“I miss camp so much. I just got back today.”
From pictures posted on Instagram in the days following camp (and for the rest of the year), the message is clear. Some kids really miss camp after they get home — a lot. The feeling of missing camp is so intense for some kids that it leads to moping and sadness that perplexes parents. This post-camp phenomenon is aptly diagnosed as “campsickness.”
“Much like homesickness, campsickness is a natural response to the sadness and loss that may accompany the end of the camp season or session.” Camping Magazine
The end of camp, and being apart from a group the camper has grown close to, can lead to a time of grief similar to other changes and losses people experience in life.
Years ago, the mother of a 12-year-old camper called to complain to me: “I’ve raised and loved her for 12 years and you had her for two weeks, and now she wants to be at camp more than at home.”
It’s an interesting paradox to think about how something we do that is good for our kids — building their independence, friendships, and happiness by sending them to camp — can lead to some negative feelings as a parent. There’s something nice about feeling needed, and as our kids get older, even though we want them to be independent, it can be sad to realize that they really don’t need us as much and, in fact, may have been happier without us.
Think of campsickness as the exact opposite of homesickness. After the intense fun and bonding of camp, being back home — for many campers — can be a sad time. The routines, friendships, and all-out fun of camp are impossible to replicate at home. For many campers, going home and being in their own room, without their 10 BFFs constantly nearby, can be an adjustment. Many kids take to social media and Skype to keep their friendships going. Some parents are at a loss for what to do.
“As is the case with separation from the comforting, nurturing routines of home — not to mention the support and affection of family members — exiting the camp community can elicit many of the same feelings of sadness and loss. Paradoxically, these emotions may be most intense among older kids, suddenly cognitively capable of abstract thinking — delving deeper into their emotional world — and more focused on peer relationships than their younger campmates. And these strong feelings may emerge regardless of the length of the campers’ stay.” American Camp Association
Other kids, especially younger ones, may not be openly “campsick,” but they may just not seem like themselves, or they could exhibit some undesirable behavior. This week, a parent sent me the following email: “I’m wondering if any of your past blogs have talked about how to manage re-entry to normal life for campers after they come home? My daughter [age 9] and a couple of her friends who’ve been away at camp for a week or more are having some significant challenges adjusting to being home. We anticipated a couple days of getting used to old routines, but after five days, the girls are still really out of sorts.”
Her email got me thinking — and researching — the topic of re-entry after camp.
Tips to help ease the re-entry home if you have a “campsick” camper
1. Let your camper rest! Camp is such a busy, active time and campers need lots of rest after they get home. Make sure they don’t have much on their schedule when they return and let them have several days to “chill” and get caught up on sleep. Many emotional and behavioral issues can be solved by a good night’s sleep.
2. Encourage your camper to talk about camp and share stories. Ask open-ended questions about camp (if they seem open to your inquiries).
3. Have them teach you a camp song or game.
4. Use the photos on the camp’s website to spur conversation and help them remember. Print some photos and make a collage or album with camp memories.
5. Encourage your camper to keep in touch with camp friends. Some campers like to write “real” letters to each other to keep the communication “campy.” Phone calls and video chats are also a great way to continue the more “face-to-face” connections they made at camp.
6. Help your camper make plans for a visit or reunion with camp friends (or a video chat if that’s all that works).
7. Suggest your camper write a thank you note to a counselor at camp who made their stay especially fun. Doing something kind for someone else, like writing a thank you note, will make your camper feel happier.
8. Have a “campfire” in your backyard and roast a s’more.
9. Plan and do a family outdoor activity together.
10. Talk about camp plans and start a count-down calendar to next summer!
How to Deal with Campsickness, The Camp Lady
Unpacking: Summer Camps Lease Hath All Too Short Date, Camping Magazine
How to Handle a Campsick Child, Fox News Magazine
Campsickness: When Kids Come Home Surly, Newsweek
Campsick, Summer 365
The Last Day of Camp, Camp Manitou
How to Deal with Camp-sickness
Home from Camp: How to Help Your Kids with the Reentry, Childmind.org
Campsickness: A Parent Guide to a Speedy Recovery, Chippewa Ranch Camp