Just say it.

J. asked Motherlode readers how to tell the neighborhood kids who congregate in her yard, even during family parties, that they’ve at least temporarily worn out their welcome.

Hers is a friendly neighborhood, with lots of coming and going — and to many of us, that sounds pretty good. But most adults recognize that sometimes it’s important to be just with family. Kids, though, aren’t sensitive to nuance (and adults aren’t always, either). A veteran of just such a neighborhood, Ellen Painter Dollar suggests:

To put it simply, my husband and I have learned to be forthright with other kids about what we do and don’t want, about what is and is not acceptable. This includes enforcing family rules about cleaning up after yourself with other people’s kids (including putting yard toys, bikes, etc., back in the garage when done); telling kids that our kitchen/snack cabinet is closed and if they are hungry, they are welcome to go home to their own houses to get something; saying, “Right now, we’re hosting a school friend (or whomever) for a play date and our kids aren’t available to play,” and even saying, “Hey, you guys have been playing at our house all weekend. Could our kids go play in your yard for a while?” Basically, we had to stop feeling like we were mean parents if we made our expectations and wants clear.

The benefits of the neighborhood shine through now that she and her family “don’t feel so put upon.”

“Come to think of it,” suggests Golf Widow, “maybe it toughens a kid up to have a non-parent adult tell him/her to buzz off and/or quit hollering and/or pick up the wagon left in the middle of the alley once in a while rather than being “quietly redirected” by a mom or dad. My next door neighbor yells at my boys more than I do — she’s a yeller and I’m not.”

Others suggested hanging a flag to show when neighbors were welcome, and when it’s family time, and even creating a block-wide policy of doing the same. Then there were commenters with similar, but less pleasant problems: “mannerless and inconsiderate” children who break and destroy, and trying not to be the “cranky neighbors” even when “epic games of tag” have children hiding in bushes, trees and even the garage of sue’s home. “I like living in a kid-friendly neighborhood and I don’t mind if kids run around our yard as long as they respect our property, but it is a balancing act.”

Unspoken in J.’s original question was what happens when the kids who wander by are also the ones whose parents aren’t around, for one reason or another. Cheryl: “Letting kids roam around sounds idyllic but, in my experience, it gets ruined because some parents use it as an excuse to wash their hands of their kids. Not fair.”

My thought would be to both be direct with the children, and reach out to the parents — keeping in mind that when you’re not watching, yours may be the kids who are breaking limbs off trees and eating all the hot dogs at someone else’s cook-out.

One of my neighbors has a trampoline, and I call every time my children walk over there, to make sure they don’t over-stay, and to say that snacks are totally not necessary (my four children could easily wipe out the entire supply). In fact, that’s the perfect example: Because treats (juice boxes!) were offered once, my younger children, especially, see no reason not to ask. It wasn’t until I walked over there with them that I realized they weren’t just jumping, they were mooching.

You’re in the village, J. I hope everyone involved works together to make your neighborhood (which I still think sounds pretty nice) the best place it can possibly be.

Contact KJ Dell’Antonia at:

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