How to Be a Responsible Eldest Sister

Eldest sisters are often given great responsibility. Your role fosters maturity, leadership, and a sense of empowerment. Sometimes the role is extremely challenging, such as when one parent is unable to help raise the children, and sometimes it is pretty straightforward. Here is how to enjoy the good days and handle the rough ones as a responsible eldest sister, whatever your age, the make up of family or your personal circumstances.


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    Spend time getting to know your younger sibling(s). Since you are closer in age to your siblings than your parents, you likely are more able to have fun and play with your brothers and sisters. Having fun helps grow a positive relationship, the sort that makes a family work well together. Play games, read books, watch movies, and engage in each other's interests. Find things that you can enjoy doing together.
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    Practice good listening skills. Listen attentively, asking questions for clarification and respecting his or her point of view—even if your sibling is wrong. Respectful, active listening builds your relationship and encourages your sibling to trust you. This is hard, especially since you, as the older sister, is probably better at this that your younger siblings. But good listening will teach your sibling to do the same...eventually!
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    Handle sibling conflicts with maturity. Listen and stay as calm as you can. Seek to understand the other person's point of view before getting mad or passing judgment.
    • If you are getting angry, say something like: "I need to take a break. Please let's talk about this later when we are both calmer " and walk away. And follow through by coming back when you are calmer.
    • Get help from a parent when necessary. Sometimes having an adult authority reinforce rules, proper behavior, and so forth can really help. Let the adults help you by letting them do some of this work.
    • Apologize if you hurt your sibling.
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    Help out your parents. Every family has those days when the adults are overwhelmed with household responsibilities. If you are of age that you can help out, do so when you have the time and energy.
    • Help out with household tasks when needed. It could be as simple as helping track down a wayward piece of clothing, folding the laundry, or picking up some milk at the corner store.
    • Watch your siblings. Giving your parents even an hour break can make a huge difference. Take your brother on a tricycle ride around the block, play dolls with your sister, or just sit and watch TV for a while.
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    Recognize the special role you have as an older sibling. Parents are great, but sometimes an older sister or brother is even better for a particular issue. Sometimes your parent(s) may not realize your sibling needs help right now, or your sibling may want to talk to you instead of them. Offer your help, whether it's helping them fix a problem or just offering a listening ear. It will mean a lot to them.
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    Let them be there for you too. Communication goes two ways in a strong relationship, and just as you listen to your siblings, give them opportunities to listen and help you. Siblings love to feel that they're making you happier, even if it's just by giving you a drawing after you had a bad day.
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    Quit comparing yourself with your sibling or siblings. Comparing yourself—positively or negatively—to a sibling sets everyone up for trouble. You may be related, you may even be very similar, but you are all unique individuals.
    • Be a good role model for appreciating your sibling's unique characteristics. Maybe your brother is just not the athlete you are, but you see he is a keen negotiator. Point out his gifts, rather than belittling him for not being like you.
    • Remember your positive features. This can be hard if a younger sibling has a particular skill that you do not. For example, perhaps your sister is a charming actress. Remember that your skills are no less important, even if they are less visible.
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    Be a positive role model. When you are uncertain about whether something is a good idea, ask yourself "Would I be okay with my little sibling(s) seeing this and copying me—now or someday?" If not, it's probably a bad idea.
    • You will mess up sometimes. This is normal and okay. You do not need to be a perfect role model—this is why you are a human instead of an angel.
    • When you do mess up, your siblings will learn from your mistakes.
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    Know when to get help from an adult. You are a big sister, which is just not the same thing as an adult parent. Even if you are a legal guardian to a younger sibling, realize that you do not have the maturity or experience an older adult would likely have. There are some problems you will not be able to handle on your own. You may need to get a parent, older relative, or friend to help. Here are some reasons you might want to tell an adult:
    • Your sibling is not respecting your boundaries, such as interrupting a date
    • Health or safety is at risk (from dangerous rule-breaking to suicidal thoughts)
    • You do not know how to handle a problem
    • You can't fix the problem, but an adult could
    • The problem involves an adult, and not you. For instance, your sister's feelings were hurt when Dad yelled at her. You might bring this to your father's attention, or talk to your sister about the incident, but it needs to be settled between your sister and Dad. You should not be put in the middle
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    Take time for yourself and be a kid. Being responsible, especially if you are young, is difficult. You are not a third parent, you are not a teacher, and you are not a robot who is capable of constantly being "on." Not even an adult can do that constantly. Your first responsibility is your own health and happiness. Take plenty of time to relax, enjoy your own hobbies, and feel balanced.
    • Practice setting boundaries with siblings. Young children often constantly want attention, affection, and interaction, but you need space too. Phrases that may be helpful include: "I need some quiet time right now." "I love you, and I need some space right now."
    • If your siblings do not respect your boundaries, tell your parents. You deserve peace, and your siblings need to learn how to respect others' wishes.
    • Get the support from parents or guardians to find balance. It may be difficult, especially if dealing with a single working parent, a disabled or sick parent, or a situation in which you are truly responsible for a younger sibling. Especially if you are a teenager, you really need time to be with friends, go to skate parks and school dances, participate in sports or clubs, and be a young person.
    • Help negotiate appropriate boundaries with adults. If you are a very responsible child, parents sometimes need to be reminded that you have needs as a young person. Sometimes there are dire family situations that require an older sister to essentially be a parent. But if at all possible, you need to have a childhood which includes time for yourself. For instance, teens need to have time to hang out with friends, develop hobbies, have time to homework, and just have fun sometimes.
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    Respect and love them for who they are. Everyone has certain characteristics that make him or her unique. It can even be difficult to see sometimes, such as when your brother's autism makes it hard to communicate, or your sister's stubbornness can make it challenging to get along.
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    Find ways to help and teach when you can. Your siblings will look up to you, and any lessons they can learn are often appreciated. Take time to discuss a new social skill or teach them to draw. They will love it. Well, usually.
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    Be realistic about what a "Responsible Eldest Sister" means. There are incredibly responsible older sisters who go above and beyond expectations. But most of the time girls and women fall short of this Hollywood ideal. The reality is that Big Sister is not a job one asked for, and it is not easy. And while you can choose your friends, you cannot choose your siblings. It is not an easy relationship. Older sisters are often supposed to be more responsible, mature, and nurturing than younger siblings, even though that is more of accident of birth than because there is something inherent about being born first.


  • Remember that you are only a kid/teen, and you can't take the place of a parent. Take care of yourself first!

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Categories: Family Life | Siblings