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Bossy Flossy

June 15, 2010
Two fluffy little yellow baby chicks

I received many great letters on the subject of tattling and building trust. I have learned so much from reading your letters. I wish I could have responded to all your letters, but with a new baby, plus two other children, homeschooling, and helping my Mom with her new book, Preparing to Be a Help Meet, I was pretty much overwhelmed these last few months. Having a third child definitely increases the demand upon me. Gracie loves her little brother so much. She is a great babysitter, sitting on the floor with him and making him laugh for hours. He is a delightfully happy little guy.

In one of the letters I received, you asked how you can teach your children not to boss around the younger children so much. I have a very bossy five-year-old girl; she is the oldest child. Her little sister is two-and-a-half and is the target of all her sister’s bossiness. Most of the time, little sister enjoys the undivided attention, as she is being told what to say and when to say it, what to pick up and what not to touch. But as she gets older and begins to have opinions of her own, she will not be so obliging. In preparation for that day I began to have five-minute “Boss Time.” I work with Laila and we boss Gracie around for five minutes, then Gracie gets to boss us for five minutes. We do this while we are cleaning, washing dishes or playing together. If Gracie slips and bosses while it is not her turn, she has to do five push-ups. It is all done in fun, and the whole time I am teaching them the difference between nice bossing and mean bossing by directing everyone to say “please” and “thank you.” As we go through this training exercise, I talk to them about what we are doing and what we are learning, so it is not just an entertaining game but a learning process.

When Gracie and Laila are playing together and I hear Gracie being too authoritative, I call her over and tell her quietly to be a sweet boss, then send her back to play. Through our training sessions she has learned exactly what being a sweet boss means.

It is very important that Laila not know I am putting Gracie in her place, for then Laila will assume a victim attitude, whining, “she is hurting me and being mean to me.” The victim attitude is a much worse problem to deal with than a bossy or even mean attitude, for you can train bossy out of them, but the child who is always running to mom to be rescued is so pathetic I would not want to babysit her or my girls to play with her. As the second child, Laila is already subject to the hazards of victimhood, so I do not want to reinforce it by rebuking her bossy sister within her hearing.

There are times when bossing is not only okay, it is critical. You need to teach your older children to be alert and to command the younger ones when it is needed. But they must learn that bossing is a responsibility and it comes from caring for your siblings and learning to be trustworthy. The older children learn they are reinforcing the rules you the parent have placed on the children. If they do not show themselves as trustworthy to enforce your rules, or if they are inclined to “add to” your words, then you need to do some exercise training like I do. Sometimes I hear Gracie say to Laila, “Mom said for you to give that to me,” or to come in the house, or whatever she wants Laila to do. When I hear Gracie wrongly using my authority I take her aside for instruction and discipline.

My goal is that Laila trust her sister and that Gracie be protective of Laila. Both of these responses are crucial. Gracie cannot be protective of a tattletale sister who has learned that over-telling gets her mastery over her big sister; nor can Laila learn submission from a big sister who uses her authority to rule her unjustly. Keep in mind, of the two bad habits, the over-telling sissy is the greater fault and ugliest trait, one that is perpetuated by Mama always believing her sweet, lying baby.


The older sibling, still a kid, will often forget to watch out for the younger children, which can mean the younger child will get hurt. Never pile guilt on an older child for not being a good parent. You are the parent and you are responsible. Instruct, do exercise training, and reinforce what you are teaching. Make sure you cultivate their souls to become caring and compassionate nurturers for those under them so as they mature they will develop a natural instinct to protect their younger siblings.


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16 comments on “Bossy Flossy”

  1. Thank you for the insight.
    I see the need for caution with the olders ones.
    Also, a reminder to not create victim mentality (I see that with one child in particular)...need to get back to talking to them one on one about whatever the situation was that occurred and instruct.

  2. While I respect and understand the author's intentions, I could never endorse any kind of bossing between my children, especially preschoolers. Children should never be allowed to feel they are in authority over younger siblings unless they are old enough to legitimately babysit them in the parent's absence. When my 3-year-old daughter tries to boss her brother, she is corrected and required to do WITH her brother whatever chore she tried to boss him into doing. In that way, she is allowed and encouraged to set a good example for him and they both learn to work together. She gets a great deal of pleasure in teaching her brother something new and they both are praised and feel genuine satisfaction in accomplishing a task together. Furthermore, it has also been my experience that when children are being babysat by an older sibling, they tend to behave better and submit to the older sibling's authority when a relationship of cooperation, respect, and trust is instilled over the years. As for the tattling issue, we have discussions as to what is a "good tattle" (her brother getting into something he shouldn't, or that is unsafe), and what is a "bad tattle" (her brother is playing with one of "her" toys).

