Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Because of a job transfer, we moved to a new home in another state a few months ago. Our son is a fourth-grader who has never had a problem making friends. However, since moving to our new neighborhood, he has encountered the "one-friend-at-a-time" rule with two different neighborhood boys.

He comes home from school, hops on his bike, goes down the street and knocks on "Johnny's" door, only to be told that Johnny is playing with "Billy" now, and he's allowed to have only one friend over at a time -- so my son ends up alone.

Abby, the parents of these two boys call themselves "good Christians." They have pictures of Jesus all over their homes and go to church every Sunday. (Maybe they read a different Bible than we do -- ours says, "Love thy neighbor.")

Needless to say, our son's feelings are hurt and he misses his old buddies terribly. He is well-mannered and has been taught to share.

My husband and I are at a loss as to how to deal with these parents who think nothing of hurting a child's feelings. Please help. -- MOTHER OF NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

DEAR MOTHER: Many parents schedule "play dates" for their children, and it's possible that when your son drops in, this is the situation he's encountering. It's also possible that the parents feel they can accommodate only one child at a time, or are uncomfortable having an unfamiliar child in their home.

Encourage your son to reach out to other boys in the neighborhood or at school. They don't have to be the most popular or the most athletic.

An alternative to that would be to make sure he is involved with extracurricular activities such as sports, special interests or scouting -- common interests can also be the basis for lasting friendships.

DEAR ABBY: "Indebted to Them, Lakewood, Calif." was contrite about how she had treated her mother and stepfather. She asked if she should say something to apologize, and to thank them for putting up with her behavior.

Some time ago, you suggested that children write a letter to their parents saying how much they loved them and thanking them for all they had done. I not only took your advice -- I went further by writing letters to my in-laws from my first marriage, and also my present in-laws.

After my parents died, we found they had saved my letter. My father-in-law has shown the one I sent him to everyone in his rather large family. He is very proud of it.

In the letters, I thanked each of them for their gifts, tangible and intangible, and asked them to forgive my shortcomings. In the case of my in-laws, I thanked them for their daughter -- "a gift I will always treasure."

Abby, please suggest that "Indebted" put her feelings in writing so folks will have something to cherish for the rest of their lives. -- TOM COLLIMORE, SAN MARCOS, CALIF.

DEAR TOM: Thank you for the reminder. For years I have urged readers who are fortunate enough to have their parents (or even one parent) to whom they can give such a priceless gift, to write a letter expressing their love and gratitude for the countless things a parent must do to raise a child. Such a letter is sure to become a treasured keepsake.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600