A kid in charge of siblings will need to be able to put aside their own personal interests or needs at least some of the time during their watch. They need to be relatively responsive to looming crises (rather than saying “just a minute let me save this game” as the flames spread to the kitchen cabinets above the stove). They need to randomly check on things even though nothing seems amiss. (It is a plus if they can register that eerie quiet that precedes kids doing something they aren’t supposed to be doing.) Most importantly, you should be able to expect them to not join in on some hair-brained scheme thought up by their younger siblings!
Being in charge of kids requires the ability to take action and to make decisions. Your kid will need to be able to step in and start giving directions and making demands as the situation warrants. This does not mean acting as a tin pot dictator. They will need to formulate an effective plan for dealing with a rebellious sibling or a potential emergency.
All of these qualities can be developed and observed by requiring your kid to practice watching their siblings before you put them fully in charge. (This also lets younger siblings practice being accountable to their older brother or sister in charge.) Start by having the teen in charge review a good manual on babysitting. You may even want to have them complete a formal babysitting course. Review with them how to handle different unusual situations (e.g., answering the door, friends showing up, etc.) and emergencies (e.g., injuries, fire, etc.). Schedule brief stretches of time where your teen is responsible for watching their siblings while you are at home, but occupied with other things. Watch and make suggestions. Put your teenager in charge while you run brief errands. hen gradually add more time as they demonstrate the ability to survive time together without a squad of police cars ending up in your driveway.
Once you are confident your kid is ready for the awesome responsibility that is babysitting his siblings, it will be important to set some ground rules. The teen in charge is a low-level functionary—not the lord or lady of the manner. The teen’s job is to monitor, remind, and transmit direct instructions from the royals (e.g., you) as well as report to the person with real authority (e.g., again, you). The teen in charge should not make sure siblings do their chores, have the right attitude toward a (minor, bureaucratic) official like herself or demonstrate the highest moral character. Make sure everyone is clear what merits punishment (e.g., rebellious vassals, abuse of power). And, don’t forget to make it worthwhile for the sibling in charge. You know how exhausting it is to be responsible for a pack of wildlings.
Now go breathe deeply of that sweet air of freedom (which smells remarkably similar to a half-caf double vanilla latte with a light dusting of cinnamon).