How To Make Your Child Feel Less Lonely When His Older Sibling Starts School

Apart from the occasional squabble, your two children are besties. And since they’re close in age, they play together, eat together, and yes, fight with each other. But when your older child has to go to kindergarten (and be away from her younger sibling all day) it can be emotional for your younger child — and for you.

“A child’s first best friend is often their sibling, so seeing them leave for school without them can be difficult,” says Sherrie MacLean, RECE and National Director of Operations at Tiny Hoppers. “The day that the older one leaves for school is usually a sad day for the younger child.” And for you, too. That’s why you need to find ways to make your child feel less lonely when his older sibling starts school.

Create Permanence

It can be scary for your younger child when his older sibling starts school. “Often the two year-old won’t realize their sibling will be coming home later in the day,” says Dr. Deborah Sussman, a child health expert. “This is about the idea of object permanence and object constancy and it can be quite scary for a young child.” Essentially, the little one might worry that his sibling will come home at the end of the school day. To offer reassurance that she’ll return, you can have a picture that the sibling can look at and hold onto, or even watch a video so that he’ll feel reassured that his sibling isn’t that far away.

Stick To A Schedule

When you have a young child at home who isn’t in school yet, it’s easy to lose track of time and forget about keeping a schedule. But staying on track is critical to keeping your child happy and calm. “Your child just experienced a major change in his/her day with losing a close relationship,” says Dr. Sussman. “Keep everything else as predictable as you can so that your child doesn’t have to adjust to any other changes.”

Add To The Activities

To ensure that your child doesn’t get bored in the absence of an older sibling, try to keep him busy with activities that he’d find interesting. Sign up for gym, dance, or art classes so that the child can be excited about what will be happening during the day. Plus, he’ll feel like he has his own special activities that are just for him and no one else. Even just a trip to the playground can be enough to keep your child occupied and happy.

 Involve Them In The Experience

When it’s possible, you should try to include your younger child in on his older sibling’s experiences. You might bring him along on the walk to the bus stop or school so that the idea of going to school becomes more concrete to your kid. “When it’s time to leave, encourage the children to say goodbye to one another,” advises McLean. Then, when the school bell rings for the day, be sure to have your child with you for pickup so that he feels like he’s an important part of the daily schedule

Create School Time

If your little one wants to go to school, why not create one for him? “You could set up a child-sized table at home with paper, markers, and stickers for doing school at home,” says Ann McKitrick, MS, a child development consultant. Not only will you be boosting his brainpower by practicing his ABC’s and 123’s, but you’ll also have some valuable bonding time with him. You can help them draw pictures related or buy stickers related to school, or find age-appropriate workbooks or scribble on a page emphasizing that it’s their “homework” or they are at “school.” And when your older child returns home from school, they’ll both be able to share about what they learned in school that day.

Keep It Simple

For the most part, you don’t have to overly explain (or apologize) for your older child going to school. “Children often don’t need or want a huge explanation,” says MacLean. “You can simply say, ‘Your brother/sister is at school, and when you’re her/his age you will go to school, too!’” Sometimes, a clear clarification is all that your child needs to understand—and adapt to—the new situation.

Be Empathetic

When there are any changes in the family dynamic, it can be challenging for kids—and that includes an older sib starting school. So why not make it more relatable by telling your child about a time when his sister also didn’t go to school, either. “Make it relevant to your toddler by telling him all the things that his sibling did when all the ‘big kids’ would go to school,” advises Rachelle Zemlok, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist. Sure, they might not be able to understand everything about the story (particularly if it’s something about the past), but the message that you’re conveying is that you empathize with their plight, and that’s what matters most.

Give Your Toddler A Job

Little kids want one thing in life: to feel like a big kid. So give your child a promotion by asking him to be your Number One Helper. It could be anything from helping you to pack your child’s lunch box for the next day, or choosing which shoes would best match his outfit. Depending on his age, you might have him sharpen your kid’s pencils for you. He’ll feel important—and included.

Having an older sibling start school can be traumatic for a toddler. So make sure to pile on the praise and offer encouragement during this transitional time. And at the end of the day, kids are resilient. In time, your toddler will adjust to this transition, too.

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