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When Big Sis Goes to School

The first time 2-year-old Michael Aaron's older sister, Natalie, went to school, he wandered around the house asking, "Where's Nat-nee?"

"I kept reminding him that we had just dropped Natalie off, and each time, he said 'Oh!' in surprise," says his mom, Stacy, of Portland, OR. Finally, he collapsed in tears.A young child may not understand that his sibling will return, and changes to a routine can add to his confusion. To help him cope:

Shift meal-, nap-, and bedtime schedules for both children to reflect the school day a week or two in advance, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of Kid Cooperation. That way, your toddler won't have to deal with the schedule changes and missing his sib at the same time.

Acknowledge your child's feelings -- "It's different with your sister gone today, isn't it?" -- but don't dwell on them for too long. Instead, distract him with a fun activity.

Make a chart of the day's schedule, from waking up to picking big sister up from school, with colorful pictures or stickers to help your younger child visualize the new routine.

Let your little one mimic some of your older child's school activities. For instance, buy your younger child his own lunch box and let him eat from it at lunchtime. He'll feel more connected to his sibling -- and maybe even mature enough to stomach the separation.