We are the People in Your Neighborhood

When we moved into our little town home complex last fall, we didn't have many neighbors. Such is the nature of a new development. In fact, when we took the kids trick-or-treating last Halloween, we discovered they were the only children in residence at that point. (Pro: We got bags and bags of candy. Con: We got bags and bags of candy.)

But now, the development is finished and full. There are quite a few young families around. Which means, for the first time in their lives, our kids have neighborhood friends.

I'm delighted they have some playmates. Yesterday, the first full day of summer vacation, they spent the better part of the afternoon running around our building, playing tag and riding bikes and having squirt gun wars.

But since our old house was in the country (read: no neighbors), I feel a little out of my element here. What's proper neighborhood etiquette? How much do I need to supervise? Do I get involved when a minor skirmish breaks out? ("That's my toy! I was playing with it!") If my kids are inside someone else's house for more than an hour (an activity which was initially approved by all adults involved), do I need to go check on them to make sure they aren't overstaying their welcome?

The fact that I have a young baby to care for adds to my unease. For example, Teyla has a miserable cold right now, and she spent the better part of the afternoon yesterday clutching my neck, crying and moaning pitifully. On one hand, I was thrilled that Connor and Natalie were having fun -- away from the computer and TV -- which freed me to focus on Teyla. On the other hand, I felt vaguely guilty that the older kids were off my radar, so to speak. Except for the times they ran in front of our windows, I wasn't really sure what was going on.

But maybe that's OK? I don't know.

So far, we've laid out the following rules to the kids:
1. You need to share your toys (bikes, squirt guns, sidewalk chalk, etc.).
2. You shouldn't expect or demand that your new friends will reciprocate with their toys. It would be nice, but it's their decision.
3. Never go into someone's house without asking Mom or Dad for permission.
4. If your friend wants you to come inside, make sure it's OK with their Mom or Dad.

What else do I need to know, experienced parents? I need "Neighborhood Etiquette for Dummies" here. Enlighten me.


  1. I had to tell the kids in our neighborhood that they couldn't call or ring our doorbell before 10AM. Sometimes they'd come knocking before I was even out of bed. :(

    And I always have to know where they are. If they leave our yard they have to ask me first.

    I'm sure you'll get some good responses...I'm going to check back!

  2. I think what you've concluded so far is great. My kids don't have close neighbors now, but when we did I never let them go in a house without knowing whose it was and setting an exact time I was coming to get them or they should be home. I didn't call to check on them unless they were gone more than an hour or two.

    Call me paranoid, but I never let them go in if only dad was home. I'm not a huge truster of lone men unless it's a best buddy situation where I know, I know, I know there is no danger.

  3. I don't make my kids share bikes. They do have to share chalk and bubbles (because lots of kids can use that at once). I love that my kids can be out for hours running around with other children, and we just check on them often enough to ensure safety. Luckily, the other parents and I have a mutual comfort level with sparse supervision, so it works okay. If there are always other parents out there supervising and they are feeling that you are relying on them to watch your kids without asking, that may cause a problem. It's better to be up front and say, "The baby's sick, do you mind keeping an eye on the big kids?"

    If there is a fight or problem, don't worry! If they can't resolve it satisfactorily, they will come to you. Loudly.

    If they are in someone else's house, I generally check every 1 1/2 to 2 hours to make sure they haven't become a bother. And I make sure to reciprocate by having the other kids in my house for an afternoon.

    I love my townhome neighborhood.

  4. Our neighbors seem to let their kids eat junk food 24/7, so I've made the rule that there is no eating at the neighbor's house unless they come ask me first. Otherwise, my children are mysteriously not hungry at mealtimes. :-) And I check on them if they are over there more than 2 hours for sure...I feel the same sense of relief/guilt when they are not with me.

  5. Great post, Kelly. We are in the exact same situation in our new urban neighborhood, where before we lived on a busy street in suburbia with no other kids around.

    I do exactly what you do, and I'm going to seriously consider implementing Lisa's suggestion about dads only being home = no inside play.

    My big discomfort where we are is that the parents right around us have slightly younger children, and they are ALWAYS supervising their own kids when they're outside playing. My kids are old enough, especially when they're together, that I feel comfortable being inside while they play outside. So then, are they feeling like I'm not supervising enough, or that they have to watch my kids too??

    Or, I'm ok with my girls biking from one corner of the block to the other corner. But that's too far for our next door neighbor, so it's uncomfortable because one child's limits are beyond the other's.

    As long as I'm clear with my limits (and I have a very. black. and. white. child), it's worked well so far.

