Separation anxiety

What to do when your toddler misses the kindergartener

What to do when your toddler misses the kindergartener

When that big yellow school bus pulls away soon, it might be a toss up as to who sheds the first tear – you, or your little one standing next to you. You thought your toddler would be jumping for joy since he has you all to himself, but instead you might find him missing his brother or sister and maybe even acting out.

“Don’t be surprised if your toddler acts clingy, grumpy, or just plain blue for weeks after an older sibling starts school,” said Maureen O'Brien, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Watch Me Grow: I’m Two. “A two-year-old’s social world usually consists of his immediate family, and when that circle is broken, he only sees the loss.”

Here are 5 strategies you can try to help your child through this transition:

  1. Assure them that the kindergartener is coming back. One way to assure your toddler that his buddy will be home later in the day is to walk him through his sibling’s day, from start to finish, suggests Donna Rumpf, special instructor and co-owner of Middletown’s Ages & Stages. Consider bringing the toddler with you to kindergarten orientation so that he can see the sibling’s classroom, meet his teacher, eat a snack in the cafeteria and maybe even ride the school bus together. Don’t forget the camera! You can make a storybook to help your little one when she is missing her playmate. It can remind your toddler of the sibling’s classroom or bus ride when he’s upset or feeling lonely. 

  2. Provide a stand-in. Some toddlers might be comforted if they have a token of their sibling to cling to when they are apart. Barry Bachenheimer, a social worker in Washingtonville, suggests trinkets, stuffed animals, or special toys, “So (the toddler) can see that the older sib didn’t forget them,” he said. Or give your toddler a photograph and encourage him to hug it whenever he starts to miss her.

  3. Help your toddler express how he’s feeling. Linda Sonna, child psychologist and best-selling author of The Parent’s Guide to Raising Siblings and The Everything Toddler Book suggests helping your toddler vent emotions he cannot verbalize with short phrases that express what he might be thinking or feeling. For example, “Your big brother is at school and soon he’ll be coming home on the big yellow school bus,” or “I bet your sister is eating lunch right now. Let’s eat lunch, too,” or “I know you must miss your brother. Let’s color him a picture so you can surprise him with it when he gets home.” Acting out the sibling’s experience with toys or crayons is another way to help him express how he is feeling, suggests Irons. Don’t forget to share your own feelings, so he knows he’s not alone. “Remember that it is normal and healthy to miss a loved one,” said Sonna. “Let your toddler know that you miss his sibling, too.”

    READ MORE: Helping your anxious child

  4. Make a school model. Most two- to three-year-olds are ready for some school-related activities, such as coloring or story time. So why not create a special at-home school time just for him? “The transition is then that both parties are going to school,” said Pat Boffardi, founder of the Child, Adolescent and Adult Family Counseling Center in Highland Mills. You might consider having circle time, discussing the weather, or learning about the days of the week, or conducting story time, with your toddler sitting on his very own carpet square, while you sit in the ‘teacher’s’ chair. Pretend school time can be even more special if your toddler has his own backpack and pencil case, suggests Kim Lane, a Pine Bush mother of four who did it for her two-year-old son, Kamryn. She says that preschool activity books can be found at your local dollar store, or you can make up your own worksheets. And break out the markers or paints and allow your little one to create something special to present to his older sibling when she gets home from school. You can pack him a lunch or snack too.

  5. Take a class together. Younger children may not have had much alone time with you, so this is the perfect opportunity to take a weekly class together (see our list of suggested special activities). Taking a class might also be a way to cultivate new friendships. Consider pairing up with another toddler mom and taking your kids to a class together. Many parents find that a toddler adjusts more quickly when he or she gets to do something special or have special time with a parent while the older sibling is at school, said Irons.

Freelance writer Ann Taylor Cerone resides in Pine Bush with her husband and two children.