  3. Once my youngest became old enough to resist his brothers' authority, I implemented the rule that whoever is right is the boss. No one is allowed to tell their brother anything more than once. After that, if their brother won't listen, they come and tell me as secretly as possible. Then I go and listen as secretly as possible while he repeats the command. If the person in the right is not heeded, discipline is administered along with the admonishment that his brother was trying to save him from trouble and that he should listen next time. It doesn't matter if it's my 5 year old trying to boss my 12 year old; if he's right, the 12 year old will do well to listen. I remind them, too, like my husband and I were reminded in marriage counseling: If we listened to the Holy Spirit to begin with, the other person wouldn't have needed to say anything at all.

  4. Thank you! That is just what I needed. Seems you wrote this for me - you have described my situation, and now I can see where I've gone wrong and how to work on it. Thanks for your time =)

  5. I absolutely love this article!!! Very insightful! I have 3 boys-yes, I have my hands full 🙂 and I see this very thing playing itself out in my own children.

    Thank you for your concise article about what to watch out for and what to change in my parenting style that may help nip some of the roots of whining and unjustness that are already trying to establish themselves.

  6. I wish I had known this information fifteen years would have saved me and my girls so much heartache. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

  7. I loved this article. 🙂 While I see where Karen is coming from, I still have to back up Shalom--I was the bossy kid (I'm 19 now). Maybe too bossy, and a little bitter at times, only because I had tattle tale siblings. I had no desire to 'rule' over them in any way, but I grew very frustrated when the spotlight was suddenly placed on me -with the guidance of my siblings whining-- rather than the words of the elder child being heeded. When you're young, a single year makes all the difference-- Children are like sponges and take everything in; the difference in a two year old and three year old is remarkable. When is a person supposed to learn how to 'be bossy' responsibly, if not in childhood? When is leadership instilled? Because my parents let me be bossy when I was younger, I know how to take the reigns when the situation calls for it. People never fail to come to me to ask my opinion on things, because they know I have one. I can say yes, no, not now, you do it, stop doing this, etc.

    Leadership training with the young is important because it instills a sense of responsibility in the child. Grace knows that she is responsible for Laila's actions (to a certain extent) when she is given the role of 'boss' Just like a not forcing your child to share induces sharing, letting your older child take the reigns without fear of reproach caused by the younger child's whining induces care and loving responsibility. No child enjoys harming or being mean to a sibling if the relationship is a healthy one.

  8. Thanks for such a timely article Shalom!..We have two teens and two preschoolers who play out the bossy/victim roles way too much. And it's not just the older ones who boss the younger ones who are the tattlers, the situation reverses on a daily,if not hourly basis. I have been convicted after reading your article for encouraging the victim behavior and responding in the wrong way to the tattling. Your article is an answer to one of my prayers regarding these issues. Thanks for your wisdom and encouraging words concerning the long-range Godly characteristicswe need to train our children to grow into. May God continue to bless you and your family. 🙂

  9. In this world there are always going to be leaders and followers. It is good that we understand not all of our children can be leaders at the same time. I like your idea of having a time when the younger one gets to boss the older one. I have four children (20, 18,17, 8) and found that if you train correctly they can each grow up to be great leaders. It is very sobering as you watch your teens giving good advice to their peers and being seen as one to go to for direction. I believe that in training them to lead correctly in the home they will be great leaders in the world. There are too many wishy washy people that won't take a stand for what is right because they are afraid that telling others what to do is obnoxious. I agree that it is more pathetic to have a child that is always tattling and sees themself as a victim.

  10. With respect to Karen, who commented previously - I believe there may be times when an older child could/should instruct the younger. Perhaps not in an "you have to do what I say because I'm older" manner, but an older child can recognize something that needs to be done or a danger that a younger child is not yet trained for. i.e. the younger stepping into a street in the city while both kids are playing together. Yes, mom should be present, but let's face it - we can never be 100% vigilant in these situations. It takes one second for a child to step into the street and if the older child knows this is wrong, I think he or she should be able to say, "We aren't allowed in the street. Come back on the sidewalk."

  11. Thanks for this article!
    My daughter is 4, and sons are 2 1/2 and 15 months. My sweet little girl is adept at being bossy, and I've struggled with how to allow her some responsibility (which she naturally is good at, a "rules lover) while not allowing her to be demanding, rude, or prideful toward her little brothers.
    Also, an excellent point on the victimization attitude. I appreciate your example of training time. So often it's easy to simply apply "rod and reproof" without initial training and practice.
    Best to you all, I know God will continue to bless your ministry.

  12. Thank you Shalom! You have helped answer some of my questions. My oldest is 4, and girl, so I think naturally she tends to be a bit bossy. I've been trying to figure out how to deal with it when it is rude and not saying what I said. It's a comfort to know I don't have to drive the "bossy" out of her, just harness it! 🙂

  13. I am 16 and the oldest of 6 children! i know i am too bossy, but most of the time i ask/tell/demand/beg for someone to do something i get "You're not the mother so i don't have to obey you!" and there is plenty of the victim attitude! ugh! i am trying to just not tell them what to do if possible!

  14. This advice was so needed for me!!! I am saving this article to re-read and pray that God will show me how to do this with my boys. They are 3 1/2 and 17 months.

    Thank you!! God many blessings to you and yours.