House and Home

How to Handle a Campsick Child

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Attending sleepaway camp for the first time can be a daunting experience for both children and their parents. Will she be homesick? Will he make friends? Are they having a good time?

But returning home can bring on a whole new set of challenges: Hello, campsickness.

Experts say that melancholy feeling your camper may be experiencing upon returning home is completely normal.

"Camp has a lot of wonderful rhythm to it, and activity periods following a certain schedule," explains psychologist Chris Thurber. "We get used to routines, and to break those, it results in some adjustment difficulty."

The good news? Don’t expect your child’s campsickness to last too long. "The intense part of it is probably going to be about a week to ten days," Thurber explains. "As much as we are creatures of habit, human beings are also incredibly resilient, especially young people."

In the meantime, what can parents do to make their child’s transition home from camp as smooth as possible?

Keep them busy, says Louise Fritts Johnson, director of Camp Arcadia in Casco, Maine.

"Don’t let them foster into sleeping all day or sitting on their beanbag chair crying about camp," Johnson suggests. "Get them involved in the life they have at home."

Parents should also be aware that their campers will likely return home with a much greater sense of independence.

"Let them transition back into the family as they feel comfortable," Johnson says. "The worst thing you can do is jump right back to where you were at the beginning of the summer," he warns. "Don’t assume it’s the same child coming back."

When your child returns home, he or she will likely have plenty of stories and memories they want to share — on their own time.

"Kids are different. Some are gonna gush and want to tell you lots and lots right away," says Thurber. "Others are reticent and their stories will trickle out."

"Ask some good open-ended questions, but don’t expect it to all just come flooding out if that’s not your child’s style," he adds.

Since the hardest part about coming home is often being separate from new friends, encourage your camper to keep in touch, advises Johnson.

"There’s something really wonderful about kids having had some experience that they don’t have to share every detail with the grown-ups in their lives," says Thurber. "It’s very special."