Why Won’t My Boys Follow Their Sister’s Lead?

Have you ever wondered how to enlist your oldest children to help with the needs of their younger siblings without causing an episode of sibling conflict in the process?

I have.

You see, we have three kids. Our oldest, a daughter, is almost eleven. Our middle, a son, is almost eight. And our youngest, “Little Bit”, is four. And while we’ve tried not to convert our daughter into a third parent for our boys, there are times when we just need an extra set of arms and legs. She is generally glad to help, but it often goes like this:

“Can you run upstairs and get Little Bit in the bathtub while I finish cooking dinner?”

“Yes mom”.

But when she arrives in his room, this is what I hear:

“Little Bit, it’s time to get in the tub.”

“No. You’re not the boss of me.”

“Seriously. Mom said you need to get in the tub.”

“No she didn’t.”

“Yes she did.”

“No she DIDN’T!”


(Sounds of a WWF wrestling match coming through the floor of my den. I’m not sure how we haven’t yet put a hole in the ceiling.)

And then:

A scream.

A slamming door.


“Mooooooooom, Little Bit won’t get in the bathtub!”


And then, I have to leave whatever it is I’m cooking on the stove (usually something that requires constant stirring) and go upstairs to take care of it myself.

There has to be an easier way.

Because while I don’t believe our oldest should be parenting our boys, I do believe that growth and community occurs when siblings pitch in to take care of each other and learn to cooperate in the process.

So I’ve been wracking my brain over how to troubleshoot this dilemma because clearly “mom said” rarely works.

OK, fine. I’ll be honest.

It never works.

But what’s the alternative?

Well, I never would have put my money on the possibility that I’d find the answer to this dilemma in the book of Numbers, but I did.

And it’s golden.

In Numbers, Chapter 27, Moses is recounting the story of Joshua’s succession as leader of the Israelites. Because Moses was concerned about dying without making sure a new leader was ready to replace him. He took his concern up with the Lord:

Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”

Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.

I’ve always thought of commissioning as being purely ceremonial. Even having watched my husband be commissioned as a candidate for ministry, I never thought of it as being anything beyond that. But as I consider the Lord’s words:

Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him.

I realized that commissioning is much more than symbolic.

It’s powerful.

So I decided to try this with my kids.

The next time I needed my boys to follow the lead of our daughter (a child in whom the spirit of leadership does dwell), I brought them all downstairs. And I said this:

“Boys, I’m cooking dinner. And I can’t come upstairs to oversee your baths and evening responsibilities, so I’ve asked your sister to help you work through those things while I finish cooking. From now until dinner, your sister is in charge. If she asks you to do something, it’s just like I’m asking you to do something. I expect a “Yes” to her instructions and obedience right away, all the way, and in a happy way. Do you understand?”

“Yes, mom.”

“Do I have your agreement?”

“Yes, mom.”

And guess what?

It worked.

Like a charm.

I’m not going to say it works every time. Because everyone involved in this agreement is under the age of eleven.

But I will say it works the majority of the time.

And it’s presenting great opportunities for growth.

It’s empowering our daughter to develop her leadership skills by taking a leadership role with her siblings in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

And it’s teaching our boys to respect authority that comes in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

I don’t know how this will work with an older sibling who doesn’t have the qualities of a leader (you will note the scripture says Joshua had the “spirit of leadership” in him). I can only speak into my own context with regard to a ten-year old girl who is a leader among her peers.

But we won’t know if it will work unless we try, right?

So the next time you need to enlist your oldest children to help with the needs of your younger children, thoughtfully consider having a “commissioning ceremony” like the one I described above. You may be surprised at what will happen. Because my experience shows it has the power to transform the interactions among siblings in a positive way as they work towards a common goal.

What tips and tricks have you used to teach your younger children how to follow the lead of your older children?

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