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Neighborhood Kids, Neighborhood Boundaries

Apr18

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Hi Amy!

I have a situation I think you and your readers could give some insight on. I live in a subdivision with my husband and 4 young kids, ages 18 months-6 years, for the last 5 years. The houses are really close together, all of our neighbors are awesome except one. This one just so happens to be our next door neighbor. Whose living room windows look right at our garage. This allows them to see us whenever we go outside to play.

Not really a big deal except they ALWAYS come out. She wants to stand there chatting while the kids play. Her son is 4 years old and he is annoying (I know that’s mean to say, but it’s true). Yelling, taking toys from my kids, breaking our stuff, walking into our garage without permission, grabbing things out of there without asking, treating our things with disrespect (aka. hurriedly dropping the bike to the ground), etc. His parents don’t seem to be teaching him any boundaries and his mother is always there seeing these things going on.

I am fine with him playing sometimes, he is an only child and I understand wanting to play, but EVERY time we go outside is just too much. I’ve been cold and obvious that they are not welcome at times but it gets ignored. I’ve tried just continuing our play and include the son but it always ends up with him demanding to do something else (it doesn’t stop until we conform) or he just goes into our garage and helps himself to whatever which stresses my kids out because he often damages their things. Is there a polite way to let her know that sometimes I just want to play with my kids? I enjoy my children and I don’t want to sit and chat with her all the time and I don’t want to deal with her son.

Is their anyway to make it known that the son is not welcome to go into our garage or play with our stuff without asking first? Or is that what I signed up for by moving into a subdivision?

It’s gotten so bad that we are thinking of moving even though we love our house, the location, and everything else.

Any help would be appreciated!
Thank you!

So has it really gotten to the point that MOVING seems to be a more attractive/realistic option than correcting another child’s abysmal behavior on our own turf?

There is nothing wrong or out of line with giving this child the boundaries his mother isn’t while he’s at your house, on your property. You are allowed to enforce your own rules. You are allowed to tell Bobby that he’s not allowed in your garage anymore, and to speak up when he breaks something and hell, ask the mother if she can replace the broken items. You moved into a subdivision, not a commune.

We had a similar-yet-different neighbor kid issues a couple years ago — we live in a pretty closed-off townhouse neighborhood where the majority of the children are allowed to play free-range on the common areas, within a small visual range, without direct adult supervision/hovering. They also travel in a pack from house to house, if the weather isn’t great outside. So our problem was a little boy who would simply show up at our door multiple times a day, and then proceed to behave TERRIBLY. He would draw on our walls and toys. He tattled constantly, and told fibs to get other kids in trouble and purposely antagonized everybody to make them cry or tantrum. He told bald-faced lies to my face and once got caught with money he’d stolen from one of my boys’ piggy banks.

In his case, his parents were actually really overly strict at his house — we adults all got the impression that he really wasn’t allowed to be a KID there, and thus he acted out the second he got away from them. (She was the one who marched him back with the stolen money, to her credit, but that still didn’t seem to clue her in that he probably wasn’t ready for the freedom they were offering.) I try to like most kids and want my kids to have lots of playmates, plus my desire to not have to have any awkwardness with his mother made me keep my mouth shut about far too much, for far too long. I’d send him home, but I’m sure he wasn’t telling his parents that he’d been kicked out of our house for a specific reason. Shockingly, nothing changed as a result of me doing, essentially, nothing. Imagine that!

Finally, after catching him telling me a lie to get one of my kids in trouble for what felt like the millionth time, I marched him back to his house and told on him. And told him in front of his mother that lying was not allowed in our house, so if he wanted to come play he needed to respect that rule. I also asked him point-blank about a toy he’d colored on, and when he denied it (and blamed Ezra) I pointed out that HE WROTE HIS NAME ON IT, and no, my three-year-old didn’t know how to write letters yet.

*drops mic*

After that, I spent a lot of time marching him back to his house with a full report. His parents definitely got annoyed at me (probably a combo of embarrassment and also missing the hours of peace and quiet that sending him out to play elsewhere used to bring them) but I didn’t care. If he wanted to play at my house, he had to follow my rules. We also started turning him away at our door (my kids really didn’t want to play with him anymore anyway). The playing outside was awkward, since like your little tagalong, he tended to show up and try to force his way into the game whenever anyone was outside. By that point, though, I did not give a crap what he or his parents thought of me and was more than happy to scold and rebuke him as necessary. He’d argue with me and I’d start walking up to his house because child, DON’T GET MOUTHY WITH ME. I’M DONE. RESPECT MAH AUTHORITAH.

The day they told us they were moving out of state, though…hallelujah. My boys still talk about him from time to time, like he’s some neighborhood mean kid urban legend.