    Can't wait to hear what others say.

  6. Just because the neighbor kids play outside all the time doesn't mean that you will get to play outside all the time.

    That is a rule we've had to implement. Apparently, there is some unwritten/unspoken rule that if one child gets to be outside they all get to be outside.

    Not so much. There are times that it is fun to be out and times that we need to be in. And it doesn't mean anyone is getting ripped off. Even if they say they are.

  7. In my neighborhood the houses are so close together I could high-five (or knuckle bump?) my neighbor from my window while we are each still in our own house. My baby is only 7 months old and there are already little kids that come by to see if we are outside. My husband saw a two year old boy about in tears when he saw Jordan wasn't still outside. It will be fun to see all the comments on your blog. I have a ways to go before I have to worry about letting him out of my sight.

  8. I'm pretty new to all of this, too. I do insist that she tell me where she's going at all times. And if for some reason she can't go there, she has to let me know that, too.

  9. You'll probably find you need to alter the rules as you go. In general, our kids don't go in the neighbor's houses, they just play outside. Inside, there are so many issues with difference in parenting--TV shows, movies and games that are not approved at home (especially the ones older siblings and parents may be watching/playing) or parents who don't supervise the way I do.

    The other things I'll say is that you can never assume anything when it comes to parents. My daughter was at a "friend"'s house one time and the mom needed to run a quick errand, so she left the kids home alone. My daughter was seven. The oldest child there was nine. I was NOT okay with this, but it never occurred to me to ask. I just assumed it wouldn't be done.

    And last summer when my parents were here, they let my boys swim at the neighbor's house. When I got home I went to get them and found four kids, ages 5-9, swimming with no supervision. I was there at least 10 minutes, gathering towels and toys, and no adult came out to check on them. (It was a large pool with a deep end.)

    I'm not writing this to judge their parenting--they're really nice people, and they've raised several kids to adulthood already. But our parenting philosophies differ, and those experiences in particular (with two different families) have taught me to ALWAYS ask questions. At first it made me feel foolish, but I just explain that I've learned to never make assumptions, and most people really understand. Like recently someone invited one of my kids to a town festival, and I asked if the parents let the kids go off on their own, or if they made the kids stay with them the whole time. At the kids ages it seemed obvious to me, but...like I said, you can't assume.

    Which reminds me of a few other rules we have: if there's a pool in the back yard, my kids aren't allowed to play back there, and once we set up our (waist deep) pool for the season, no neighbor kids back there unless I am out there with them.

  10. oooh, I am having this same issue only b/c my kids are finally old enough to be out playing with neighbor kids.

    No screaming. I like no screaming and I'm sure my neighbors like no screaming. But then again, my boys are screamers for no reason at all, so we have to make that rule. Other kids, normal kids, probably don't scream as much. ;-)

    Something else.... I had my first instance of neighbor kids letting themselves into MY house uninvited. Talk about uncharted waters!!

  11. We are dealing with this issue too.
    We just moved here and my little Bren (5 years old) is 7 years younger than her closest sibling, so finding young friends in the neighborhood has been both a blessing and a curse!
    Bren is a head strong social butterfly and the sun rises and sets on her being able to play with her friends. She is a "never met a stranger" type of kid and just doesn't realize the danger of floating from house to house gathering up friend after friend to go on adventures with her at the park (which I can just barely see from my front porch) or in one of her friends backyards. I demand that she stay at one house/play area and then check in if the fun moves to another area. She is constantly forgetting to do this which leaves me checking several places before tracking her down. It's totally unnerving for me and usually leads to tears and lost privileges for her.
    I've resorted to having her carry a walky talky lately. She keeps it in her pocket and we are able to communicate as often as one of us wants to touch the talk button. It might seem unconventional but so far it's worked well and it keeps her from having to run back home every 20 minutes when the group wants to leave one backyard to go to another.


  12. I havae a friend who uses becca's walkie talkie idea and it works perfectly. They also hang a sign in their window (like a stoplight) that says "kids can play" on the green side and "kids can't play" on the red side. they leave it in their window and it works great for them. Since Henry is 2, I'm still out constantly, but I do let Evy (almost 7) play outside on her own. She isn't aloud to go into any houses though. and she has to stay in my yard or the neighbors.

  13. learn all the other parents phone numbers and ground rules by heart.

    My mom kept tabs on us constantly, but we kids never realized it. All the moms talked over the phone all the time

    "i just saw them. 4 kids on bikes heading past the Jamison place"