The other day I saw this little boy reading to his sister while waiting to be seated at a restaurant. Apart from the poignancy of the scene–a very patient older brother trying to soothe his squirmy toddler sister–it occurs to me just how much older siblings assume the role of parent, especially in larger families. This of course can be a very good thing: Nothing like an older sibling to model good behavior and to get results from an adoring little sibling. I can think of so many good examples from my own current and childhood experiences. I also have memories of older siblings who ruled their younger charges with brute force. While much of this sibling “hazing” is not only normal, but, if not extreme, actually a good thing (the emotional equivalent of a skinned knee), there are some cases that cross a line, when parents don’t intervene because common wisdom suggests that we “just let them work it out on their own.” Older siblings left unchecked have all of the authority of parents when left with their younger siblings, yet they have a child’s exaggerated sense of black-and-white justice. They can become parodies of adults in the doling out of discipline in some cases, often in an attempt to do the right thing. From my own experience, I find that our generation tends to be a bit more mindful of the imbalance of power between older and younger siblings compared to our parents’ generation, who seemed to be so reliant on their older spawn for child-rearing.
It does raise the question about how much one should intervene when siblings spar. As the younger of two, I am particularly sensitive to my younger child’s, well, littleness. His older brother is a gentle soul and by all measures a very nice older brother, he does exercise his power to provoke my younger son with even the slightest of glances. When I find myself repeating ludicrous things like, “Don’t look at your brother,” I know I have to keep my bias in check. I would love to know how other parents monitor their own biases and keep themselves in check.