(We let them borrow two of our wrenches, incidentally, when they were packing up and disassembling things. They returned the cheap one, and left with our good one.)

So listen, I don’t think you’ve got anything to lose by taking a hard-line tactic here. What, the mom will get ticked off? Take her annoying kid and go home? Stop coming out to play? OH NOES. Just be matter-of-fact but extremely firm.

“Sweetie, you can’t go into our garage. That’s our space. You can play out here with us if you’d like to play [such-and-such game] but we’re not taking anything else out right now.”

If he disobeys, go in, take whatever he’s got away from him and gently escort him back out. “No garage.”

If the mom seems shocked, just breezily explain that you’ve been having trouble with neighborhood kids (plural — a polite white lie) going into the garage and breaking things. (You can add on something about there also being dangerous/sharp stuff and it’s just making you nervous, so he really can’t go in there anymore.) But from this day forward, the garage is off-limits. Full stop.

If he disrespects your children’s property, same thing. “Bobby, we don’t treat our bikes like that. Here, let’s try that again.” If he does it again,take the item away and put it back in the garage. “We’ll bring this out another time, when you’re ready to be careful.”

I will say that — within reason — kids actually CAN benefit from dealing with a difficult playmate on their own, so don’t feel like you need to insert yourself into every bossy power struggle that happens. Stick to enforcing house rules — no hitting, no lying, no breaking things, no garage. If he makes demands on changing activities, that’s something your older kids can probably learn to work out, if you model the proper language. “Bobby, you can’t make all the decisions. We’re playing this now, we can play your idea next.”  You wouldn’t give in to a tantrum from your own 4-year-old, nobody says you have to give in to his, just because he’s an uninvited guest in your yard.

I know, I know. The LAST thing you want, as a mother of FOUR, is to end up parenting someone else’s child every time you go outside. But hopefully, one of two things will happen: 1) he instinctively responds and improves his behavior, since he clearly NEEDS someone to give him some structure and boundaries, or 2) he and/or his mom will get annoyed and stop coming out every freaking time. (Or he’ll have a birthday, start school and finally learn to socialize a little better.)

If after a few play sessions, he’s still not responding to you or respecting your rules, you’re gonna have to escalate it. Tell the mother you really need her help with the garage thing. Be blunt and tell her he’s broken things and you guys haven’t been able to replace them and it’s upsetting your kids. Don’t worry about stepping on her toes, when both of her feet are firmly planted on your driveway. This woman needs to control her kid and own his behavior if she expects him to be welcome at your home. You’re not out of line here in the slightest.

It might feel like close quarters right now, but if you love your neighborhood, rest assured that it will only get bigger as your kids grow up and have the freedom to go more places, and can make their own decisions about which house/yard to play at (and are aware of which kids aren’t the best playmates). This little boy won’t always be four years old — I can’t promise he won’t always be annoying, but he IS right on the kindergarten cusp of some rapid-fire maturing and socializing. He still has the potential to be a really great little friend.

Or hey, maybe they’ll move. Just don’t let them borrow your good wrench.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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18 Responses to “Neighborhood Kids, Neighborhood Boundaries”

  1. Tricia Apr 18 at 2:06 pm Reply Reply

    My first test of telling someone else’s kid what to do happened a couple of weeks ago. Our kids are toddlers and they haven’t learned to not grab whatever they want from another baby. So when my friend’s son took a toy out of my son’s hand I calmly took it back and told him not to take toys. His dad saw it all happen and actually thanked me for having the courage to enforce rules instead of just letting it happen. So maybe your neighbor will react well to some honest rule enforcement. Or she’ll get mad and never come back, but either way I think Amalah’s tips are a great idea! Good luck!

    • Emily Huston Apr 28 at 4:38 am Reply Reply

      I passes through the same incident when we had thrown party on birth of my DS. A colleague of our come with his son having two cars in his hand and te son of other colleague taken the car from his hand and was playing with it. There was nothing wrong in it so I didn’t interfere. But as the party overs everyone was going back to their home. But the kid didn’t returned back the car to the other. At that moment, I felt bad of it and interfered in middle and ask the kid to get it back. Thank God. There parent supported it and gently thanks me for reminding and initiating good habit. Si, I think we must take an extra effort for the rule enforcement.

  2. Karen Apr 18 at 2:48 pm Reply Reply

    I can appreciate that your situation is more complex than toy-swiping two year olds. Amy’s suggestions are spot on. Sounds like you have a good neighborhood, stay! I think almost any neighborhood where the neighbors actually interact with each other has the potential for sticky stuff. We have one on my street with the adults. Good luck!

