When Big Brother or Sister Goes Off to School

When Big Brother or Sister Goes off to SchoolThis summer, my soon-to-be kindergartener went to summer school to get ready for the big K. It was only two hours a day, but I was curious to see how my other kids would react to having her gone. We have all been home together for most of my kids’ lives, so I anticipated a big change.

I did see some big changes, but they weren’t what I expected.

  • Some kids may not notice. My toddler just isn’t old enough to express any changes she noticed in our day, and really, not much changed. We still went to the park, she still took naps, we still ate lunch together.
  • Some kids may ask about them. My three year old definitely missed older sister. She wasn’t upset by the change, but she did ask where Maisie was several times a day. It was so fun to see her run to greet Maisie when the bus came, but I had to be very careful about pick up and not letting little sister get too close to the bus lest she think she could hitch a ride with sister.
  • Some things will be easier without your oldest around. The younger kids don’t realize that they can ask for snacks, drinks, to go places and do other things. They are more used to just coming along for the ride and doing what they’re told. So I found I was more easily able to set them up with an activity and get things started, and then step away to get things done around the house or work on the computer for a bit without being interrupted. Of course, we’re talking about 10 minutes at a time or so, but I’ll take it.
  • Some things are actually much harder without your oldest. I did think maybe the grocery store would be easier with fewer kids, but I was wrong. So wrong. I highly underestimated how much calming, negotiating and entertaining my oldest did on trips to the store. She often convinced the three year old to stay put and entertained her by singing songs or making up stories while I flew through the store as fast as humanly possible. Without the distraction of big sister, the store was much harder.
  • It brings new energy to your house. Having someone come home in the middle of the afternoon makes the day a little different. Sometimes big sister would come home bubbly and full of things to tell me and ideas to play and pretend, and sometimes she would come home completely pooped and drained of energy. I found an afterschool snack helped mitigate the ulcer hour-ness of this time. (We generally don’t snack because with three kids in the house, I’d be playing waiter ALL day long.) It also helped bring a little routine to this time when I didn’t know what to expect from the day at school.

Here’s how you can help a toddler who really misses big brother or sister or is upset by the new change in routine:

  • Include them in the big celebration. When big brother or sister goes back to school shopping, grab some items for little brother or sister, too. Coloring books, crayons, maybe even a “back to school” shirt that they can wear the first day of school to see off their older sibling. Kids hate feeling left out, no matter how young they are.
  • Keep a routine. Routines are so helpful for toddlers and preschoolers. Have a general order in which you do things each day, and including seeing off your older child in that routine. Whether it’s going by the park after pick-up or getting out the crayons after the bus comes, giving your little something to look forward to makes them feel happy rather than sad when big brother or sister leaves.
  • Listen. You don’t have to make everything better. If your little one is old enough to put their feelings into words, listen to them. Tell them that you miss your big kid too, but that you are so glad to have big-kid time alone with them! I know so many of us experience mama-guilt when we have baby number two because we don’t have as much time to devote just to them. This is that time! Find a way for both of you to make the most of it.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives and writes in Queensbury, New York.   

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