It's not just the spiders in the latrine or the terror of what's really lurking at the bottom of a sleeping bag.

Sometimes parents are responsible for their children's uneasiness at summer camp, says Betty van der Smissen, president-elect of the American Camping Association and professor of recreation at Pennsylvania State University.

"Too often it is not a matter of whether the child is ready to go away from home, but whether the parents are ready to allow the child to go away. It's a protective thing, first of all. Parents say they're not really sure their child can take care of himself. Sometimes children have been overprotected."

Since the child's stay at Camp Whatta Lotta Fun might be the family's first separation, "It is very important that parents prepare themselves for their child's summer camp experience and be involved in anticipating the camp," says Van der Smissen.

Be sure that you are ready to have your child leave home, that you trust him or her to get along and that you are not fearful of the risks and rare, but possible, mishaps connected with camping.

These suggestions on how to psychologically prepare your child and yourself for summer camp are from the American Camping Association and from area camp directors:


Begin to build the thrill of camp by getting books on the child's level that deal with camping. Read and talk about the stories. Share personal anecdotes of your own camp experiences.

Avoid stressing how much you'll miss the child, or the youngster will begin to feel guilty about being gone.

Listen carefully for questions the child raises and note which are points of anxiety. Deal with them calmly.

Don't try to convince the child, in a rush, that he or she will love camp.

Avoid initiating the subject of homesickness. You might actually be planting a thought that may never otherwise occur to the child. If the youngster mentions it first, listen to any fears. Don't say homesickness won't happen. He or she might feel both homesick and ashamed and be too embarrassed to go to a counselor for help.

Easy the Way

Let the child stay overnight with someone they're comfortable with, a friend or relative, to experience sleeping away from home.

Contact someone going to the same camp, or make arrangements with the parents of one of the child's friends for the youngster to go to camp together.

Visit the camp ahead of time to familiarize the child with the camp site and personnel. Call the camp director to find out when visitors are welcome.

Make sure your child's health habits are as regular as possible for his or her age - washing, brushing teeth, combing hair.


Write cheerful, positive letters, but don't make them so full of exciting events that the camper is jealous of what he or she left behind. (If a pet dog misses his owner and won't eat, don't mention it.)

Type letters to young children. He or she might not be able to read your handwriting or might misunderstand it completely.

Pack self-addressed, stamped envelopes or postcards in your child's luggage, to make writing home as easy as possible.

If you are concerned about an anxiety-filled letter, ask the camp director to investigate the situation rather than jumping in the car. By the time the parent gets the letter, the unhappiness might have passed.

Follow camp policy regarding food packages, spending money and visits. If the child insists you break camp rules because "other parents do it," ask the camp director for guidance.

Remember that some camps do not allow phone calls. A child who is doing well might be overcome with homesickness by a call. Long-term camps often have visitors' days when campers are ready to receive representatives from the outside world. If you have promised to visit, keep your word.

And finally, don't send a child to camp while the rest of the familyis undergoing a crisis or involved in an exciting event. If there is an unexpected death in the family, or a major husehold move to another part of the country, don't try to spare the child the experience. And don't let camp keep the child from a special treat.

"The only time I was ever homesick," confessed YMCA Camp Letts director Ambery Butcher, "was the summer my family went to the New York World's Fair when I was at camp."