Bright backpacks, sharpened pencils, carefully-curated lunch boxes—the hallmarks of the back-to-school season signal excitement, structure, and promise for those headed out the door.
But for the younger siblings left at home, they can mean something else entirely.
Little brothers and sisters who’ve soaked in every last drop of summer with their siblings are often forgotten during the school prep rush, but the transition can be just as big for the little ones.
Prep your tiny tots for the change in season with these simple steps.
1. Create a Goodbye Ritual
Are you walking kids to the bus stop? Driving them to school? Giving hugs as they run out the door? No matter where your goodbyes take place or what they look like, include little sibs in the act. Even babies without the language to say goodbye can understand the sentiment.
2. Establish a Routine
As soon as you see the big kids off, your little ones will look to you to for what’s next. Maybe that means hopping in the car to head to daycare or maybe it means walking back in to clean the breakfast mess. Whatever that next step is will be the first of many your little ones will come to expect, and knowing what’s coming can help them feel prepared and at ease.
3. Join or Set Up a Playgroup
Most families with an age spread will tell you: the older ones have a lot more friends. The farther down the birth order line, the less time caregivers have to seek out and maintain friendships for the little ones. And the little ones are happy to tag along with the big ones. So, finding friends for preschoolers, toddlers, and even babies to play with while their siblings are in school can be helpful—for them and for you.
4. Set up Camp in Little Kid World
Whether it’s playing with toys they don’t really like, messing up games they can’t really play, or watching screen time they just don’t understand, little siblings often live their lives in a big kid world. When big brothers and sisters are at school, indulge your little ones in playtime (or yes, even screen time) suited just for them.
5. Read Books about School, Separation Anxiety & Changes
Even if they aren’t the ones going to school, your little ones will be curious about where exactly their siblings are going each day.
- The Kissing Hand is a classic that has been a first day of school tradition for decades.
- Boots reminds little ones no matter how far their family scatters each day, they come back born together at night.
- Pinkalicious and the New Teacher talks about the uncomfortableness that can come from change.
6. Remind Older Kids How Much They’re Missed While They’re Away
Talk to your older kids about the transition their little siblings are going through and how much they wish they could be together. Older kids should be excited to get out into the world and explore on their own, but a little empathy can go a long way for their siblings.
7. Celebrate Gathering Back Home Together
Big sibs and little ones can help create a welcome home ritual for the end of school. Cookies and milk, a walk around the block, or even just a kiss on the cheek will become a moment the littles look forward to every day.
The hallmarks of the back-to-school season look different for little siblings, but with intentionality and planning, they can still signal excitement, structure, and promise for what’s to come.
—Sheelah McCaughan is a kid lit connoisseur and sends a free, monthly email with book suggestions from baby to big kid. Sign up at KidLitConnoisseur.com.