We were living in another part of the world - Australia, to be specific, because of my husband's job - and summer camps were just as big there as they are here. I was really looking forward to having my 10-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old son meet other kids Down Under. How better than through camps, I figured.

We were living in another part of the world - Australia, to be specific, because of my husband's job - and summer camps were just as big there as they are here. I was really looking forward to having my 10-year-old daughter and my 5-year-old son meet other kids Down Under. How better than through camps, I figured.

I enrolled my daughter in a camp that promised to take her on a whirlwind trip through many forms of dance in one week. But the trip was so whirlwind, she came home the first day in serious pain from an ankle injury. It was hard to give up (the money and the experience), but I let her quit the camp before more damage was done.

A few weeks later, I enrolled both kids in a multi-sport camp. This time the 5-year-old came home complaining he didn't like the weird new sports they were learning - handball, cricket and something called "Four Square." But there was no quitting this time and, 11 years later, he still talks about what a great experience he had.

The dilemma of whether to stay or go when a child doesn't like a camp is faced by many families each year. Fortunately, the Unhappy Camper Syndrome is a challenge that most camp organizers are familiar with, from identifying common causes to administering common-sense solutions.

Fear of the New

Tops on the list of causes, whether it's a day or an overnight/residential camp, is a fear of the new and unknown.

Dan Conroy directs Camp Terra, one of Columbus Recreation and Parks' popular outdoor-education camps. About 70 children, ages 4 through 12, enroll in the Antrim Park program each week all summer. Every week, Conroy said, he encounters campers who are hesitant to try something new.

"I tell them, 'You may not like something but we want you to at least try,'" Conroy said.

Carl Grody, Columbus Parent's Family Therapy columnist, advised, "You have to figure out if it's nervousness just because it's something new. If they're really nervous, but you think it will be a good growth experience, then try it. It's like taking them to kindergarten and they don't want you to leave, but the teacher says, 'Go.'"

"In my opinion, summer camp is about fun," said Steve Locker, the founder and operator of Locker Soccer Academy. His summer camps enroll up to 700 kids, ages 3 to 14.

"But we've had situations where children aren't really ready," Locker added. "And if a child is miserable, do you keep them in the camp and run the risk of them turning out hating soccer?"

Grody said, "It comes down to knowing your kid, because if you have a kid who's normally very adventurous and likes to try new things, and they come home saying, 'No, I don't want to do this,' that's something.

"But you also have to make sure you aren't projecting your feelings," Grody added. "Sometimes it's actually the parent, projecting their anxiety onto the camp. For some parents, a kid going away to camp is a sign that the kid is growing up and that's what they don't like."

Relationship Drama

Interpersonal conflict is another big issue with unhappy campers. As the director/owner of Falcon Camp, a residential camp in Ohio's Carroll County, Dave Devey said he welcomes the opportunity to help kids learn how to handle the high drama of "what do you do when your new best friend is mad at you?"

Most kids' first instinct, Devey said, is to say they want to go home. His campers, who range in age from 6 to 16, stay at Falcon Camp for 2-, 4-, 6- or 8-week sessions.

"Longer-term camp is about more than having fun every second," Devey said. "It is about making friends and then figuring out what do I do when I don't like everyone - because that's real life."

Grody agreed: "Not everything in life is fun," he said. "And sometimes we have to see it through and finish it. That's a good lesson to role model."

I Miss My Mommy

Homesickness or even just missing their normal routine is another major issue with unhappy campers.

"Homesickness is a normal thing," Devey said. "I think it's great: It means your kid cares about you. I tell them, 'I'm 60 years old and I still miss my parents. But you can be on a horse and miss your dad. You don't have to sit in a chair and mope.'"

Many times, Locker advised, the "I miss my mommy" blues creep in when a child isn't fully engaged by the camp. That's where a well-trained staff should be paying attention and trying to find other ways to get a child excited and motivated.

"I look for the body language of non-engagement - slumping shoulders, eyes down," said Locker. "That's when you have to take a step back and think about what can we do to better engage this child."

Work It Out

Communication is key when parents and camp personnel are concerned about a child's progress - or lack thereof. Conroy said he appreciates when parents give him suggestions about what will get a kid interested and involved.

"We had a boy once who wasn't engaging, so the parents told me he really liked birds," Conroy said. "We had one of the counselors carry binoculars and a bird guide at all times and everywhere they went, he was looking for birds. The parents cluing us in really helped."

Camps also can provide the perfect laboratory for kids to experience problems and work them out on their own.

"If something feels a little off to you," Grody said, "check it out. But realize there is a difference between being a helicopter parent and checking something out."

Devey said the personal growth and pride that occurs when kids work through challenges on their own are the greatest assets of the summer-camp experience.

"Camp," he said, "should be a safe environment for kids to reach outside themselves."