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Ask An Expert / Children / fatherhood / Mama Drama / Motherhood

How can I navigate our unruly neighbor child and her screaming mother?

How can I navigate our unruly neighbor child and her screaming mother?

Hi Mamas! I could really use some advice! I’m completely stumped!

(Image Courtesy of Kevin Shorter)

Long story short, my 5-year-old daughter’s “best friend” lives across the street. They are in the same kindergarten class and play outside of school frequently!

I have come upon a rather large issue! Considering the fact that our children play well, are in the same class and live across the street from one another I have become “friends” with the little girls mother. The more I am around her the more I am starting to see we are two TOTALLY different families.

This mother uses yelling as her form of discipline. Not a slight raise of the voice, I mean a red face, veins popping out SCREAM! She also encourages her 2 and 5 year old to say cuss words, then laughs at them.

I have tried having the little girl come play at my house, but that can be an even bigger mess. Last time I tired that, she colored all over my daughter’s room. Yes, the whole room. Bed, dresser, wall, toy box, my daughter’s t-ball trophies… Everything. In red marker! Told her mother the reason why she is was being sent home and all she said was “oops.”

I don’t know what to do. My daughter is starting to pick up on bad habits. It’s not her fault, though. She doesn’t understand and I don’t know what to do. I keep coming up with excuses when the little girl asks to play. We are leaving, eating dinner, homework.. But I’m running out of those too! Please help!!!!!

Sorry that wasn’t “short”

~Stumped Mama

Dear Stumped:

This sounds like a sticky situation. Here are some options for addressing this on a couple of different levels.

First, start with where you have the most influence, which is with your daughter. Have a conversation with her about how different families have different rules and expectations. You can provide some examples and ask her for some that she has noticed with friends or family members.

Then be specific about a few significant differences you have noticed with your neighbor’s family regarding both the children’s and the parents’ behavior choices.  Let her know that even though some of her friends may make different behavior choices, you still expect her to behave in accordance with your family’s expectations whether she is at home, school, or out in the community. Additionally, you expect any of her friends who visit to behave respectfully and follow the rules of your house.

Don’t let her get away with bad behavior just because her friend does it. She is old enough to understand if you set limits and follow through and this is a lesson she needs to learn sooner than later.

Next comes where you have less control, the neighbors. You can continue to avoid and hope they get the message, but chances are you’ll end up unprepared trying to explain yourself in an unexpected encounter and that usually ends badly.

When the little girl asks to play, you can tell her she is welcome to come to play at your house as long as she follows the rules of your house. Come up with a short but specific list such as following directions from adults, using kind language, and being respectful with materials and toys. Since she is five, you’ll need to talk about what these rules look and sound like.

Have the girls play in an open area such as the living room, rather than your daughter’s bedroom, so that you can stay nearby to supervise, set limits, and intervene if needed. If the neighbor girl isn’t able to comply even with your support, you need to follow through with ending the playtime. “Uh oh, this doesn’t seem to be working. You aren’t being safe. We can try again another time.” Then walk her home.

When they want your daughter to come over, be direct saying, “I’m sorry, we noticed your kids are allowed to engage in behaviors that our daughter isn’t, so we aren’t comfortable with that.” You’ll probably get some push back and they may want specifics, so you can mention the cussing (or something else specific). If they say it’s not a big deal, acknowledge that you understand their perspective, but it is a big deal to you.

Eventually, you may need to tell the mom that you are uncomfortable with the way she yells at her children. This will be tricky and needs to be presented in as non-judgmental of a way as possible. Most people parent the way they were parented and don’t have other strategies in their toolbox.

A compassionate way of addressing this is to let her know you have noticed how she seems to get really frustrated with the kids and empathize that parenting is hard (because it is!). Then share some resources or strategies that have helped you. You can refer to books or websites that you or other friends have found helpful. Some good ones are Scream Free Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel, the Scream Free Institute, Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay, Ph.D., and She may not take your advice, but you’ve expressed your concerns in a compassionate way and offered support.

Additionally, that kind of yelling can be considered emotionally abusive behavior. If you feel like it reaches that level or suspect that it may, you should make a report to Child Protective Services in your county. They can investigate and provide her with parenting classes and other supports to help the family.

How do you handle mismatched parenting styles and bad behavior with your children’s friends? Please share your ideas.

Lisa Vratny-Smith

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