They’re back. You sent your precious child off to camp with neatly packed luggage, extras shirts and shorts just in case, some snacks and maybe even a smile. A few days ago the bus doors opened and they looked . . . well . . . rough. Their hair wasn't combed. Half their clothes were missing and the half were covered in Jell-O. They look exhausted and reek of a distinct combination of body odor and Doritos. It’s enough to make you wonder, “What happened there?!” The best answer is...a lot.
There’s a good chance that your child had a lot of fun at camp. They stayed up late, had remarkable conversations, did something that made them uncomfortable yet thrilling, made some major life decisions and logged some life-long memories—and that was just the first day. So where do you start? How can you best rally behind what God has authored in them? And finally, how do you talk about this oh-so-packed week with them in a way that they don’t just stare at you blankly? Well, we're here to get you started in the right direction!
Below, you'll find a breakdown of things to say and things to avoid saying. Camp is packed full with everything from black light glow parties and color wars to personalized Bibles and deep faith conversations. So that means you should have no shortage of things to talk about, and hopefully even laugh about too!
WHAT TO SAY NOW
The truth is, your child may not be ready to talk a lot the first day home from camp. Maybe they’ll want to tell you all about their week but, for most kids, the first day home is about one thing— sleep. If you’d love a recap before they pass out, do your best to keep it simple.
- What was one fun thing you did?
- What was the best part of your week?
- Who is one person you got to know better?
WHAT TO SAY LATER
When your child finally catches up on sleep and returns to the land of the living, they may feel a little more ready to chat, but there’s also a good chance they may have trouble finding the right words to articulate exactly what they’ve experienced. They’re still processing. They’re still figuring out how to bring what they learned at camp into their normal, everyday life. They may even have the post-camp blues. So instead of asking broad questions like, “What did you learn at camp?” help them find the right words by asking something more specific. For example, you can ask questions like:
- What is one word or phrase that sticks out in your mind from this week?
- What is one thing about the weekend that surprised you?
- What was something you were nervous about that ended up way better than you imagined?
- What is one thing you learned about God, yourself or others last weekend?
- What speaker did you enjoy most and why?
- What is one thing you really enjoyed about your small group or small group leader?
- Is there anything you’ve decided to do differently because of what you experienced at camp?
- Is there anyone you’ve decided to spend more/less time around after camp?
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Camp is one of the few places that feels sacred to a student. It can be sacred because they felt closer to God or made major life decisions. Or, it can be because they simply became closer to friends and felt more accepted than they do at school. Camp exists in a category of its own and there are aspects of camp that are transcendent, aspects that have rearranged their thought process, aspects they aren’t entirely sure what to do with yet.
Your child will be far less likely to talk about these experiences if they feel you don’t understand or don’t approve. So when you ask questions, do your best to keep the tone positive (even if it seems like all they did was drink Coke and play laser tag). Avoid phrases like:
- Did you learn anything this week?
- It sounds like all you guys did was goof off.
- It doesn’t sound like much fun to me.
- You’re sure not acting like you’ve learned anything.
KEEP CAMP ALIVE
Make camp an ongoing conversation throughout the summer. Look for opportunities to circle back on specific camp moments and previous mentions. It is likely your child is still connecting the dots from camp, trying their best to implement all of what they've heard and experienced. Take a moment to write down a few big takeaways from camp and review them together throughout the year. Or better yet, create a camp journal or scrapbook that celebrates each year's camp highlights, takeaways and maybe even a goal or two.
Camp is a sacred place—a God place. It’s a place full of wonder, rich community, and loads of pizza. A place where bathing is seen as optional and God has never felt closer. Parents, the best thing you can do is acknowledge the sacredness of this experience called camp.
Steffen Humbert was born and raised in the Sunshine State. He studied at Trinity International University and has been working with students for over six years. He serves as the Youth Pastor at National Community Church. Steffen loves watching grace capture students! He is married to his lovely bride Celeste and they are both currently living on Capitol Hill.