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4 Ways to Avoid the Post-Camp Silent Treatment

Campers all over the country are headed home right about now, and their parents are anxiously awaiting the wondrous details of their time away. We hug them, load their stinky stuff into the car and begin with, “I missed you! Tell me all about it!” What we get is a teaser response: “It was awesome!” “It was fun!” or “It was OK.” Then, that deflating silence.

We start to prod and ask and dig. They’re tired and no actual thoughts are coming to their minds, or they’re not yet ready to share their experiences. The silence from the backseat can be infuriating, even hurtful. Don’t they know that their three-sentence letters home didn’t really tell us much?

So, what can we do to have a more satisfying conversation and hear more about their experiences? Take a page from the camp-counselor playbook.

1. Be playful. Straight from skit night at camp, try the "two truths and a lie" game. Ask your camper to tell you two things that happened at camp and make up one story that didn’t happen, and you have to guess which one is false. The fun part for you is that you get two actual details or stories from camp, and the false stories may open your eyes to the sometimes crazy-fun world of overnight camp.

MORE: A Letter to My 14-Year-Old at Camp

2. Be specific. If you want details, ask with details. Instead of general questions like “Was it fun?” ask something they will have a specific answer for. It’s the specifics we want anyway, right? Try things like:

  • What was your favorite meal?
  • Did anyone at camp get a nickname, and what was the story behind that?
  • What was the funniest thing your counselor did?
  • Did you take any trips out of camp? Where did you go?
  • What was the most challenging thing?
  • Is there anyone you hope to keep in touch with?

The answers to these questions can lead to more conversation.

3. Be patient. Camp is often transformative in certain ways for kids. Some of this change is from the natural maturation that comes from development, reaching new cognitive, spiritual, emotional and relational capacity. Some of it is from experiences kids have, how they spend their time, whom they spend time with, what challenges they overcome, etc.

New experiences have changed your camper, and he needs time to reset at home. Give his time to assimilate back into home life. You’re not going to miss the boat if you don’t get all the details in the first couple of hours. In fact, talking about camp and sharing experiences isn’t a one-time event. It’s a process.

4. Let go of your need to know. It’s great to encourage your child to reflect on her time at camp, as well as how meaningful and transformative it was, but don’t force it. You don't want her to feel like she's being interrogated, or she'll clam up even more. Allow her to decide when and how she'll share about her experiences—which are, we need to remember, her own. After all, one of the reasons we send our kids to camp is to nurture a budding independence. Be curious and interested, but don’t pressure them to share.

This is part of the journey as parents: to manage our need for connection and for being involved in the details of their lives. And that’s what it is—our need. As our children become their own people with parts of their lives that belong to them, we want to honor their autonomy and their need to carve out experiences that belong to them and facilitate their independence.

Remember that you didn’t share everything with your parents, either. It’s part of the natural progression of development for our children and for us as parents.

So as you ride home smelling the mildewed sleeping bag (or is that your child that smells so bad?), keep these suggestions in mind. Be creative, be specific, be patient and honor that their stories belong to them. Then the details they want to share will unfold—probably over days, weeks and even months.

(Michael Thompson is the founder of Lantern Camps.)

MORE: Hilarious Kids' Camp Letters

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