  3. Lise Apr 18 at 3:50 pm Reply Reply

    You could also institute a red light/green light system. If the green light sign or flag is out, neighborhood friends are welcome to come over. If it’s a red light day, then you’re having family play time. That way you’d only have to deal with the kiddo and his talkative mom part of the time. Who knows? It might catch on in the neighborhood since almost everyone has days when dealing with extra kids and parents seems like too much effort.

    • Michelle Apr 20 at 10:34 pm Reply Reply

      I second this. Growing up, my family had one of the few swimming pools in the neighborhood, which is a kid magnet. Plus, we had a neighbor friend whose mother worked the night shift and would often fall asleep on the couch. When her mother was out, this little girl came straight over to our house. My mother, naturally, did not consider herself to be a full-time lifeguard OR daycare provider. We instituted the flag rule – when it was out, anyone can come play/swim, but only when the flag was out. It worked well!

  4. Kelli Oliver George Apr 18 at 3:57 pm Reply Reply

    We have this problem constantly.  I am unapologetic about disciplining kids when they are on my property.  MY property, MY rules.

    I don’t let kids in my garage because frankly, it is not safe in there — there are yard tools, chemicals, tools, etc.  And I simply say “Please, no kids in the garage, it is not safe in there.”

    When our own Neighborhood Menace comes to our yard and we don’t want him there, I will politely go outside and tell him that my kids are not allowed to have a playdate today.

    This comment probably sounds harsh, but I am worn out from bratty kids being mean to my kids and breaking our stuff.  Life is too short and I also think it is important for me to demonstrate to my kids that THEY don’t have to put up with that behavior, either!

  5. susan Apr 18 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    get a fence ;)  

    after talking to them, of course.

  6. sarah Apr 18 at 8:46 pm Reply Reply

    I’m not a mom, but as a children’s librarian I spend a LOT of time talking to other people’s kids about behavior stuff. Amy’s advice is on the money.

    It’s your house/yard/driveway, so your rules apply. Just like in my library, mine do. (Not that they’re very strict, No hitting, screaming, damaging things on purpose about covers it.)

    Be consistent, firm, and calm. And be prepared to repeat yourself four zillion and two times. “Nope, no kids in the garage.” “The kids can’t play today.” “That is not the way we treat our things,” ad nauseum,

    Good luck!

  7. radiem Apr 19 at 12:05 am Reply Reply

    I very much relate to this post, but from the neighbor’s perspective.

    Our 3.5 year old is crazy social and high energy. He LIVES to spend time with the neighborhood kids, who are all a few years older. He loves playing with their toys and tries so hard to join in their games….even if he doesn’t understand the rules or have the coordination. If he sees them out, he BEGS to go outside too, so much so that we sometimes try to keep him from seeing that the kids are out (“here honey, let’s watch this kinda loud movie”). While they’re very sweet to him, I know the neighborhood kids (and parents) probably see him as an annoyance.

    As his parents, we’re in a tough spot as we try to teach him boundaries without squashing his happy, out-going personality and without keeping him locked inside. Pre-schoolers aren’t the best at respecting boundaries, and explaining social rules/expectations doesn’t always work. He isn’t quite old enough for us to let him roam free (we’ve tried it–there’s always some sort of accident or conflict), so we take turns watching him as he plays and try to reign him in if we need to. This is exhausting for us, and I have my fingers crossed that he will magically age out of this problem somehow or that more children his own age will move into the area.

    So maybe a little more empathy for the mom? Sounds like she may need to be stepping in more to correct her son’s behavior, but I totally understand why it seems like they’re always out and why the mom hangs out too. I would also totally support and respect my neighbors if they voiced some ground rules–it may help those rules to sink in if the child hears it clearly from another adult, especially the “cool” mom of the other kids.

  8. Jeannie Apr 19 at 3:42 am Reply Reply

    My friends and I have no trouble (gently) disciplining each other’s kids, and (lucky for me?) I live in a neighbourhood where drop-in play dates are not the norm, so if we have ever had trouble with another kid …. well, they don’t get invited back. 

    I know this is nothing like OP’s problem, but my point is merely that I think it’s completely reasonable to gently discipline someone else’s kid who is at your house along those lines Amy suggests — please be more careful with those toys / no kids in the garage, please / no, that toy is away today. 

    I would *definitely* step it up if the mom didn’t step in when you start, and I think it’s not unreasonable to even ask for privacy if things don’t improve. Perhaps “Sorry, we are having family time today” would work?

    Good luck!

  9. Emily Huston Apr 19 at 7:54 am Reply Reply

    Appreciate your suggestions Amy! Thanks for sharing as this could help the new moms like us who needs a proper guidance in raising their kids. I always keep on searching the tips around the internet to get an overview of raising kids and bookmarked the one I like. I have bookmarked every of your suggestion as these will be helping in raising my kids at different stages of life. 

