I never understood the benefits of living in an excellent neighborhood, until this past year when our family moved to one. This understanding was reinforced last month when my neighbor proactively addressed what could have turned into a relationship-crippling issue with my son.
Prior to our current residence, we had always lived in the country, and while we’d previously had good friends, we’d never experienced the blessing of year-round convenience and support. The excellent mix of good-fit children, their parents, and older adults in this neighborhood has provided the benefit of the ability to call a neighbor last-minute, to keep an eye on the kids, bring in the mail or let the dog out while we’re away. Neighbors of all ages have also supported my daughter’s BookWorm Wednesday project.
Search Institute has identified Caring Neighborhood and Neighborhood Boundaries as two of the 40 Developmental Assets. Research shows these are characteristics of healthy, caring, resilient kids. The more assets youth have, the more likely they’ll resist risky behaviors in the future.
I know we are fortunate to have fallen into the neighborhood we did, and many don’t feel they have this kind of support network on the street where they live. But here are a few ideas I’ve learned from my neighbors – they may work for you as well:
Gather to get to know each other – Our neighborhood hosts “Flamingo Fridays” most weeks in the summer. We know which house to attend, by watching for pink flamingos in the lawn. People come if they can, and bring their own beverages and dishes to pass. Really the host just opens the garage door. (Although some will splurge and rent a bouncy thing for the kids.) Even if you don’t think an all-inclusive gathering would work, inviting a few neighbors over for a barbeque is a low-commitment way to network with other families.
Exchange phone numbers – Our small neighborhood emails a regularly-updated list of residents, names, kids, addresses and phone numbers. This has opened the lines of communication and it broadens the boundaries for our kids, since a quick phone call can bring them home.
Embrace small talk – Go for walks in the late afternoon and evening when people are in their yards, and home from work. Strike up a conversation – even if it’s a passing one. Wave, shake hands, and introduce yourself. Small talk is the precursor to large talk – it opens the door to more significant conversations down the line.
Make the first call – If your kids are at a neighbor’s house for the first time, call to see how it’s going. Thank the other parent for hosting the play date, and offer to return the favor. And make it clear that you want to know if there’s ever an issue. We all know our kids aren’t perfect. But communicating that understanding to other parents makes you more approachable.
Kindly draw the line – When the kids are all at your place for the first time, make the boundaries clear in a matter-of-fact way. They can’t possible know your expectations if you don’t tell them – different homes will have different boundaries. Gently correct them if they mess up. And if the reminders aren’t working, contact the parent to ask for help, doing your best to not raise defenses. Usually, parents want to know and work things out. We’re all in this together.
Whether you live in Mayberry or not, there is probably something thing you can do to move your neighborhood toward one you want. Summer’s a great time to do it. What’s you’re next step?
Thanks for joining in to build assets in your kids! I look forward to seeing you again next month for Positively Speaking.
Kelly Curtis is a Wisconsin school counselor and author of Empowering Youth: How to Encourage Young Leaders to Do Great Things. To read more about Kelly, please visit her Weblog, Pass the Torch.