Dear Miss Manners:

Our next-door neighbors have a little girl who has just turned 10, and the mother, a very nice woman, wants her daughter to gain experience as a babysitter. My children, ages 6 and 4, appear to be the candidates she has chosen to give her daughter such experience.

The mother often calls me, then puts "Samantha" on the phone to ask whether she could baby-sit for my children. Samantha pleads, cajoles and entreats me to either go out so she may "mind" my children, or else busy myself with other matters so she may take care of them. Of course, Samantha expects to be paid for such "services."

Miss Manners, there is no way I would leave my children in the care of a 10-year-old child, even one as nice as Samantha. I have offered to let Samantha come over and play with my children, but she assumes that would be "baby-sitting," and I would have to pay her.

How can I kindly but firmly tell Samantha and her mother that I will not leave my children in the care of a child; and also, if Samantha comes over to play, how do I break the news that she will not be paid for the pleasure of her company? (Actually, I would consider myself the babysitter in that case!)

I have thought of telling them my husband would not permit it, but that seems like an immature way to handle this situation. Please tell me how I can settle this and remain good friends with our neighbors and not hurt Samantha's feelings.

As you find Samantha a nice little girl, eager to work, Miss Manners thinks you should help her learn how the business world works. Why don't you suggest to her and her mother that you help out by explaining the client's point of view?

As you should be kind, the first qualification you should mention is enthusiasm for the job, which she seems to have. But it is not the only one. Naturally, an employer wants to make sure the person can handle the job and considers experience an important indication.

Then interview her for the job:

Do you like children? Do you know how to give them their supper? What would you do if they refused to go to bed when they are supposed to? What would you do if one of the children got sick? What would you do if a stranger rang the doorbell? Whom should you call in case of fire?

Presumably, Samantha will do fairly well in answering these questions, although you should lead her through them, rather than put them as a test, so she can pick up information she might not have had. (Of course, if she gets bored or decides it's not worth the trouble, you can just stop, knowing that your own problem is solved.)

Then you must mention that the job requires, for example, two years of junior high school (Miss Manners puts it that way, instead of setting an age, in case Samantha is more up on the business world than we think and brings up age discrimination) and recommendations based on her experience.

Before she is thoroughly discouraged, you put before her your problem as a prospective employer--on the one hand that you would like to employ her, but on the other, that she doesn't yet have the qualifications. Time will give her one requirement, but in the meantime, she could be gaining the experience she needs.

In the professional world, this is often done through unpaid internships. You might offer to supervise her practicing baby-sitting, with the understanding that if you like her work, you will not only hire her when she is old enough, but be willing to recommend her to others.

Miss Manners realizes that she has given you a lot more work than it would be simply to say, "Go away, little girl, and stop bothering me."

The decent way to do that would be to tell her firmly that she is too young for the job, and ask her mother not to give her false hopes that she can talk her way around that.

But she dearly hopes you will take the trouble. After all, if it discourages Samantha, she will stop bothering you; if it doesn't, you will eventually have a well-trained babysitter living right next door.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.

(C) 1999, Judith Martin