How to Ease Sibling Separation Anxiety When Your Oldest Goes Off to School

written by KATHY SISSON
Source: @thewilddecoelis
Source: @thewilddecoelis

School starts imminently for my soon-to-be first-grader, meaning her younger sister will miss her older sib and playmate—and might suffer from a little bit of sibling separation anxiety from the change. On the days my younger daughter is not in daycare, she’ll be stoked she has free reign of her sister’s toys, but she’ll also have to deal with more chaotic mornings and more structure as we get our new school year routine in order.

I recently attended an outdoor gathering for the families of the kids who will be in my daughter’s first-grade class. One mom was lamenting that school seems to be starting just as she finally got the hang of her summer routine. “Plus,” she said, “[her son] plays so well with his little brother, I’m going to have to adjust to being the sole entertainment.”

As parents, not only are we going to miss our kids’ smiling faces as they head off to school, but we might also miss their added value. Back-to-school is an adjustment for everyone, but if you have a younger child who’s going to be missing their older sibling, here are a few ways to cushion the blow. Or if that younger sibling is still a baby, we also included ways to spend some special one-on-one time with your little one—and even get a little alone time for yourself, too.


How to Ease Sibling Separation Anxiety During Back to School


Include younger siblings in back-to-school prep and events

Maybe they get to partake in getting new school shoes or a few school supplies like their big sibling. A snazzy new toddler backpack can be very exciting for a little one! In our house, we talk a lot about what school will be like for my youngest when she gets to be as big as her older sister. Together, my girls discuss whether they’ll have the same teachers, whether friends’ younger siblings will be in her class too, and what they’ll play together when they see each other on the playground.

My daughter’s elementary school also offers other family events we plan to attend together. So, we’ll all be part of the school-wide picnic and teacher meet-and-greet, and therefore, all part of the back-to-school excitement.



Sign up for a new activity

Music classes, dance classes, or free library story times are great activities that are accessible for parents with newborns to toddlers. Many subscription services—like our editor-favorite KiwiCo boxes for crafts and activities or Raddish for kid-friendly food prep kits—will also deliver a new experience right to your door. Or if you need to get out of the house for a little break, seek out a gym or studio with childcare so you can have an hour to yourself while your child gets some social interaction and playtime that doesn’t rely on you.


Try a new one-on-one tradition

On my one day off during the week, my youngest and I have a standing tradition. I get coffee, and she gets a waffle from a local cafe—we sit, we chat, we watch the cars, we know the baristas. It’s a one-on-one tradition that we’ve been skipping all summer because it’s something my oldest doesn’t enjoy nearly as much.

My more flexible work schedule allows for this type of one-on-one time, and I know not every parent has extra time to spare. Maybe your younger child helps you walk the dog before work or the two of you spend time reading a book as your oldest packs up their backpack or eats breakfast. Finding small one-on-one moments can help your youngest feel special too, even though they aren’t the ones heading off to school.



Put them to work

Joking—kind of. Kids can gain confidence, independence, and learn responsibility by helping with chores around the house, even when they are as young as 18 months. Often, they love to be involved and feel like they are helping you.


Ask them what they’d like to do

My cousin’s son hilariously asked her to teach him knitting when his older brother went off to kindergarten (she doesn’t knit.) So, you never know what secret hope your little one might not be sharing with you until you ask their opinion.

How to Navigate Multiple Kids Starting School at the Same Time