Promoting Your Older Child To ‘Parent’: The Do's And Don'ts

Promoting Your Older Child To ‘Parent’: The Do's And Don'ts

Is it worth handing responsibility over to an older child to look after and discipline younger siblings, or can it cause a power struggle? Find out here...

There comes a time when you might delegate responsibilities to your eldest child, particularly when you leave them in charge of their younger siblings.

In such a situation, your elder child may very well have to discipline his younger sibling if inappropriate behaviour is encountered.

However, giving your older child free range to discipline their sibling/s can be a tricky situation as it could foster deep-seated antagonism from the youngest at being disciplined by their own older sibling.

Promoting Your Older Child To ‘Parent’: The Do's And Don'ts

Is asking your older child to discipline younger siblings wrong? | Image source: iStock

Promotion to parent?

You could be left in a right muddle when it comes to parental strategy on discipline if the youngest comes complaining to you about the over-the-top discipline dished out by his older sibling.

The net effect of this is that you could be left with an older child on a power-trip, younger children harbouring intense resentment about their older sibling, and parental control packing its cases and heading for the door.

Having spoken to many parents, the consensus is that if there is an age gap — for example big sister is 16 and the younger sibling is 11 — then allowing the older sibling to discipline the younger, as long as they are consistent and reflect your views on discipline, shouldn’t be a problem.

By doing so, the eldest will feel empowered and take on a mantle of responsibility, which if fostered in the right way can be promoted in other aspects of life.

The saying ‘an old head on young shoulders’ is one that comes to mind in such a scenario. The youngest may seek to disagree but with a united front at all levels, they will, hopefully, start to respect their older brother or sister and want to grow up in their image.

Promoting Your Older Child To ‘Parent’: The Do's And Don'ts

Giving your older child the responsibility of looking after his younger sibling can actually be beneficial for everyone. | Image source: iStock

Power struggle

However, most parents agree that delegating discipline powers to a child who is of similar age to their younger siblings should not take place.

What you will find in this scenario is that the younger child may try to manipulate the situation, dangling a threat to tell mum and dad if the older child is being too heavy-handed with discipline.

The effect of this is that the older one may simply offer a hands-off strategy allowing the younger sibling to do what they want, which ultimately is not effective at any level.


Parents should offer the older child some responsibilities but in a controlled manner. For example, ask them to look after the younger sibling when they perform light duties, and from there just work your way up.

Once your younger child starts accepting the fact that his older sibling has been endorsed by you to look after and discipline him when necessary, this can actually enable the two to build a closer bond for now and the future.

As parents, it’s ideal if you could encourage your older child to provide support and advice to the younger ones when needed and follow this through with other responsibilities, such as teaching them or reading to them.

Promoting Your Older Child To ‘Parent’: The Do's And Don'ts

Soon, your younger kids will start looking up to their older brother or sister | Image source: iStock

You are still the parents

Giving such responsibilities to the older child certainly should not be an opportunity for the parents to step back and walk away from their responsibilities.

Too many older children have spoken of having to grow up too fast in order to look after their younger siblings because their parents were consumed with other matters.

Having lost their childhood, the chance is they will not look at their parents in a favourable light. The best way to ensure that the older child is not taking on too many parental responsibilities is to promote greater communication between yourselves.

Encourage your older child to tell you if he is feeling overwhelmed with the added responsibility of looking after his younger sibling from time-to-time.

If he is feeling overwhelmed, cut down on the amount of time you ask him to spend looking after his younger brother and/or sister.

In the end, the whole process should be able trying to teach your older child how to be responsible, and your younger child how to respect and listen to others, even though they may not be his parents.

Do you ask your older child to look after his/her younger sibling/s? Tell us how you manage discipline issues in such instances by leaving a comment.

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