Whenever my children came back from a visit to their grandparents’ house (usually for a week in the summer), they came back with stories of new experiences and fun. I have witnessed developmental leaps as a result.
They came back more independent and with larger vocabularies. They were certainly closer to their grandparents. They also came home almost a little too bold for my taste.
They had been free of their usual chores. Returning to our normal nuclear family order was sometimes a struggle, because the kids would test the boundaries.
They seemed to have similar issues when they came home from summer camp. They had wonderful stories about their new experiences, but we had a bit of friction as we reconnected and our schedules returned to our family’s homeostasis. They were used to greater independence, and I was used to more control.
These are a few things you might hear as your kids return home from camp.
“My bedtime was later at camp.”
“We cleaned our cabin only every other day.”
“We had popcorn for a snack every afternoon and evening. I want popcorn!”
I learned to expect the transition period and not judge it negatively. My children had positive new experiences to share, like canoeing and making new friends. Being around kids from diverse backgrounds, they had picked up new habits, mannerisms and words.
Camp stretched them. It seemed as if they came home knowing more and being bolder.
Here are a few things I tried to ease the transition from camp to home. Not every tip works for every child. Children are different and have their own personalities. Some children may come home tired and be a little grumpier. Some kids may come home with an agenda of all the things they missed or things that they want to change about their routines.
- Have a homecoming celebration. Make a “Welcome Home” sign and cook your child’s favorite foods or take them out to their favorite restaurant.
- Plan some listening time. Use open-ended questions to prompt sharing.
- What was your favorite camp activity?
- What was your least favorite thing to do?
- Tell me about your best camp friend.
- Who was your favorite counselor?
- What did you like about your favorite counselor?
- What new things did you try?
- Do you want to go back next year or do you want to try something else? Be careful not to interrogate. Don’t be probing. Remember to respect their boundaries. What they answer is sufficient. If they want to share more, kids will usually do so. Space the open-ended questions throughout several conversations.
- Affirm new skills, including new communication skills, while being clear about boundaries. Returning Camper: Shanda calls her dad by his first name. Think Dad would go for that? Mom: Well, I call my stepdad by his first name, but I didn’t grow up with him like you did with your dad. I think Dad likes being called Dad. Talk to him about it.
- Encourage your child’s new-found independence by allowing them to make more independent choices about how to use their time. Example: I need the laundry folded, the dog fed (he really missed you) and the trash taken out. You have all morning before we meet your dad for lunch. Whatever order you do it in is fine.
- Return to usual chores, schedules and responsibilities with patience, but without indulgence.
- Be sure to talk a little bit about what you and the younger siblings did while your camper was away. It’s important your child learn that everyone has a life away from the rest of the family. af
Laura Reagan-Porras is a freelance journalist and parenting coach.