From Our Blog: Sibling Rivalry: Older Sibling Acting Like a Parent


"Turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth." "If you throw that toy, I'm taking it away from you." "You need to eat some broccoli before you get dessert." Contrary to how they sound, these are not statements that I've recently made to my toddler but came from the mouth of his 7 year old sister. Sibling rivalry comes in all forms, from arguing over a toy to securing the premiere seat on daddy's lap, and each presents its own unique challenges. This month my husband and I are stumped by this parenting challenge and need some advice about what to do when an older sibling is acting like a parent to a younger one.

Owen (2.5 years) recently transitioned from the toddler program to preschool. One of our biggest hurdles during the transition is helping him to better control his impulses and use words as an alternative to grabbing and hitting his peers. As part of the process, I began spending more time around the kids while they play in order to identify his behavior trigger points.

In the process, I realized just how often my daughter is parenting her little brother. Instead of being a collaborator in mischief, she's constantly letting him know what the rules are. Once again we see her utilizing her "executive leadership (ahem - bossy) skills." Now don't get me wrong, I LOVE that she knows the rules and want to enforce them. However, her "rules" are naturally different from his. We expect a little more control and better behavior from her than from her toddler brother. To be fair to her, many times she is actually spot on with her positive discipline techniques. But she doesn't have to be the parent. We don't want her to be his parent. We want her to be a kid, a fun friend, a sneaky sidekick, etc.

At first, I tried to casually point out to her that she doesn't have to enforce the rules but rather should just be a friend. She got a bit defensive thinking she was doing something wrong. I explained that even though she's correct that Owen is breaking a house rule, it's not her "job" to enforce it. That conversation didn't really solve the problem - no matter how many millions of times we had it. Then, I read that giving her other responsibilities around the house or outside the home through extracurricular activities can help. We do both of these pretty well but maybe the more casual summer is playing a bit of a role here. We're at the point where it's quickly escalating to the point of frustration for me. Nothing we do seems to help her stop this behavior.

Is teaching them sibling teamwork or supportive communication the answer? And if so, what are practical strategies to build these sibling skills with a 7 year old and a 2 year old? Or should I just let them work it out knowing that they're establishing problem resolution skills? I'm not sure this is the right direction for my toddler with little impulse control. Do you have an older sibling who acts like a parent to a younger brother or sister? What do you do?


  • Bright Horizons Online Community: Sibling Rivalry & Lots of Bickering
  • E-family news: Siblings - Best Friends & Worst Enemies
  • Read more posts about siblings from the Family Room bloggers
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