Your children are like two peas in a pod. They play with each other, they watch Bluey together — and yes, they even fight with each other. Squabbles aside, though, the day will come when your older child will be ready for their first day school, and your younger kid might not be prepared for the separation. That’s why you’ll need to help your child when an older sibling goes back to school because it can be potentially traumatic for your tot.
Although you want to celebrate the special milestone of starting school, it can be hard when your little one is watching all the fuss being made for their sibling and feeling left out. “It’s important to acknowledge your child’s emotions and help them stay regulated and calm during this time,” advises Ann McKitrick, MS, a child development consultant. So if you’re looking for ways to make the segue less stressful, these are the ways for everyone to have some scholarly success.
Your younger child is used to seeing their big sib day in, day out. So when it’s time for big brother to pack their bookbag and head off to school, your little one might worry that they won’t see their sibling again. This all comes down to the concept of object permanence, explains Dr. Deborah Sussman, OT/L, PhD, owner of Debbie’s Playce, a center that offers full support to caregivers and children with neuro-developmental challenges in functioning with daily life. “Often the two-year-old won’t realize their sibling will be coming home later in the day,” she explains. “This can be quite scary when their sibling goes off to school because they don’t realize the sibling will be returning.” To help your child cope with the temporary separation, you can give them a picture of the sibling that they can look at or even hold onto or watch some videos on your phone of them playing together. And when your older child comes home, let your younger child be a part of the homecoming so that they realize that their sibling will come home — and they can play together again.
Keep The Same Routine
Kids, especially younger ones, thrive on predictability. And while that might have you feeling like it’s Groundhogs Day every day, it’s comforting to your kiddo., explains that sticking to the same structure of daily living can decrease your child’s anxiety levels. “Routines are very important for toddlers and help them know what to expect, creating a sense of security and trust,” she says. “Follow a schedule that is similar from one day to the next, where meals, snacks, naps, errands and after school activities happen around the same time.” It might mean having breakfast together with your school-aged child and walking them to school — with a big hug before drop-off.
Be Prepared To Play
Sure, having siblings at home together might wreak havoc on your nerves most days, you have to admit: it’s helpful when they play together so that you can get stuff done. Thing is, when one child starts school, their younger sibling is now one player short — and guess who’s It? That’s right, it’s you. “Your child just lost their play partner, so do what the sibling and the child play together,” says Sussman. That might mean getting down on the floor to play with (and then later painfully step on) some LEGOs or donning a crown and having a pretend tea party. You don’t have to spend all day playing, but giving your child some fun time with you can be beneficial for both.
Make A Mock School At Home
At some point, your tyke might start asking some questions about what school actually is. While you can show him some videos or have your older kid explain what they do in school. (You can even take your child to the library so that they can learn what your child is learning, too.) And then, you can always set up a mini school for your younger child. “You can buy them a backpack, put some special things inside like new crayons and a notebook, and call this classroom time,” suggests McKitrick. Try setting up a special child-sized table at home with papers and markers and plan out a mini lesson (identifying animals is always a good start) and be sure to have reward stickers when your child does well.
Give Your Toddler A Role
Little ones like to feel useful, and being a part of their older sibling’s new school experience will let them feel included. “You can keep it simple but ask them for a ‘favor,’”says Dr. Rachelle Zemlok, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist. “Whatever task you choose let them know it’s a very important one and give a lot of praise once they follow through.” You might say something like, “I’m going to pack your sister’s lunch in the morning but I’ll need help making sure it gets into the car. Do you think you can do that?” Knowing that they have a super special job that only they can do will make them feel special during this transitional time.
Have Your Child Help Their Sibling Pack
There’s nothing like the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Even though your child might not be ready for school yet doesn’t mean that they can’t share the excitement by packing up their own stuff, too. “When the sibling is packing their school bag the younger child can also pack a bag,” Sussman explains. It might only be a pouch that they can bring to the playground, but it will ensure that your child doesn’t feel left out. They can even have some input into what school supplies are bought, but make sure that your school-aged child gets to make the final decision.
Schedule Special Activities
As much as you might do to keep your kiddo occupied during the time your child is in school, eventually they’re going to get pretty bored. And that’s when you gather their gear and head out for some fun. “Make plans for a special activity one day a week that happens when the sibling is at school,” says McKitrick. “For example, you can go to the zoo or take a picnic to the park.” Picking a place that’s special to your younger child is a good idea, or you can also take them someplace new that will allow both of you to explore together. Be sure to talk about your special time together so that they will want to soak up all that undivided attention.
Plan For Playdates
Even if you’re the mom at the playground who avoids all eye contact with other parents and caregivers, now’s the time to start getting social. Plan to have playdates with kids that your younger child likes or even try to find some new friends at the park. Your child will love having new people to play with — and you just might make a new mom friend out of it, too.
Walk Out The Door Together
It might be traumatic for your child to see their older sibling leave, but there is a way to make the transition less scary. Once your school-aged child is packed up and ready to go, be sure to grab a bag for your babe, too. And as your child is ready to leave, time your exit for then, too. “When the sibling is leaving, take your child to the playground or on a trip,” advises McKitrick. They’ll be excited that they’re going somewhere as well and won’t have that feeling of being left behind.
See If They Can Have Lunch Together
Administrators know that it isn’t always easy for siblings to separate. That’s why you should find out during Open House if your child’s school allows younger sibs to sit in on class time during the first week or so. “Take lunch to the older sibling and if the school allows, eat with them in the cafeteria,” advises McKitrick. “This visit to school gives your toddler a chance to see their sibling during the day and makes your school-aged child feel loved and cared for, too.”
It’s tough for your tot when an older sibling goes back to school. Although you’re naturally excited to see your child start their educational journey, it’s important to acknowledge that your younger child might not be as thrilled. Speaking to your older child so that they can understand that their younger sib might be struggling can be effective. Even if it seems like your little one will never get over it, just hang in there. “Like everything toddler, make sure there is a lot of encouragement and praise following each task the toddler engages in,” advises Zemlock. “If all else fails…remember, kids are resilient. In time, they will adjust to this transition too.”