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Welcoming neighborhood children into your home

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There used to be a little girl in our neighborhood who could never have any company. If other children did come over to play with her, they had to play outside. And if anybody should dare to get thirsty while they were there, they had to get water out of the garden hose.

There was another house in the neighborhood where the kids were welcome, inside or out. Every afternoon around 3 o'clock, cookies and juice or similar snacks were dispensed upon request. Guess which house the children usually played at? The second one, of course.

Does this mean that the first mother didn't like children? I hope not. She has four of them. Does it mean that the second mother was Supermom? That she always enjoyed children shrieking inside the house, that she liked cleaning up sticky messes, or that she never minded all the racket? No, none of the above.

The reason I know is that the second mother is me.

If it can on occasion be very trying to let the neighborhood kids play at my house (and it can be), what's the reason for doing it? There are several reasons , all of them practical and, alas, none of them saintly.

One is that if my son and his friends are playing here, I know where he is and what he's doing. I also know who he is with and that he is well taken care of.

Another reason for letting the kids play here is that it's important for a child to know he and his friends are welcome, that he is allowed and encouraged to share his home, his toys, and his hospitality.

Some of the rules for company that some parents set seem arbitrary and don't accomplish very much that's positive.

For example, one family in our neighborhood won't allow anyone else's children in their house. They won't allow their children to go into anyone else's house, either. It doesn't matter that their children are welcome to come in and that the other parents are home.

A friend who used to teach nursery school said she always enjoyed it when her son, who was an only child at the time, had company. Why, I asked her, after a morning filled with two-year-olds, did she invite extra children over?

''I get some peace and quiet that way,'' she said. ''That way he has someone else to play with him besides me.'' She has a good point.

All of us need to know that there are places we can go where we are welcome. This is especially important for children, because it's in childhood that we lay the foundation for what we think of ourselves, the foundation for our self-respect and our sense of self-worth.

One woman told me of an instance when her youngest son and his friends were playing basketball in her driveway and a neighbor complained about it.

''Doesn't the noise bother you?'' the neighbor asked.

She replied, ''No, the sound of children having fun doesn't bother me,'' which, translated, meant, ''No, I won't make them stop. They are children, after all, and I expect them to make some noise.'' She was exactly right.

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