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Screaming kids are my neighbors, and I am at a loss
August 26, 2014 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm debating letting my neighbors know that we can really hear their kids screaming, but I'm not sure if I should. Talk me into or out of it.

I am really sensitive to unreasonable noise complaints. I've been there and done that in multi-unit dwellings. (Please see my previous question about a dog at a former home.) I don't know if our complaint is unreasonable. I want to be a good neighbor and keep my expectations reasonable. Here's the situation:

My husband and I now live in a townhouse. We own. We bought from an estate, so for almost a year before we moved in, our unit was empty. The neighbors have two children, 4 and 1, and they SCREAM constantly. These are not momentary upsets, these are full blown temper tantrums we can hear and make out words to, including "I don't want to!" and "no no no no no!" and pounding thumping. It is ear splitting as only children's screams can be, and happens at all hours of the day or night. Not constantly, but intermittently, without regard to time. They also scream when they play, they're just screamers. It's what they do, I guess.

The kid we've met, the older one, is cute and sweet when we see him and talk to him. The parents seem nice and we've chatted with them briefly outside our homes. They're renters, but it seems like everyone treats everyone else the same here in our development, so no weird drama of "ohh, they're renters."

I'm just not sure, as someone who isn't a parent, if there is a world in which I'd be able to just knock on their door with a batch of cookies and say, "Hey, you probably don't realize it because no one lived here for so long, but we can really hear {Dennis} and {Mabel} screaming a lot. Do you think you could help us out by trying to teach indoor voices?" And if they do, they do, and if they don't, well, it was worth a try? Have you ever done this? Has anyone ever done this to you, as a parent? Give me some scenarios here.

Right now we're coming at this from a value-neutral place. We'd love for those kids to not scream so often. We don't think the parents realize how well we can hear them. But we also know they're kids, kids can be noisy sometimes, they'll hopefully grow out of it if they're long term renters, and we don't have a sense of whether a request like the above would even be reasonable. I would never ask them to stop the kids from "making noise" or playing or anything, just the screaming.
posted by juniperesque to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
A request like that would be perfectly reasonable - but having said that, the one thing 99% of people lack the capability of being reasonable about is kids, especially their own. You're completely in the right, but IMO you're doomed before you start, and I can't see any way it would end well.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:45 PM on August 26 [14 favorites]


I'll bet the parents are well aware that their kids are screaming and would be delighted to discover a nonviolent way to make them stop. If it's driving you crazy, think of what it's like to live in the same unit with the screamers.

I say this as someone who works from home and has to listen to the kids next door screaming at odd times all day while I'm trying to do my job, and into the evening while I'm trying to relax. No fun. But I'm not about to point out the obvious to the mom who has to hear the same screams at a much closer range. She's got enough to deal with as it is, and you can see it in the dark circles under her eyes.
posted by Longtime Listener at 5:52 PM on August 26 [44 favorites]


Do the parents scream too? If not, then the kids will grow out of it.

This is rough on you, of course, but there are few things more pointless than telling a kid below the age of 7 or so to be quiet all the time. I would invest in some fans, earplugs or other measures to drown the noise, and wait for time to take care of it. Or since they're renters, they might move anyway.

However, if it is keeping you from sleeping (like a lot of screaming during late night hours when kids shouldn't even be up) then I would ask nicely if they could do something about that.
posted by emjaybee at 5:54 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


I think for any chance of success, you're going to need to narrow your goal. Is there a certain time frame or activity that is being disturbed? For example, you work from home and need quiet from 1-3 pm for conference calls, or you work nights so you need quiet until you get up around 11 am. A 4-year old might be able to start learning how to be quieter in general, but a 1-year old can't really be taught anything, they can only be managed. Which is why the narrow goal is probably most achievable, if your neighbors are amenable. Asking for quieter children all the time is just too big a request to be handled all at once. Start small.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:57 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


Since you own your house you should look into soundproofing the common walls so that this is not a problem with these or any future neighbors.
posted by mareli at 6:01 PM on August 26 [18 favorites]


I have kids. I live in a townhouse. It's reasonable to (somehow) request to your neighbours that the between 9PM and 7AM it's "quiet time." We make sure our kids are reasonably quiet. It's just being polite.

Mention that the walls are pretty thin and you can hear everything. Mention something about needing to retire at 9PM because of a medical condition or something.

It's hard to tell if this will help, though. It is very hard to change behaviour, especially if the parents are ambivalent about the behaviour.

Maybe they'll move, and, as they say, childhood flashes by (for us parents). The next 16 years or so should go pretty quickly!
posted by Nevin at 6:02 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Kids throw temper tantrums. The kids of the very best parents throw temper tantrums. We've all thrown temper tantrums, even when it has been abundantly clear to our young minds that our parents did not, in fact, want us to throw temper tantrums. That's just how it works.

