Prevent younger kids from feeling excluded on first day of school

Jessica Young

With 64-count Crayola boxes, glittery pocket folders, a Hannah Montana lunch box and new gym shoes stacked up in the shopping cart, the allure of starting school can elicit twinges of envy from younger siblings left behind at home.

“It’s important to stave off any jealousy and use the opportunity to get your toddlers excited about the prospect of preparing to attend class in a year or two while also gaining more alone time with a parent in the meantime,” said Jennifer Logston, a licensed clinical social worker at the Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville, Ill.

The beginning of the academic year is the perfect time to capitalize on kids’ natural curiosity about the educational environment and inclination for imitation to get them practicing letter and number recognition, she said.

To help ease the sibling split transition, check out these tips to avoid bouts of pouting when the elusive yellow bus rounds the corner:

1.) Share the swag. While it’s ridiculous to abide by the 50-50 rule when purchasing supplies if only one of your little shoppers is a student, allowing the younger one to take home some loot can go a long way toward keeping the peace. Dr. Nadia Persun, a psychologist and professor at North Central College in Naperville specializing in child development, suggests buying your toddler a notebook, mini backpack or even toy computer.

“Younger kids kind of worship older brothers and sisters, and there’s a tendency for copycatting,” she said. “Having grown-up items will prevent them from feeling excluded and encourage them to role play.”

2.) Let your younger child help sharpen pencils, pack lunches or prepare an after-school snack.

“Instead of being a spectator while Mom or Dad put all their effort into getting the older sibling out the door in the morning, the younger child will feel like a participant sharing in and contributing to the family experience,” said Dr. Matthew Parvin, a child psychologist affiliated with Linden Oaks behavioral center at Edward Hospital in Naperville. “Obviously not to the point where they’re impeding progress, but assigning them a task is a great idea.”

3.) Make the trek to a nearby park for a picnic lunch and session of “recess” replete with swings and slides. Parvin recommends going with neighbors so the young kids have an opportunity to interact, which will advance socialization, a huge developmental milestone.

4.) Plan a daytime “field trip.” Fall is the perfect time for outdoor activities.

“It’s an excellent time of year to engage with nature and discuss the change in seasons, collect different colored leaves, and identify some plant or animal species,” Persun said.

Having activities scheduled helps distract toddlers from long afternoons without their familial playmates, she added.

5.) Take a ride on public transportation. Hitching a ride will make your 2-, 3- or 4-year-old feel just as “sophisticated” as the older sibling who braves the bus each day, Parvin said.

Suburban Life Publications