Neighbors helping neighbors (helping your kids)

Nov 10, 2010 at 10:07 a.m. ET

When we talk about the villages in which we raise our kids, we are talking about multiple layers. Your family is the first, closest layer and the town or city in which you live is the outer layer. What’s in between -- and often closest to your family-- is your neighborhood. Whether a collection of houses on a cul-de-sac, your apartment building or one of a dozen farms along a country road, your neighborhood is a place for first connections and friendships for your child.

Community puzzle

The neighborhood is where kids often learn their first lessons in community-building. It's where they see neighbors helping neighbors, where they observe the early lessons you are trying to teach in action. Treating others as you want to be treated? Check. Kindness? Check. Respect? Check.

Your village center

Your neighborhood is your village center. As much as the four walls of your house, it's what your children will think of in years to come when they think of "home." Because, whether we like it or not, our communities have a significant impact in our children's upbringing. It really does benefit your parenting and your kids to have a strong village center.

It can be hard sometimes

Yes, it can be hard to build the village center. Some neighbors just aren't as friendly and seem not to see the big picture that you do. Or maybe you are inherently shy and find it difficult to reach out. These can be speed bumps to connections in your neighborhood, but they are not roadblocks. Maybe that gruff neighbor is a tough nut to crack, but once cracked is as warm and loving as your own grandfather. Maybe your other neighbor is just as shy as you are. It's still worth the effort. Every bit of effort is a tremendous example to your child.

An investment

Building the strong relationships in a neighborhood takes time. As with all relationships -- friendships or otherwise -- there will be bumps in the road. But the cardinal rule, as you heard when you were little, is "If you want a friend, be a friend."

So don't be stingy with the cookies for the neighborhood kids, don't resist helping rake some leaves or offering assistance in any number of ways. Be the kind of neighborhood resident you would want your kids to be able to turn to if needed. Communicate, be kind and give the benefit of the doubt from time to time. Recognize that you are doing this not just for your benefit and your kids' benefit, but for the benefit of the entire community. Be the village that raises the children that the children want to come back to as adults to raise their children.

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