anyway!).