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When a Sibling Starts School


Tess Duryea, 2, of Setauket, NY, was devastated when her sister, Celia, began kindergarten. She repeatedly told her mother how much she missed Celia and would cry if her sister forgot to kiss her goodbye.

Don't be surprised if your toddler acts clingy, grumpy, or just plain blue for weeks after an older sibling starts school. "A two-year-old's social world usually consists of his immediate family, and when that circle is broken, he only sees the loss," says Maureen O'Brien, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Watch Me Grow: I'm Two. It's not easy for him to lose a constant companion or to accept that he can't always do what a big brother or sister can. To smooth the transition:


  • Help him understand what he's feeling.Use language that's soothing but upbeat: "I know you feel sad because you miss your sister. I miss her too, but we'll see her later today."


  • Make him feel special.Do some-thing fun together, such as coloring or even playing school. Michelle Grady of Brookfield, CT, says her 3-year-old daughter, Morgan, loves their one-on-one time when her brother, Michael, is at school. "I'm all for her, and she has my full attention."


  • Distract him.Head to the library or park; he's less likely to be reminded of his sibling in a different setting.


  • Be patient.He may need extra cud-dles or latitude for bad behavior.


  • Provide a stand-in.Present your toddler with a photograph of his sibling and encourage him to hug it close whenever he starts to miss her.


  • Cultivate new friendships.Schedule a few playdates so he can get chummy with other kids his own age.


  • Nurture independence.On week-ends, take your younger child on errands while his sibling stays at home with another adult. That way, you'll reinforce the idea that the two don't have to be joined at the hip.


  • Relish these moments together. You won't have your toddler all to yourself for much longer, so take the time to enjoy it.