Three Tips to Help a Younger Child Deal With Sibling Separation Anxiety

We’ve been back in the school routine for a while now. With our first child in kindergarten, the season certainly ushered in some big milestones. On the first day, my little girl had an entourage along for the 10-minute walk from our home to her school: mom, dad, grandma, uncle and, of course, her little brother. We were so happy! Every now and then, one of us would nudge Alina with pride and make a statement of how fast she’d grown, how thrilling it was to be walking her to school, of all the wonderful things she would learn.

But the whole group wasn’t so elated. Barely keeping up, my three-year-old son was trying his best to slow the inevitable. Before his antics would cause any negative attention, I scooped him up and held him close where he spent the remainder of the walk. With his cheek on my shoulder, I began to sense what would ultimately be a huge issue.

It was after the initial walk that my son then cried every morning after his sister left for school. Once calm, during the day, he was unable to focus on the fun activities I had planned. Although I removed all distractions from my life and offered my son undivided quality time, he moved from painting and reading or parks and superheroes carelessly. Confused and disoriented, he asked for snacks constantly. I expected him to miss her, but what my son was going through was definitely setting off some mom alarms! Is there such a thing as sibling separation anxiety?

Tips for Dealing with Sibling Separation Anxiety

Finally, after a month of routine (and lots of patience), I’m proud to say that my baby boy is back to his old self again. Happy and secure, he’s building Lego towers, tearing them down and learning to enjoy his new independence. Here are three tips that helped me work through his anxiety:

1. Put it in perspective

I’m grateful to have had professional training and experience in the mental health profession before becoming a parent. I’m not the most patient mom in the bunch, but I can tell when my kid is acting out for attention versus having an emotional reaction. When environment/family life has big changes, watch for cues from your little one. Toddlers and small children aren’t always able to say that they’re sad or confused. Instead, they might display poor behavior or act out. Put it in perspective and realize they might need gentle guidance to get used to the new routine.

2. Allow them a tangible contribution

During our usual walk to school with our neighbors, one mom gave my son the best gift ever—an itty bitty backpack. With that kind gesture, my son now had a tangible contribution to the ceremonious walk to school, and it changed his mood instantly. Allow your child a contribution to back to school season, like their own pre-school, a special class at the local parks and recreation center, something you do only with that child. That way, when the family gathers to look over homework or talk about their day, the littlest member has something to add.

3. Celebrate as a family

At first it was difficult for him to celebrate his sister’s accomplishments at school, but in an effort to reframe his new independence positively, I made this a priority during family meal times. Now, after only a few weeks, he looks forward to sharing his day’s big moments and listens earnestly while his sister shares hers. We’re learning to celebrate as a family, even the moments that we’re not there to witness.

In all honesty, it was a challenging parenting experience to at the same exact moment be so excited for one child and so sad for the other. Luckily for my son, his big sister showed relentless empathy and compassion, making the transition so much easier. Although I love knowing my kids have a strong bond, I’m happy to be done with sibling separation anxiety. We can now look forward to a fun school year.

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