As you get back into the routine of the school year, of driving morning carpools and coordinating afternoon extracurriculars and homework, you will likely continue to hear “At camp, we . . . ” stories trickling into conversation at the dinner table or in the car. The reality is that it can take months for a child (and the staff, too!) to truly process the effects and experience of summer camp. Children process experiences using many different techniques and almost every technique utilizes some form of communication.
Perhaps your children like to draw and you find they are drawing more pictures of plants, animals, and other natural features.
Perhaps your children are writers and you find they are spending more time with their journals writing stories, poems, and plays using words like “Coolsville,” “waste not, want not,” and “seefar.”
Maybe your child is a performer and he continues to act like characters that sound a lot like Ortman, Scruffy, Selena, and Dr. Dodo.
If your child is a musician, you may have heard her endlessly plucking away at the piano or guitar trying to figure out the chords to “Wagon Wheel” or “Paradise” or “Mud.”
For the children who are analytical thinkers, you may find them withdrawing to a corner of nature in the yard or neighborhood to simply feel the familiarity of the sense of place and connection to the earth.
For the children that are talkers, you wonder how it is even possible for your child to still have new stories to tell about camp or how she is still glowing when she tells that same story from when she took a leap off the swim dock to catch a frisbee.
One of the special aspects of camp is that children have their own world and experiences that you, as a parent, only get to see through the child’s point of view. And though their camp experience may be incredibly personal to them, they often desperately want you to approve of their experiences and to share their many accomplishments with you. There may be no photograph of your child going off the zip-line; however, their recollection of it is clearer in their mind than any hi-definition, Go-Pro footage that could have possibly captured it. Your child wants you to SEE that incredible picture he paints with his words. The best ways to validate their explanations and stories are to a) ask questions about their experiences and b) simply repeat what they said.
What kind of questions should I ask?
How did it feel? Who shared this experience with you? What did you need to accomplish that goal/have that experience? What did your counselors say? What did your friends say? What did you tell your friends? Would you do that again? How would you do it differently next time? Share with me more about this.
Simply repeat what they said?
Yes, that’s right! Simply repeat what they said. Your child is telling you about the salamander she painted on the new bus. After she has finished her story you say, “So you are saying that you used red and black paint to create a salamander that is going to be on the bus forever?” Children often find that adults do not completely listen to what they say, so by repeating — almost word for word — what they just heard, it communicates that you value their story, so much so that it was worthy of repeating. (And children, believe it or not, value repetition — thus why the “knock, knock, who is there, banana” joke is a classic!) From there you can ask leading questions that accentuate the value of the experience they have shared with you, “So does that mean that campers that come after you will get to see YOUR creativity with YOUR salamander?”
Another strategy for repeating what they have said is the DLP method. Define the behavior (repeat what they said), label it (say what character/personality trait it displays) and praise the behavior. “You painted a salamander on the bus. That must have required creativity and attention to detail. Those are wonderful traits for you to have.”
The more your children feel that you “get” what they are telling you, the more they will share with you.
Photo courtesy of Camp John Marc, Meridian, Texas