Camp Fall-Out

With my nine-year old having gone off to camp for a week for the first time by himself this summer, I've addressed a bit of that journey: reasons to send your child to Bible camp, preventing homesickness, and the follow-up report on my son's experience at camp. There's one more element of going to camp for a week to address.

I don't know if this is a common occurrence, but I think it happens a bit: Camp Fall-Out. That's my name for it at least. My son, while having an extremely wonderful time at camp, comes home and has moments of grouchiness, argumentativeness, and fighting with his brother.

The frustrating part, of course, is that this happens after having spent a week getting along great with strangers and hearing messages about Jesus and living like a follower of His. It's annoying. There were brief moments when we were sorry he was home. He's not supposed to act like this, after all. Not after going off to Bible camp!

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One of the things going on, I believe, is a change from dependence to independence back to dependence. He had a week away without parents telling him what to do. Yes, there were camp rules and I'm sure his cabin counselor had his own rules, but parents weren't around. I think there's an adjustment phase coming back home after a week away and being (kind of) on your own.

Part of it, naturally, is tiredness. The kids are up later than normal bedtimes every night, waking up for breakfast each morning, and having a full day of activities. Tired children equal less-than-pleasant children.

Some of it is also just coming down off an intense week of spiritual highs. Yes, the kids learn about the Bible, and Jesus, and how both apply to how we live. They've likely made some spiritual decisions to follow Jesus (more or better or for the first time). They intend to come home and live out the things talked about at camp. But younger children, especially, may have a hard time with the adjustment of being in a intense, spiritual setting and coming back to their regular routines. It's a hard adjustment for adults; it's going to be hard for children.

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I don't know if I have advice on preventing or curtailing the Camp Fall-Out effect. But the good news is that it goes away. Within a week of parents being frustrated over the back-talk and bad attitudes, our son was back to his (mostly) pleasant self. He and his brother have (mostly) been getting along. He's been (mostly) helping out around the house. Mostly, because he's never been perfect, and we won't expect him to be.

As parents it helps to just be aware of what's going on and acknowledge it. We don't have to put up with it (we reminded him several times that his behavior was not okay), but it helps to know that it's not permanent. We tried talking through it and encouraged him to write down what was going on since he couldn't talk about it. He never did any, but we gave him the space and permission to do so, and I think that helped.

He had several people ask him about his time at camp, and I think being able to recount the lessons learned and fun times helped. It connected his present to the past week at camp.

So if your child is expressing symptoms of Camp Fall-Out, know that it will go away. And in it's place will be the benefits of having been away at camp for a week (a little more mature, a little more of a disciple, a lot of good memories). That's the hope, anyway.

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