Closing Day = Opening Hearts and Minds
Children’s reactions to being reunited with their parents are tough to predict. Rather than predict your family’s exact experience, let me share with you some typical reactions that I’ve seen over the years. These descriptions are a bit abstract. No child will behave exactly like these stereotypes, but it’s helpful to know how widely kids’ reunion behavior varies. Your child may show a combination of these responses.
The Fountain of Youth: Fountain of Youth kids will be very excited about their camp experience and will immediately want to describe everything about camp in two minutes. Parents will be drenched with a steady stream of stories and explanations that they may not completely understand. Not to worry. Fountain of Youth kids know that their parents are the most important people in their lives, so they want to share with them all the great things that happened. Whirlwind tours of important places and people are a common part of this sharing. Parents should just smile and go along for the ride (with a camera, of course!).
The Poker Face. Poker Face kids probably had a great time at camp, but are oddly quiet on closing day. They don’t want to tell their parents much right away, but parents should not assume this is because they disliked camp. It’s just that Poker Face kids have an especially hard time leaving. They may be a little depressed about leaving new friends and wonderful places. However, the stories and experiences, good or bad, will come out in time. Parents who want the scoop right away can spend a few extra minutes talking to the child’s cabin leader.
The Tearful Camper. Tearful Campers are visibly moved by the close of camp. Tears are a real testament to the power of the camp experience. Indeed, a priceless moment for a cabin leader or a parent is witnessing a camper who cried when he arrived (because the separation was so hard) suddenly cry from sadness that he is leaving. Tearful Campers may want to leave quickly to avoid the awkwardness of the moment, or they may wish to linger. Parents should ask their child’s preference or play the day by ear.
The Sensationalist. Sensationalists immediately tell their parents the single most dramatic thing that happened to them during their camp stay. “When we were camping out, the tent stakes broke and it started to rain, and my sleeping bag got muddy, and then we heard thunder, and I thought we were gonna die!” Don’t assume the worst. All campers have a mix of powerful positive and negative experiences at camp. Sensationalists may tell horror stories, but most of them had a great time at camp. Parents should listen carefully to get a balanced account of the session.
In the days, weeks, and months that follow closing day, you can expect three things: (1) increased self-reliance; (2) ongoing stories about camp; (3) emotional volatility. The best response to all of this is empathy. Notice what your son or daughter is doing independently and compliment them for their initiative and maturity. Listen carefully to their adventure narratives and ask open-ended questions about why such-and-such was meaningful. And tolerate the mood swings that are a natural byproduct of challenge and triumph.
Enjoy the summer!
Dr. Christopher Thurber