Submitted by Christine Peets
June is a very busy month, with end of school assignments, exams, plus all of the sports and social activities. There’s no doubt that it could be a stressful time, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s important to recognize what those stressors could be and how to deal with them.
Dr. Alison Inglis, chief psychologist and mental health lead for the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) said that it’s important to understand that stress is a response to any demand and not everyone is stressed by the same thing.
“Stress is a signal for us to take action, and some stress can be a good thing because it helps us get things done or work to resolve problems,” Dr. Inglis said. “But when we are not able to meet those demands in a timely or reliable way, the stress response continues, and that’s when negative impacts on health and mental wellness occur.”
There are many demands on students at this time of year, and transitions can be difficult for them. Those transitions might include graduation, and prom season, both happy occasions, but ones that can still be stressful for some. There are also exams and year-end culminating projects, which can cause students to change their study, sleeping, and eating habits, all outcomes of, and signs of stress.
“These may be temporary, for a particular exam or assignment, but we look at frequency, intensity, and duration, to determine whether there is a bigger problem emerging,” Inglis said. “Any changes, be they in habits or mood or behaviour, that are seen more and more often, last for a long period of time (a few weeks or longer), and are interfering with usual performance or enjoyment of life, then that’s something that parents need to talk to their kids about.
Parenting author and speaker, and mom of four, Ann Douglas said that an example of opening that conversation about too many late nights studying could be to say to your child, ‘Wow, it was really late when you came upstairs to bed from doing your homework in the kitchen last night.’
“You’re just stating what you’ve observed and leaving the door open for your child to talk about the extra homework he or she is doing, or how long it’s taking to study for a particular exam, or what they are worried about with this particular thing,” Douglas said. “Don’t rush in and offer a solution, or try to fix the problem, but validate any feelings that your child may express about these extra demands.”
Once kids are able to vent their feelings about what’s going on, then parents can use their intuition and try and figure out whether there is an underlying problem.
As we get into the summer, Inglis suggests that families look for ways to slow down when things get busy or routines become disrupted. Families fortunate enough to have their children participate in summer activities like sports and day camps may find it a bit easier to deal with the change in routine from school year to summer time, while others may find the opposite. Douglas says that families can work together to share dinners, carpool, or take turns going to events to make things easier. It’s also important for parents to recognize when they are getting overwhelmed by all that’s going on.
“For everyone, self-care and self-compassion matter, and it’s important for parents to model that for their kids,” Inglis said.
“Taking time to look after yourself, however you do that: exercising, visiting a friend, or taking five minutes to sit quietly in the yard, is important, and it’s important to talk to kids about what you do when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed so they learn those positive coping strategies.”
While spending some quiet time alone is healthy, kids sometimes wind up withdrawing from the family or friends and spending a lot of time alone in their rooms playing video or computer games. Parents can model good screen time behaviour, too. Columnist, and mother of one, Michelle Hauser recently wrote her struggles with her son and his gaming devices.
“It’s time to get off of that thing!” — the “thing” being some gaming-type device. This is a staccato commandment my 10 year-old knows well. I get the look of death, of course, but have so far managed to survive it. Maybe it’s just that I’m a strong-arm mother at heart and don’t want to learn a new style, but most of the time, when I lay my weary head on my pillow at night — in addition to the war on gaming, there is the eating of fruits and vegetables, the doing of homework, the contributing to household chores and the brushing of teeth to contend with — I don’t know if there’s a better alternative to the endurance test of pushing and prodding.”
Hauser also said that having someone else, in this case, her husband, as an ally is important. “If a two-parent family gives kids any special advantages it is the ability for two runners to face this monotonous marathon in relay formation: When I get sick of nagging and pushing, my husband takes the baton, and we go back and forth like that as a much more formidable duo,” she wrote.
Douglas said that getting that support from others in the family, or from friends is important, especially when there is so much going on. She also said that parents have to remember that June is a sprint, not a marathon, so they can choose to put some things off until everyone has had a chance to slow down and catch their breath.
“Take advantage of the summer months to recharge and reconnect with each other, and hit the pause button. Parents set the tone for the family, so if parents are more relaxed, then the kids will be as well, and everyone can deal with these busy times.”
Christine Peets is the Writer in Residence for the Upper Canada District School Board Parent Involvement Committee (UCDSB-PIC)