I have been picking a kid up from camps and classes for more than 12 years – from day camps, sports camps, swim lessons, Jr. lifeguarding, overnight camps, grandma camp to art camp, you name it. I’ve been there burning up highways, airports and backroads to get my goofballs out of the house and for the love of all that is holy – stop picking at each other and get away from that darn TV!

No matter how long or short the camp, I want to know about my boys’ experience. Over the years the amount of information they share is directly related to how I choose to fuel the conversation.

Here is some of what I’ve learned to keep the conversation fires burning and get the critical information I want to know as a parent!

Ask Open Ended Questions.

This is #1 on almost every “how to talk to your kid” guide. If it doesn’t give your camper kid an opportunity to think and formulate more than a one-word answer consider rephrasing it:

Instead of. . .
Try . . .
How was the food? What was your favorite meal?
What did you do at camp? (The inevitable “stuff” answer rears it’s ugly head on this one!) Tell me about something new you did today/this week?
Did you have nice counselors? Was there a counselor you liked most this week/session? Why is that? (I know, it’s a two-parter!)
Did you have fun? Tell me your favorite memory/story from camp today/this summer.
Do you want to go back? What are some things you want to try next time? What are you looking forward to next year/week/tomorrow?

Some other questions to consider are:
1. Who did you spend a lot of time with at camp this year/today/week? What did you all like to do together?
2. What evening activity did you like the most?
3. How many people did you dance with at the dance?
4. What should we pack/add to the list for next time that you wished you had this year/today/week?
5. Tell me a new ghost story/song/legend/skill you learned this year?

Be OK with Silence.

Your kiddo is most likely still processing their experience. While you are ready to jump in with both ears and listen to all the exciting things they did, they are probably wiped from a whole LOT of activity and being constantly surrounded by people. Even your talkative child who has never met a stranger may just need some time to chill and reset before talking with you. Silence does not mean they hated their experience (or you). Their demand request of, “Please stop asking me questions.” or the lovely answers of “Stuff.” and “I dunno.” has less to do with their actual experience and more with the headspace they need to sort out their own thoughts before sharing them with you.

Don’t Overreact.

This is me pointing all the fingers at ME! My children tell me about an experience or something that happened that isn’t exactly the way I’d have wanted the situation to play out. It’s sooo easy for me to launch into a “teachable moment” tirade when the moment has actually passed me by or maybe it really didn’t happen exactly the way they told it. (Imagine that. My kid has a perspective of. . . a kid.) Instead take a beat. Your kid is sharing with you for a reason or maybe no reason at all. Ask them, “What did you think about that?” or a “How did that make you feel?” Sometimes a “That doesn’t sound quite right. Can you tell me more?” helps keep the conversation going vs. bringing it to a full and hard stop. AND in some instances, all you can do is let them (read next bullet) . . .

Laugh – and laugh with them.

Like the time my then 8-year-old couldn’t stop laughing about a fart war they had in their cabin. (gag!!) I didn’t try to talk to him about etiquette or how that was rude and may have made others uncomfortable. Instead, I let him have that moment. Which leads me to the final conversation fuel.

Leave your experiences out of it.

I know you’ve been to camp for years or work with kids or are a “cool” parent but remember this is an experience all their own. No need to bring up how much better it was in ’95 when you where there or the super crazy thing you did once or tell them how much you hated (insert whatever personal recollection you have from camps/summer). Don’t try to outdo your kid’s story or diminish their experience. Let them be the star!

Some other helpful tidbits to help the conversation along:

Feed Them.

My boys they are pretty hangry after camps. I travel with sacks – lots of snacks.

Space out the questions.

What can you ask at dinner or while unpacking the trunk or before bed vs. the ride home?

The best thing we can do, though, is keep engaging our kiddos in activities that fill their soul and power their passions. It is different for every person so try and try again. You’ve got this!

If you are still looking for your child’s niche, check out one of our Camp Fire after school programs or summer camps. It could be a perfect fit.