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Neighborhood Kids, Neighborhood Boundaries

Neighborhood Kids, Neighborhood Boundaries

By Amalah

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.

Published April 18, 2014. Last updated April 18, 2014.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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