Q. A casual friend has asked me to watch her 9-year-old one morning while he waits for the school bus, and I am happy to help her. But what to do with the boy for 90 minutes?
My home isn't especially child-friendly, and I never tolerated noise and running around very well. My own children were as wild as any other children when they were outside, but they had to walk, not run, in the house, use "inside" voices and sit on the furniture properly, not stand or rock back and forth.
However, this little boy is allowed to do anything and everything he likes. He stands and leaps from chair to chair at home, for example, and when he interrupts adults -- which he does all the time -- he gets immediate acceptance and attention.
I know I can correct him with positive phrasing instead of chasing him about, saying, "Don't, don't, don't!" and I think he would understand that I have the same rules for any child who visits me.
But what to do with him while he's here that day and perhaps on future occasions? It isn't fair to expect him to sit quietly on the sofa the whole time; I don't have a television, and I can't think of anything for him to play with at my house.
He's not interested in reading, and I am loath to sit down and play a 90-minute game with him -- that would be a punishment for me.
A. You treat a 9-year-old boy the way you treat any child, of any age.
You explain your rules kindly. You give him respect and affection. You laugh with him, not at him. And you ask him what he thinks. Even a toddler has opinions about everything, based on what he knows -- or thinks he knows -- although the reasons for these opinions may be buried deep inside, as they often are for adults, too.
But before you do much talking, you should try to put this boy at ease. A grown-up can be scary to a 9-year-old, especially a grown-up he hardly knows.
To do this, take him back to the kitchen when he arrives and have him help you fix a post-breakfast treat for the two of you to share. He can take cinnamon buns out of the can, smear the tops with frosting and put them in the oven for you while you chop up some fresh fruit. He will be more relaxed -- and less likely to jump on the living room furniture -- if he has interesting tasks to do and if those tasks are in the kitchen.
If you have time, you might even microwave some milk and mix it with a little chocolate syrup, not simply because he likes hot chocolate but because he didn't have to beg for the treat.
When you're ready to eat, toss him the sports section or KidsPost or the comics, for him to read or color, while you read the news.
Show him some newspaper pictures, too, and maybe explain the editorial cartoon.
This is the time for talking, and for asking this little boy some big questions, as long as you treat him as a conversational equal. "Who do you think will win the election? Who would you vote for if you could vote? How come? And what would you do for people if you were president? How would you pay for it?" It's good to make a child think, as long as you don't criticize his thoughts, and to make him wonder about the world.
Children can understand much more than you think, even though their ideas are quite simplistic. The more you involve a child in the bigger world, the broader his interests will be.
When he gets restless -- and he soon will -- ask him to water the plants, feed the goldfish, put letters out for the mail carrier, put the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, carry out the trash. You might think you're taking advantage of him, but that's not true. Every child, like every adult, wants to go to bed knowing that he accomplished something that day or that he helped someone. It's a need that's bred in the bone.
This favor to a casual friend may be more of an effort than you care to make, now that your children are grown, but even if you're going to sit for this boy only one time, try to make it pleasant for him. If nothing else, it will be more pleasant for you.
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