Q: Our boys (ages 8, 7 and 5) play outside both in our yard and in neighbors’ yards who have kids they play with. They love being outside and I love not having to sit out there and monitor their play. However, my neighbors don’t feel the same way. The adults are almost always outside micromanaging the kids. We have held strong and not given in to the pressure to be out there “monitoring.” Our kids know that what the adults say, goes, and they are pretty good kids.
Then we started having trouble with one set of neighbor kids. The boys in that house have no rules, don’t respect adults, ruin property, and are pretty aggressive and physical. One gets mad very easily and lashes out physically. Our kids seem to work out their problems with all the other neighbor kids on their own, but with that family, we always have to get involved. We feel like our kids are at their worst when around him and his siblings.
Our kids are not perfect and they push buttons, but we don’t like his behavior or our kids’ behavior when they are together. We told our kids they can’t play with them anymore. They still have to be polite and kind but no more playing.
But those parents got upset and said our kids are leaving their kids out. Their solution? For us to be out more “monitoring” the play. We said no. I refuse to helicopter my kids. I also don’t want them to behave poorly when around other kids. Did I do the right thing? Should we be out more when the kids are outside?
A: On the one hand, it’s great that your kids have so many playmates in the neighborhood! On the other hand, it’s a shame that other parents can’t leave the kids alone. It’s hard when you’re the parent who doesn’t want to get involved in the squabbles and play of children, but do know that while you might feel alone on your block, there are other parents out there (waving hello from Northern Virginia!) who parent the same way.
We’ve had our troubles with neighborhood kids, too. One summer, my second child couldn’t seem to get along with a neighbor girl her age, so I merely separated them for the rest of the summer by telling my daughter she needed to take a break from playing with this friend for a while. I told the other mom, who had expressed concern about some things my daughter had said to the friend, that she would not be playing with the friend for X amount of time. That allowed my daughter to mature some, and now they are best friends and play nicely together.
Another time, when my two boys (one third grader, one second grader) used a very bad word, I discovered that a neighborhood boy had used language very inappropriate for a third grader. After discerning that the boy didn’t talk like that on the bus, I deduced he knew better and had a chat with the boy when he came to ask my sons to play. I gently but firmly told him that he knew better than to use those bad words, and if he continued to talk like that around my sons, my kids wouldn’t be able to play with him. Thankfully, that took care of the problem.
So what to do your situation? I would say to the parents that you’ve noticed your kids and their kids aren’t getting along, and therefore, your kids will be taking the summer off from playing with their kids. You say that you hope during that time your kids will mature enough to be able to play nicely with their kids. You can also say that while you appreciate their suggestion of adult monitoring, that type of interaction will not work for your family. Don’t explain, just smile and keep it simple but with a future chance for interactions again.
When the summer is over, have your kids invite the other kids over to your house to play. Before they start playing, though, I’d simply say to all the kids that you expect them to get along, to respect your property and to treat one another with kindness. If you hear that’s not happening—in other words, if they are loud enough in their disagreements to call attention to themselves when you are in the house—then you’ll ask the other kids to go home.
I’ve found that most of the time, kids will rise to the level of expectations given by adults. As to the other parents, invite them to a barbecue, get to know them socially and show them through your actions and the way you parent that there’s a better way to raise kids that doesn’t mean more parental involvement.