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Bossy Big Sibs

"No, Joe, stack the blocks like this!" Nate Chock, 5, orders his 3-year-old brother. Their dad, Jay, of Portland, OR, doesn't like it. "Nate can act like a staff sergeant," he says.

Older kids often boss their siblings or dis how they play, but why? The eldest may want to show off his skills or help teach his little brother something he's already mastered  -- or he could be angling for attention.

To handle a tyrannical tot:

Determine when to step in. If your younger child ignores his bossy brother, leave it alone. But if he gets quiet and passive around him, it may mean he needs you to intervene.

Don't play favorites. It's easy to think of the "baby" as the defenseless one. But always jumping to his rescue could leave your eldest feeling unfairly blamed and turn your youngest into a perpetual victim.

Explain that little kids need to figure things out for themselves. Gently remind your child that he learned to, say, stack rings by trial-and-error, and his little brother needs to do the same.

Refocus his instructive instincts. Have him demonstrate his potty prowess or zippering skill. He'll feel he's contributing  -- and you may even see a more patient and constructive teacher begin to emerge.