  10. Cheryl S. Apr 21 at 10:50 am Reply Reply

    Definitely enforce your own rules at your own house. If you start now, the kids will know what to expect as they get older. All the kids on my block are aged 6-12 (my daughter is 8). They all play together and yes, there are a few kids that are bigger pains than others, but they know that what the grownup in charge says, goes!

  11. Caroline Apr 21 at 1:11 pm Reply Reply

    Amy’s advice is really good, definitely set some decent boundaries, and if the mom keeps trying to chat on while you’re playing with your kids, just gradually move away physically and involve yourself in what is going on, then smile and say ”sorry, am kind of caught up here!” and carry on. As to the broken stuff, yes, that is a massive problem. My strong advice is, the next time it happens, to take whatever it is to the mom and say ”gosh Marie, little Damian has really done a number on this bike / toy, please can you replace it?” and then carry on normally. If she gets het up and refuses, you can then say ”okay, well then I’m afraid that we really cannot afford to replace broken things so Damien isn’t going to be allowed to play with our toys, I’m sure you understand!” With luck, she’ll be so offended (these sorts of people often are super-easily offended by any slight criticism) that she’ll scuttle off with her child.

  12. Cara Apr 21 at 4:13 pm Reply Reply

    From the letter, it doesn’t sound like anything has actually been said to the neighbors.  Acting ‘cold’ really doesn’t tell her anything, and she may just assume your having a bad day.  Why not try telling her, gently and courteously, where your boundaries are?   It doesn’t have to be a confrontation.  “Oh, sorry, today is family time.  Maybe (whatever day will actually be good for you) we could play?” Or, “Our family rule is that toys get treated with respect/bikes are laid down gently/no one goes in the garage without permission/etc.  I really need your help making sure Johnny knows that.”

  13. Bridget Apr 22 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    We are currently pregnant with our first child, but we’ve been experiencing similar behavior with 2 neighborhood kids since we moved into our cul-de-sac 3 years ago.  These 2 boys are now about 8 and 6, but when we moved in, they were 3 years younger.  The then 5 yr old would stop by, ride his bike up and down our driveway and come into our garage when I was working out there and Would. Not. Leave.  I’d suggest he go play, or maybe his dad was looking for him, but to no avail.  Fast forward a year, and now little brother is in on it too.  I’d dread opening the garage door if I was working out in my wood shop, even though I needed the fresh air.  We had a garage sale last summer and they were there multiple times all 3 days, trying to convince me to give them stuff.  Finally the mom came down with their allowance money to let them buy stuff, but they otherwise have no boundaries.  The younger one helps himself to whatever happens to be sitting in our cooler in the garage, and that just is not cool.

    I’m hoping that the age difference between our soon-to-be-born child and them will be too much and they’ll be annoyed by our kid as some kind of karmic payback.  

  14. Kat Apr 22 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

    I can’t imagine being so afraid to set a few small boundaries that I would consider moving. That seems like kind of an extreme way to deal with what seems to be a relatively small issue. Amy gave great advice – and I’ll take it one step further. It is up to you, as the property owner and mother of your children to set safe/good boundaries and teach your children to do the same. It’s too bad that your neighbor doesn’t care to (or doesn’t know how) give her children some ground rules when it comes to playing at other people’s homes, but you are definitely in control of your own space. This kind of “hinting” (being cold? what does that mean? not talking? ignoring her or her child?) seems counterproductive, and probably isn’t coming off the way you intend it to anyway. To Cara’s point, it doesn’t have to be rude, but do be honest. Perhaps she doesn’t even realize how horrible this all is for you and your children (it must be awful, since you are considering moving?).

  15. DontBlameTheKids Apr 22 at 10:16 pm Reply Reply

    I was standing on a gravel path, waiting in  long line (for a porta potty, I’m sure you wanted to know), and a little girl, maybe six years old, started kicking rocks at me. I don’t think she meant to shower me with rocks. She was just kicking rocks and I happened to get hit with most of them. I asked her nicely to stop. Her mom was horrified, not because I said something, but because her daughter was kicking rocks! 

    Anyway. Eh. It can be difficult, because I see a lot of parents who think their children are never at fault. Which, quite frankly, I just don’t understand. I mean, kids are great and all, but I haven’t yet met one that has never hit, lied, or yelled.

  16. Olivia Apr 23 at 10:07 pm Reply Reply

    Definitely don’t be afraid to correct the child or to tell him you are just wanting family play time. We have a similar situation with a next door neighbor and I correct her all the time. I certainly wouldn’t move because of one annoying kid.

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