When Your Kid Comes Home From Camp

When your kid comes home from camp, he’s going to be different. He’ll be taller, older and dirty(ish). He’ll be happy to see you, but missing camp. He’ll show his love by stomping around and mumbling things only he understands, or retreating to his room to find his camp friends on social media. There’s a chance he may pound on the table, chant something inaudible, and break into a random Mess Hall cheer. Swear words (some you’ve never even heard before) will be used all over the place, and there will be an unexplainable sense of loss in your home for a few days.

That’s because when it comes to how kids behave when they first return home after living at an overnight camp, some things are just universal.

Re-entry for girls is very much the same as boys. They also need space to mourn the end of a very intense living experience— they just handle it with more drama, and more whining. I have two girls, so I know all about THAT. Their time at camp is a little different than most kids because my husband and I are also here, but still, when they say their final good-byes to friends and counselors, they feel (and put us through) many of the same detox pains that everyone else is feeling.

I have learned a great deal over the last several years of watching and interacting with kids at an overnight camp, and I can tell you, without hesitation, that when your camper comes home with a dirty face, black feet and an inevitable cough—he will still be “cleaner” than he was when he left.

Your kid gained a lot at camp, but first he had to give up a lot:

1. No Mommy or Daddy. Boom. Right out of the gate, buh-bye, parents! Even my own kids aren’t allowed to come to our family cabin while they are campers. If I saw them around camp, great, but if not, maybe at dinner, yo! Parents aren’t present, but there are plenty of people in charge, and there are rules. Camp Rules. It doesn’t take long for the kids to get used to the rules though, because deep down they know they are the right rules for them at this point in their life. And if they don’t—they will one day.

2. No phones or electronics around camp or at meal time. Sorry, kids! You have to TALK to each other! HAHA! And you know what’s so crazy? They do talk. They talk a LOT. In fact, they don’t shut up, ever! If you were to walk into the Mess Hall at an overnight camp, you’d think you’d just stepped into the twilight zone: A huge group of people, so loud, all talking with each other. Chanting, cheering, singing. You’d think it was the biggest, craziest, most fun family dinner ever in history—and it is.

3. No “I” in Team. I rarely get to watch TV over the summer because I’m usually busy at camp, but on one of my trips home, I started watching a reality show portraying the Arizona Cardinals football team. I noticed their teamwork philosophy is very similar to what binds a cabin together, except kids don’t always operate as a team.

Sometimes campers are mean to other campers, but I have never met a camper (in my life) who WANTS to be mean. They are doing it for some other reason: attention, peer pressure, I don’t know. It’s interesting though. Once campers are solidly reminded that ripping on “teammates” is not how any legendary team wins, they usually understand the concept and they’re open to change. After that, it doesn’t take long for them to appreciate the “weird” characteristics in their cabin mates instead of shredding them.

4. No money. Campers have no money at camp. ZEE-RO. They don’t need it. All of their needs are being met:  Food, water, shelter, friends and entertainment. They don’t need things while they are at camp. They are “thing” free, except for the things they bring. (And they always seem to know what to bring.) It’s amazing to see how much kids DON’T need when they are forced to rely on the things they already possess.

5. No one serves. No one is coming to your table to take your order, serve you food, or clear your plates at camp. Of course, counselors are available to help serve younger campers, but even those kids know that when they’re done, plates go in a certain spot, as do utensils and trays. If the kid is ready for camp, he’s ready to clean up after himself. It may not be like that at home, but it could be.

And when my kids get home, I will give them their obligatory mourning period, and I will let them sleeeeeep, tell private jokes, and miss their friends–and I won’t take things personally. Then I will do my best to remind them of all the amazing things they learned and gained and lived through at camp —especially when it’s time to clear and clean the table.

Thanks for being here!

The DS+D Crew