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Ask a Medcan psychologist | 4 back-to-school stress busters

Pre-plan and adjust instead of reacting as you go

Classroom of students raising their hands

Many people — some kids, most parents — are thrilled when school resumes. But along with the excitement of new beginnings comes back-to-school stress, which can affect both students and their parents.

“Stress is one of those things that doesn’t care if it is a positive or a negative,” says Dr. Mark Rothman, a psychologist at Medcan who works with children, youth, couples and families. “It is cumulative. So when your little stresses add up, they become big stresses. Then our body and our mind is fighting that stress; and that’s what depletes us.”

The best way to offset the negative stress at this time of the year, is to be proactive and prepared — with an emphasis on the ‘pre’. Anything you can do in advance, get done as fast as possible says Dr. Rothman.  Here are four back-to-school stress busters from Dr. Rothman.

Carve out regular time for ‘school-related material’

Ensure that the routine after school includes regular time for “school-related material time”.

“Calling it ‘school-related material time’ makes it a regular occurrence, even when kids say they have no homework,” says Dr. Rothman. “Even without homework, there’s a designated daily time when school-related material is reviewed, addressed or organized.”

This creates a regular schedule for at-home review and study sessions.

Parents must practice their routines, too

Just like students must return to a routine, parents should adopt their school routine: making lunches, managing clothes or uniforms, getting the car ready and ensuring the fridge is stocked with healthy back-to-school foods for lunches, snacks and dinners.

“Doing this type of preparation now minimizes the stress that we experience at the time that the transition takes place,” says Rothman.

At university: Make time management a priority

One of the biggest stresses that university-aged people have is time management. If possible, find a mentor or role model at school — maybe an older student or floor don — who can help suggest a reasonable schedule that includes both recreational and study time.

“It’s important to add routine where it doesn’t exist because in university you aren’t in school 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Many schedules are very irregular,” says Dr. Rothman. “I recommend students approach school like a full-time job, and put 10 hours a day into school, every day.

“Maybe one day, a majority of that time is in class. Other days, that means you are doing self-directed or group study. Even if you don’t have class, dedicate a set amount of time to study every day. The other hours are designated for socializing, exercise, relaxation and rest.”

Dorm room check-in: Set weekly communication times

As for parents and university-aged kids: there’s a transition period when kids leave the nest for school.

“Some parents can feel very very taken for granted when their child doesn’t keep in touch, while university students could feel smothered if their parents are trying to get in touch regularly,” says Rothman, who recommends a dialogue to set up expectations of communication.  “This is really helpful to avoid parents waiting around and their kids not understanding why there’s anger or sadness when they do make contact.”

The solution? Create “contact times”, which are regularly established times for communication.

“Rather than waiting it out and seeing what it is like; create a plan, and then you can always change the plan. So if it is understood that we will talk on Thursdays or Sundays around 8 p.m. for 10-15 minutes and if those days/times don’t work — you just adjust. No problem! But at least it is a start.”

To learn more about Medcan’s Child & Youth services, please contact (416) 350-3621 or email

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