I loved going to church camp as a kid. (No, I’m not going to humiliate myself by posting pictures of me by the lake at Victory Cove as a kid. Let’s just say I had a bad hair day…for 4 years.) We took our kids to the old, abandoned campground last summer and showed them where Mom played games, slept on bunk beds with so much writing scratched into them it’s a miracle there’s any wood left, went to chapel and sang spiritually-moving songs like “Little Bunny in the Woods,” and ate terrible camp food. During that one week at Victory Cove each summer, I got to be on my own and hang out with peers. I could count on a spiritual high and lots of fun memories – followed by a serious crash when I got home. Sound familiar?
I’m no child psychologist, but I do understand that what goes up must come down. When our kids go on a church mission trip, to camp, or to any super fun event for an extended period of time, the emotional high they experience is almost guaranteed to be followed by an emotional let-down after the event. I remember feeling grouchy and wanting to cry for no particular reason in the days following camp as a kid. Even worse, I felt guilty about it after having such a powerful spiritual experience, which left me vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. (“If you were a good Christian, you wouldn’t be feeling this way.” Pah-lease!) As I got older, I figured out that some emotional exhaustion following big events was to be expected. I learned to plan for it – and outsmart the enemy! So now, as a mom, I’m trying to help my kids expect and manage their post-event let-downs. Perhaps these tips will be helpful to you, too.
Tell your child to expect an emotional let-down. I mentioned in my last post that I sent some notes of encouragement with my son on his 6-day choir/missions trip. In the last card, I told him to expect an emotional let-down, and told him it’s okay to feel overly emotional at the end of a long trip. Our kids need to know that the ups and downs of life are totally normal, and that they’re not a “bad Christian” if they sometimes want to crawl under a rock. If we don’t tell kids to expect a crash, we leave them vulnerable to the enemy when the crash comes. They won’t know why they feel so grouchy, so unless you tell them the truth (that it’s their body’s natural response to stress – whether positive or negative), the enemy will happily explain it with lies.
If possible, plan a low-key day or two when your child returns. I’m hoping to get my errands done before my son gets home tonight. The last thing he needs after a busy week is to be dragged to the grocery store with mom. So clear your calendar, as much as possible, to allow your child some time and space to recover – particularly if he’s an introvert who needs time alone to refuel. (I’ll also be preparing my daughter to expect him to hide in his room for a day or two, so she doesn’t feel like it’s a rejection of her.)
Give her permission (and a safe place) to cry for no reason. When my daughter returned from camp last week, she excitedly showed me all her souvenirs and told me about all the fun things she did. But within a few hours, she started getting teary and fixated on one thing that didn’t go the way she wanted (not enough time on the zipline, which clearly indicates that camp was a complete disappointment and utter failure). It was completely irrational the way she was carrying on about her disappointment – after just telling me about all the fabulous things she did – so I knew this was the beginning of the let-down. I gently suggested that she take a relaxing bubble bath before dinner. I brought in a candle (to give her something positive to focus on), some soft music (to soothe her), and told her it’s okay to let the tears flow. Sometimes our bodies just need to cry in order to feel better, and kids need to know it’s okay to listen to their bodies.
Have a fun, but relaxing, diversion ready when the grouchiness sets in. After my daughter had her bubble bath, we watched a completely silly movie together. (BTW, it was Lion King 1 1/2, which totally cracks me up.) When we’re emotionally exhausted, it’s important to acknowledge our feelings and cry if needed, but then we need to change the channel. We can choose to stay there, or find a positive distraction to redirect our thoughts. Do you remember your “moody teenager” days, when a melancholy song would come on the radio and you would just revel in it? (Yeah, me neither…) I wish I had known then that you can choose to change the channel! We don’t have to stay in a bad mood, but it requires that we make a conscious decision to cheer ourselves up. God’s gift of laughter is often the best medicine for grouchiness.
Take into account your child’s love language and communicate love in that way. Even though “physical touch” is at the bottom of my list of preferred ways to communicate and receive love, all three of my family members (plus our dog!) have it at the top of theirs. So that means I do a LOT of snuggling. We snuggle during movies and while reading together (which requires strategic pillow placement, due to the fact that my kids are all knees and elbows these days and will bruise me otherwise). They beg to be tickled, and we do lots of hugs and kisses at night. If you don’t know your child’s love language, take the quiz here. Knowing that my daughter hadn’t met her snuggle quota at camp, I figured she would need lots of snuggles while we watched our movie in order to fill up her bucket again. If your child’s love language is acts of service, you could do one of his chores for him. If it’s words of encouragement, you could put a little note on his pillow telling him how happy you are to have him home. Whatever it is that makes your child feel loved, is something you can do to help push the reset button on his emotions.
Whatever you do, let grace be your default. When they snap at you or their sibling, show grace. You will have plenty of opportunities to discipline when they can handle it. I’m happy to say, my daughter got through her bumpy evening and is back to her glowing report of camp. Not only is stepping out on their own an opportunity for our kids to mature, learning how to handle their emotions after these kinds of big events can be a huge help to them throughout life.