Dr. Tracy Brenner, “The Camp Counselor” shares tips for welcoming campers back home in this week’s MCE guest blog.
The summer has flown by and it’s already time for your campers to return home.
Here are some tips to prepare yourselves and your campers for re-entry to the real world:
Camp pickup/meeting at bus/airport: Be thoughtful about who is in attendance for that first reunion and for visits in the days immediately following your child’s return. Some children may want to keep it very lowkey with just immediate family, while others will be eager to see relatives and friends.
Prepare for exhaustion: The camp summer is filled with fun and energy and the last few days are often marked by closing ceremonies and late nights. Campers may even try to stay up as long as possible on their last night of camp. Be ready for tired kids (and the moods that come along with those). Don’t over-schedule and allow them to get the rest they need.
Expect any and all emotions: There is no right way to feel at the end of the camp summer and the possible range of feelings is enormous. Your child may express excitement, delight and enthusiasm to be home and/or tearfulness and intense sadness because camp has ended. These feelings may fluctuate day to day or even hour by hour. Don’t worry: Your child does not have a clinical disorder; he or she is just reacting to a major transition and transitions are hard.
Expect new behaviors: Don’t be surprised if while sitting down to family dinner your child starts performing a hand-clapping game, or flipping his cup around. Camp meals are nothing like quiet family dinners. Engage with curiosity around the games and traditions that occur at mealtime– it’s a great way to learn more about the summer—but don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Best of all, your child may be more confident after trying a whole host of new things, more independent after doing so much on their own, more sensitive and patient after living in close quarters with peers, and more resilient after learning they can do hard things. Embrace this growth in your child. It’s what camp is all about!
Avoid peppering with questions: Grappling with big feelings, managing the transition, and feeling the post-summer fatigue can feel overwhelming for your child. While you are of course super curious, to your child, your questions may feel exhausting and will likely lead to short shrift responses. You have 10 months to let the stories of the summer unfold. Resist the urge to fire with questions and let things come up over time. You will find that in January something will trigger your child’s memory and you’ll learn new stories from camp. By waiting to follow your child’s lead you let them be the narrator of their summer story. If they are interested, looking at photos together can be a great tool to learn more about camp.
Avoid “interviewing for pain”: This type of questioning, coined by psychologist Michael Thompson, is when parents focus on a negative experience and through their inquiry, give problems more weight and power than they would have without their repeated attention. For example, a parent says, “Was Sara mean to you after visiting day? I remember she was mean during the first week.” There’s no need to ask such a specific question if your child is not initiating it and after so much time has passed. Instead, ask open-ended questions like “what were things like socially at camp?” and trust that if something is important, your child will bring it up. If your child handled the conflict on his/her own, that’s a win for independence and social skills. However, when we drive the conversation toward negative events, our children are more likely to focus on (and share with us) what’s not going well, skewing their perception as well as ours.
Capitalize on resilience: No matter how your child’s summer went, they got through it. I mean that for children who completed their summer at camp and even for those who left early. No matter their duration at camp, they endured rainy days, moments of failure, bouts of homesickness, itchy bug bites, conflict with peers, and other obstacles. Communicate to your child how proud you are of them and more importantly how proud they should be of themselves for powering through challenges and riding out the difficult times. The clock did tick and they are home. This is a win for resilience no matter how they feel about camp.
Camp in the Offseason
I’ve observed that camp parents today feel more pressure to keep their kids connected to camp friends during the offseason. While sometimes our children are eager for sleepovers, FaceTime sessions and group chats with camp friends, others are content to spend their school year fully immersed in school life and let camp happen at camp. If your child is not so interested in connecting in the offseason, that’s okay! Notice if you are feeling anxious about your child being left out or fearing that their friendships will be less strong if they don’t put effort into them in the offseason. Camp friends are unique. The bonds formed in the camp bubble are so strong that even 10 months apart can feel like no time has passed. And while for some children the friendships are the draw of camp, for others, it’s the activities, the traditions, the spirit and the beauty of the environment that brings them back year after year. Thus, if your child loved camp, but didn’t come home most enthused by relationships, that’s okay. There are lots of ways to be a camper. Support your child in making connections if they are interested and rest assured that there’s nothing wrong if they’re not.
Parents, I wish you all wonderful reunions with your campers and hope that it was a great summer for all! And whether your child had a great summer, a neutral one or a difficult one, I am here to support you and your children in the off season about ambivalence about returning to camp, processing challenging moments or any anxieties that arise for you or your child. Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org for consultation, camp coaching, or talks in your community.
Maine Camp Experience Resources & Tools
Looking for the perfect Maine camp for your child? Try out our helpful tool where you can select a camp by choosing: type of camp (girls, boys or coed) and session length (1-8 weeks). It helps to narrow down a few camps to a manageable list that includes rates. Then you can research these camps in more depth.
Next, be sure to contact our Maine Camp Guide, Laurie to discuss these camps as well as for free, year-round advice and assistance on choosing a great Maine summer camp for your child.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge®, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.