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Happy Campers

When Renee Molloy's sons went away to camp  -- nine hours from their Downers Grove, IL, home  -- 11-year-old Jack was fine. But Mike, 9, was on the phone crying the first night. He stayed for the duration, but he doesn't want to go back. "We needed to take it slower with him," says Molloy.

About 95 percent of kids who go to sleep-away camp miss something about home, says Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., consultant to the American Camp Association (CampParents.org)

Have your child practice being away from home by visiting Grandma or a friend overnight a few times.

Include him in planning. Let him help pack for the trip and encourage him to take some favorite clothing items or toys.

Give him a feel for the place by showing him the brochures and website. Talk up its coolest features (star instructors! sweet cabins!), and the fun of camp in general.

Don't avoid the homesickness issue. Instead, suggest ways to deal with it if it happens, like writing home, confiding in his cabin leader, or joining a group activity instead of just brooding alone. But whatever you do, don't promise to pick him up early, or he may not make a full effort to enjoy the camp.

Send him a letter so it will be waiting when he arrives.

And if, after all that, he still wants to come home:

Send upbeat notes instead of phoning him  -- calls can encourage tears (from both of you).

Resist the urge to rescue him. Talk to the camp staff first  -- they've seen it all before.

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