Whether your child is just going back to school or going to school for the first time, the sudden departure of an older sibling can be disconcerting to a younger child. Just prepare the child as best you can, and expect a period of transition.
Make sure the younger child understands what is going to happen and when, though very young children may not grasp the idea very well if you warn them too far in advance. Talk about how your daily schedule will be different so he knows what to expect. Both children will need to ease into the new routine.
Visit the school if siblings are invited to open house events. Actually seeing the school can help the younger child as she pictures her sibling in the classroom.
Have your younger child help with back-to-school preparations. If the older child agrees, the younger child could even choose a pencil or notebook or sticker that will remind her sibling of her during the day. Sharing her opinion during the exciting time will help her feel included.
As you buy school supplies, you might want to buy pencils, notebooks, and a few other supplies for the younger child. Toddlers are notorious for their ability to know what belongs to whom (“It’s mine!”). Making sure she has her own supplies can help whether you are going to play school at home, really have lessons, or just encourage her to experiment with writing and drawing.
Have projects or lessons in mind for your younger child. Even if it is something simple like learning to watercolor for the first time or taking a tumbling class, the younger child may need a learning activity he can claim for his own.
If the younger child will be the only child at home, you can create a special one-on-one space for the two of you to do what you like to do together. If you don’t know yet what you like to do together, it’s time to explore!
Encourage your younger child to talk about or draw pictures about her feelings. She may be worried, or she may just be excited to have you to herself. Just help her communicate those feelings so any fears don’t grow unnecessarily.
Ask the older child to spend quality time with the younger child. When my daughter was away all day, every day for five weeks for dance, my son had big plans for her every day when she returned. She was tired and wanted time alone, so I had to convince her that it was important for him to spend time with her—that she was doing it more as a gift to him than because she needed or wanted play time. We found a healthy balance, and the time apart went smoothly.
Remember, too, that you are helping your younger child take a step toward school. A smooth transition for your older child will set the tone for your younger child.