“When my daughters were younger, my house became the 'fun place' to be," said Robyn King, a counselor at Schenectady County Community College, saying that most of the time she didn’t mind. “But when the bell rang at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning when I was still in bed, and I saw a neighbor drop off her kid and leave in her car, I knew I had to set down some boundaries — with the kids and their parents.”
She's not alone. “My son is 3, and our 7-year-old neighbor is constantly coming over. While I love that they play together, swinging by at 7:45 p.m. on a school night is not OK in my book,” says Kristin Serio, who tells us she has tried nicely dropping hints to his mom to no avail.
Do these stories sound familiar? Most parents will run into this situation at one time or another and it helps to be prepared and know what to do so your kids can enjoy playing with the neighbors without your house turning into a free day care.
How to set boundaries with neighbor kids coming over
- Mark your door— King found a great solution that let the neighbor kids know they needed their own private family time. “I bought two large scarves — one red and one green. I explained that when the red scarf was tied to the front doorknob, that meant the girls were not available to play, [and] the green one was an invitation to come on over,” she said. “Word got around the neighborhood rather quickly, and the behaviors changed. Our home was still a neighborhood favorite, but it taught everyone involved that boundaries are important and must be respected.”
- Talk to your own child first — “One simple and effective way to set boundaries with the neighbor kids always coming over is to ask your kid to keep the party away from the house,” says parenting expert and DaddyScrubs founder Robert Nickell. “Let your child know that you need peace and quiet and ask that he or she keep the whole posse outside and at other houses.”
- Talk to the other parents — Even though it can get crazy having all the kids over, if you work out an arrangement with the other parents to switch off, it can work to your benefit. “Simply call the parents of the other kids and ask if they could schedule play dates or encourage the kids to stay at their houses one day out of the week,” Nickell says.
- Encourage kids to stay outside— You can’t keep the neighborhood gang away from your house forever, so when it is your turn to host just keep them outside! “When the kids come over, give them an incentive to stay outside and away from the house,” says Nickell. “Give them a bat and a ball to play baseball, or ask your kid if he or she can start up a game of freeze tag in the front yard.”
- Get the older siblings involved— “If you have older children, ask if they can help out. Smaller kids typically look up to the big kids, so ask the older siblings if they could bring the posse outside for a fun game of hide-and-seek or kickball,” Nickell suggests. “Once the older sibling gets everyone involved in an outside game, he can get back to what he was doing and you can have the house all to yourself!”
- Use playtime as incentive for chores— Natasha Carmon tells us that she has worked out an agreement that her child has to have her room clean before she can have the neighbor kids over. “This rule normally causes my child to think about having kids over since she doesn't want to clean her room, which eliminates me having to say no in the first place if I don't want them over.”
- Set a time limit — San Diego-based family counselor Amy Chang suggests setting a time limit. “Try telling your child, ‘I love having your friends over since they are so much fun. However, I also need my quiet time. I would feel comfortable having them over two hours a day. What time would you think is good for your friends to come over?'" she suggests.
- Keep in mind how often your kids are at the neighbor’s house — “I encourage parents to be honest with their own children first before they approach the neighborhood kids or parents,” says psychologist Julia Simens, author of Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child.“ Knowing that your child was also at their home eight times this week makes it not seem so bad when their child shows up [at your house for] the ninth time this week."
- Set the rule that kids must go home first after school — “Some families find that their own living room is overrun with kids as soon as the school day is over. It often helps to have the rule that all kids must 'go home' first before they can come back to play,” says Simens. “This allows all those important school papers to get to their own home instead of being left at your house. It also allows the child to possibly eat an after-school snack at their own home, creating less of a mess in your home. I think the biggest benefit is it allows you to check in with your own children to see what their day was like and if they have any major things that need to be taken care of before play starts."
What about the neighbor kid who always acts up?
What if you have a neighbor child that always wants to come over, but is a troublemaker? Nancy S. Buck, developmental psychologist and author of several parenting books, including How to Be a Great Parent, suggests talking to the parents about what boundaries you expect at your house.
“When speaking with your neighbor simply and neutrally state, 'In our home these are the things we expect from one another. We want all people to treat each other with kindness and respect. Sometimes we know children will forget, or may not know what that means. So we will help children respect self, respect property and respect others,'” she says. “This does not need to be a big deal. It's as simple as deciding what time the child is expected to arrive and leave, if are there any allergies you should know about, and these are our rules and boundaries that you and your child should know about.”
“If the child repeatedly disrespects and behaves in ways that are intolerable to you, it is okay and appropriate to ask this child not to come to your house to play anymore. If the child's parent wants an explanation, feel free to explain,” she says.
Consider the benefits of having the “hangout” house
Some moms love the fact that their home is the "hangout" spot for the neighborhood kids, including Lisa Cutter, whose twins are getting ready to go to college.
“I can tell you without hesitation that being the gathering place for kids has done a number of things. [It] ensured we knew at all times who our kids were hanging out with… provided a place for kids to feel safe and welcome, ensured that our kids spent a great deal of time at home instead of out getting into mischief and strengthened our bonds with our kids and their friends,” she said.
“While we often had huge grocery bills, it seemed a small price to pay for all of the above," she said. "I feel very strongly that this is part of community building and creating family."
Dara Michalski, writer and recipe developer of the award winning website Cookin' Canuck, agrees, saying she and the neighborhood parents have a system worked out. “This has been the summer of the neighborhood gang! Luckily, they spread their time evenly between three houses, but they want to play with each other all the time! They built a fort in the back field behind our house, so I am responsible for keeping an eye on them while they're there. To be honest, I love that. I know where they are, who they're with and what mischief they're up to.”
How do you set boundaries with the neighborhood kids? Or do you like having the hangout house?
More about raising kids
How to build family bonds and raise confident children
5 Reasons why your kids should have a cell phone
7 Ways to trim family expenses