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The big day has arrived: your child is coming home from a weeks-long stay at sleepaway camp, and you’re beyond excited. Naturally, you’ve missed them, and you assume they’ll be thrilled to be back at home. To celebrate, your family is gathered in your backyard, ready to greet your kiddo as soon as they arrive with a family BBQ. But when you pick up your child from camp, they burst into tears, devastated to be leaving the fun behind. 

According to Renee Flax, director of camper placement for the American Camp Association, NY and NJ, kids often get “campsick” (think of it as homesickness in reverse). “It’s a very common reaction. All of a sudden, something has been stripped away from them that they have come to love,” she says. It can be hard for kids to reacclimate to life at home after camp. Here’s what parents can do to help.

A TASTE OF INDEPENDENCE

For many children who are used to busy schedules that revolve around school and extracurricular activities, camp provides a unique opportunity to socialize and make friends which is why it can be so hard to leave behind. For some kids, it’s the first time they’re sharing living quarters, and learning to respect other people’s spaces. This personal growth results in strong bonds with the other campers, making it hard to say goodbye to their buds and the independence they’ve become accustomed to while away from home.

At camp, kids enjoy the freedom to make decisions without the input of their parents, and that teaches them self-reliance, says Flax. They’re choosing their electives, they’re making friends of their own initiative and they’re deciding what they want to eat—for many, it’s their first taste of independence. What’s more, if a child has an issue with someone in their bunk, they learn how to work out the problem themselves, says Flax. “The ability to develop confidence in yourself is one of the biggest gifts that camp gives a child,” she says. 

TRANSITIONING BACK HOME 

The bustling environment of camp is so different from what kids are used to at home. They’re bunking with many other children, so it’s noisy. Their days are action-packed, and they’re completely unplugged from technology, says Flax. It’s no wonder being thrust back into home life can be a shock. On top of that, your child is likely coming home from camp physically and emotionally exhausted from busy, active days with friends and saying tearful goodbyes, says Flax. 

But if your child is feeling down after camp, don’t take it to heart. “It’s not that they’re not happy to be home—they are! They’ve missed their family and friends and they’ve missed all the conveniences of being at home, but it’s a transition,” says Flax. She adds that not all kids will have the same reaction every summer, so parents should be prepared for anything and go with the flow.

Transitions can be hard for kids in general, and if they’ve really enjoyed camp, coming back to their routine can be especially tough, says Steven Tobias, Psy.D., director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown. Think of it like taking a vacation—most people are happier before a trip than afterwards; it’s normal to feel somewhat of a letdown when you come home, he says. So if your child has the post-camp blues, empathize with their feelings.

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FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD 

Instead of filling up your child’s social calendar in advance, wait until they get home to make plans, advises Flax. That way, your child can decide what they’re up for—they might want to have a friend over, but they might just want to chill alone for awhile—whatever they need is okay. “Be a good listener and follow their lead. They will guide you as to what they need or want from you,” Flax says. 

Your child might return from camp feeling sad, stressed or disappointed, says Tobias. But it’s not a parent’s job to prevent their child from experiencing any negative emotions—simply validate and support them, he says. In other words, instead of trying to make those difficult feelings go away, make sure to acknowledge them. “It’s okay for kids to learn how to experience and deal with tough feelings and work through them,” Tobias says. 

What if your child isn’t opening up about camp right away? Ask if there’s a special memory from camp they’d like to share, or what they loved most about camp, suggests Flax, adding that most camps post photos of camp activities on their website. Parents can go online with their kids to help them relive their favorite memories, she suggests. It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to write letters or Facetime with camp friends and, if possible, arrange meetups. Meanwhile, it’s important that they begin to do things with friends from home, too.

It’s impossible to predict how your child will handle returning home from camp, says Flax, but being understanding and supportive no matter what they’re feeling will ease their transition.

—Heidi L. Borst is a mother, writer and nutrition coach based in Wilmington, NC.

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