Campers and Counselors alike have enjoyed summer days together learning new skills in activities, living in a small tent family, learning self-care, gaining self-confidence, developing new friendships (and cherishing old ones too), having the courage to try something new - the list goes on. This week, we find many campers experiencing many emotions - excitement to be home with family mixed with sadness about leaving camp and good friends. One teary-eyed camper said, “Camp is so fun, I just don’t want it to be over. I’m excited to see my brother because I miss him, but I don’t want to leave camp.”
Beth Arky of the Child Mind Institute offers some advice for parents as they prepare to welcome their campers home from camp:
As parents we spend months readying our children for sleepaway camp, from finding the right camp to choosing between iron-on tags and Sharpies to mark every last duffle bag-bound item with the child’s name. We anticipate summer camp experiences good and bad, from making new friends and learning new skills to homesickness and pinkeye. What moms and dads are less likely to anticipate is that just as going to camp is a major transition for a child, so, too, is coming home.
With the bulk of campers homeward bound over the next several weeks, it’s worth noting that while many kids who enjoyed stretching their wings will have a relatively smooth reentry to the nest, others will have a bumpier landing.
Dr. Michael G. Thompson, a psychologist and author of Homesick and Happy, says: “I think that the majority of kids come home pretty satisfied, more grown up, and very proud of themselves,” he says. These kids try to show off their newfound maturity, setting tables and pitching in on chores, just as they had at camp.
[These] kids...may have learned to water ski or overcome their fear of bugs but, more importantly, “they conquered a huge developmental piece. They managed without their parents,” says Carolyn Meyer-Wartels, a Manhattan psychotherapist who’s worked with families on after-camp problems. They even had the chance to play with their personas: Maybe they’d be the funny one, or the serious one, at camp. Plus, she says, “there’s a whole new group of friends and adults to rely on.”
But Dr. Thompson says children’s new thoughtfulness doesn’t tend to last too long. “Generally, grown-up behaviors fall away and they return to baseline” in the context of home, he says. “There’s usually a brief honeymoon and then a bit of a crash,” Meyer-Wartels agrees. “Camp has a lot of rules but it’s fun, you’re never alone, and the group is doing chores like clearing the table together. But then the child comes home and there are the different rules and expectations of family life.”
Dr. Thompson describes another group as the ones who come home and are quite “campsick” for a few days. Missing the friends, the independence, and the routine of camp, they find themselves “flopping about the house, and they don’t want to be home,” he says. This often hurts parents’ feelings. “They’re very glad their child had such a good experience at camp but are a little miffed he’s saying so quite so loudly.” He encourages parents to wait it out and not take it personally: This unhappy transition usually lasts only two to four days.
Along with the sadness at the end of camp may well be the realization that summer is coming to a close and the school year is looming, adds Meyer-Wartels. And if the child is coming home to a stressful family situation, that’s going to show up, too. She says it’s very common for campsick kids to become obsessed with maintaining their camp friendships, spending large chunks of time online posting photos, chatting, and FaceTiming. This isn’t necessarily bad; technology can be a blessing for kids who don’t have many—or any—friends at home. They’ve forged strong bonds, perhaps for the first time. Parents can try to arrange play dates and get-togethers, but when this is a geographic impossibility, the Web can be a beautiful thing.
While making this transition back to life at home is emotional and can be tough, we try to look at it as a gift. How lucky our campers are to be part of a community that affects them so deeply - no matter what their emotions when they head home, we hope that campers leaves ALC feeling thankful for their time at camp, thankful for the friends they've made here, thankful for all they've accomplished and how they've grown. How we hope that they will stay connected with one another - not only online, but by continuing the letter writing habits developed at camp.
Over the years, we have found that many campers will share lots of stories in the days after they return home, but that camp stories will also appear throughout the year - often when something happens that reminds them of something at camp. How awesome!
We thought it might be helpful to offer some questions you may want to ask campers in the upcoming days and weeks as they reenter life at home. Some may share stories readily, but it may also take some coaxing to get a full sense of what the experience has been. Things we hope they're thinking about include:
Which activities did you enjoy the most? What happened that made them significant to your summer?
Who were your good friends this summer? What do you like about those friends?
How might you stay in touch with them this winter?
What were some funny things that happened at camp this summer?
What was challenging for you at camp? How did you handle these challenges?
What made you proud this summer? What did you accomplish that you did not expect to do?
Whether campers come home excited and enthusiastic about all they've accomplished, sad that summer is over and camp had to end, or some combination of both, we hope that you will see change and growth. Not only have we enjoyed all of the joy and fun at camp, we've has also learned to navigate more difficult moments - things are not always perfect at camp: we all make mistakes and experience hard feelings, and at camp, we are lucky to have the time to work through these challenges. These challenging moments are also important lessons that develop our character. We hope that the confidence gained through all of the experiences at camp will shine through at home, and that the lessons learned here at ALC will carry campers into their new adventures this school year. We are so thankful for each and every camper, and we hope they continue to carry all of our discussions about being a good citizen, good friend, and a kind and thoughtful person who has the ability to make a difference each and every day. Thank you for sharing your camper(s) with us this summer. Each camper has been an important part of ALC’s summer family and our 114th summer together!