When my kids were younger, they were fascinated with our neighbors. A dear couple of working professionals enthusiastically listened to my daughter’s chatter over the fence on a daily basis. An elderly couple behind us piled our kids with rhubarb, apples and other garden fare. A young playmate lived next door. And everyone’s favorite babysitter lived right across the street.
It was invaluable to have folks living on all sides of our home who knew and cared about our children. The neighbors cheered the kids on as they grew and we loved having countless eyes looking out for their safety.
It is no secret that communities are stronger and healthier when faces are familiar. And our family experienced first hand how strong relationships with neighbors pay dividends in the lives of young children.
Here are several ways you can foster positive connections between your kids and the neighbors:
1) Get to know your neighbors.
Be intentional about conversing with individuals and families around you and encourage your children to do the same. Invite neighbors over for a barbeque, game night or dessert. Consider hosting a standing “soup night” where you make a big pot of soup and invite all the neighbors over for a bowl. And don’t limit this to just families with kids. If young couples and empty nesters are part of your neighborhood, invite them, too.
2) Stay mindful of noise levels.
We can all agree that kids need to shriek, run, play and use outside voices. But there is something to be said for teaching children to be conscientious of the people around them as well. Early morning screams, late night hijinks and yelling all day long won’t endear your kids to anyone. So be sure your kids balance their fun with a healthy dose of respect for the neighbors.
3) Be everyday bearers of good cheer.
Who doesn’t love encouragement or a homemade treat from time to time? When your kids are painting or coloring, encourage them to run the picture over to the young couple next door or the retirees down the street or their friend across the way. I actually got this idea from my kids who love to bring baked goods, crafts and drawings over to the neighbor’s house. It’s such a great way to model thoughtfulness towards the people around them and foster a spirit of giving.
4) Participate in neighborhood activities.
National Night Out, trick or treating, block parties and community events at nearby parks are all great venues to connect with your neighbors. Even if you can’t be involved in the planning, you can use these opportunities to build relationships with the folks who live in your area. Plus, when you make it a priority to participate in these events, you are showing your children that being part of a community matters.
5) Lend a helping hand.
Encourage your children to take pride in volunteering to help neighbors with yard work or pet sitting. Our culture is trending towards expecting payment for everything we do and this can extend to kids. While there is certainly a benefit to teaching kids to earn money for their hard work, it’s equally important to instill a spirit of generosity by encouraging them to do nice things for others without expecting a payday.
6) Respect boundaries.
Are your kids at the neighbor’s house 24/7? I am so jealous. But it’s possible that your neighbors would like some family time and are just too polite to say so. Have honest conversations with your neighbors about their playtime preferences. Do they want the kids to just drop by or do they prefer a call or text first? Are they comfortable with kids playing inside or would they rather the kids stay outside? What are the boundaries with snacks and media choices? Honest conversations about preferences can keep that Minnesota nice from becoming Minnesota resentment.
It is such a joy to be part of a close-knit neighborhood. And teaching your children to value community relationships now lays a strong foundation for them to value community as an adult.
Your turn! What are some ways you have built community with your neighbors?