Nothing you can say is going to make the kids stop screaming. I'd say you had a 50/50 chance of getting the kids to stop banging or bouncing balls off of the shared walls, sure, or maybe turning down some music or TV. Perhaps you can get a 10-20% reduction on screaming, at the cost of a good relationship with your neighbors. But you're not really going to stop the kids from screaming.

It's just not going to happen.

They will grow out of it.
posted by eschatfische at 6:02 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


"Do you think you could help us out by trying to teach indoor voices?"

I'm a parent, and if my neighbor knocked on my door and said this....hoo boy.

Don't do that.

You say you're coming from a value-neutral place, but your question has plenty of implicit judgment in it. Do you think they haven't tried teaching indoor voices? Do you think you can teach a one-year-old much of anything about voice modulation?

And do you know the kids are neurotypical? Kids with certain diagnosed behavioral disorders can be loud. Do you really want to step in that kind of situation with a lecture at their door about "indoor voices?" No, you really don't.

You want a quieter life, which you certainly deserve, but you will get it by staying focused on your prime directive and by doing less judging of those neighbors.

1. Make it about your needs, not their lack of parenting skills.
2. You say they scream "constantly"...then you say "intermittently." Be clear and figure out when the problem is, specifically, and address your comments that way. Again, make it about your needs. (i.e., "I really need quiet during the work day." Or "I need quiet after 9 pm"). I would be totally cool with that as a parent; it's something specific to work with.
3. Maybe have them over when the kids are being loud, again, focusing on your experience, not their kids' behavior.
3. Realize to a certain extent...kids are loud. You might have to come to some joint arrangement about soundproofing shared walls. You'll have better luck with this coming at it from a friendly place.

Good luck, and yes, it will likely pass.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:06 PM on August 26 [32 favorites]


I'm your neighbour. I'm neither deaf, nor ambivalent and I feel sincerely apologetic that my children are unrelenting screamers and our walls are so thin. To make matters worse, my loudest, youngest child doesn't sleep well. But I'm sure you knew that. I can only hope we'll both survive this. I'm open to hearing from you, but please know that I'm aware and trying my futile best. I am embarrassed at this parental and neighbourly shortcoming. Please understand when I avoid you after you confront me about this.

Regretfully yours,

Neighbour
posted by Violet Femme at 6:07 PM on August 26 [38 favorites]


As a parent of a 1 and 4 year old, I can say that there's likely nothing you can do which will change much. This is the prime age for kids to be loud. I try my hardest to get my kids to quiet down, and the only possible way to do that for my oldest is to stick him in front of the TV. The youngest won't even sit in front of a TV, he'll just yell at it.

Kids at this age are loud. Parents know this. I'm sure the parents would gladly pay whatever it would cost to get their kids to stop screaming. I know I would.

I don't think it is unreasonable for you to talk to them about how thin the walls are, and that you'd appreciate it if they could try to keep the noise down a bit at specific times. If I were your neighbor I would try to take my kids out of the house if you had an important phone call, or something along those lines. Please also make sure to mention in that conversation that you understand that kids are loud, and you know it will get better as they get older.

Here's the rub of it, though. You mention they scream things like "No NO NO!". Even if these kids were taught their whole lives about "indoor voices", they wouldn't use them here, because the kids are purposefully screaming to make it known that they are not happy with the situation. One of the only sources of power a young child has is their ability to be loud and cause disruption, and so they use this to their advantage. When they get older and learn how to better communicate, how to reason and compromise, and how to do more things themselves (as well as how to better control their emotions), they will be able to live their life much quieter. Unfortunately for you, this doesn't really start to happen until around 5 years old (although some kids start a little younger).

Putting up an additional layer of drywall on the walls which connect to your neighbors may help to reduce the noise, but may not be as effective as you'd like.
posted by markblasco at 6:22 PM on August 26 [7 favorites]


You have more right to a noise-free environment than others have to make regularly disturbing noise. And noisy, screaming children really get on my nerves, so I can relate. I often have some close at hand.

However, this is one of those things that you probably can't win. If the children were older, maybe, but kids at that age are impossible to regulate verbally without duct tape (no, I'm not serious about the duct tape). So, you will simply create a situation in which it will create some embarrassment for your neighbor, some awkwardness between the two of you into the future, and will likely not serve any tangible benfit, unless they take your concern to heart so much that they simply move to the wilderness.

I'm sorry, it's certainly not fair for you, but it's most likely unavoidable.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:23 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, Violet Femme's nailed it. Whoever figures out a way to stop toddlers having tantrums will be a millionaire. The thing is, as a parent, you're screwed. If you try and teach your child boundaries, they'll have a tantrum - they're still young and learning but the idea is, eventually they'll be good kids. In the meantime you're considered a bad parent because tantrums and screaming. If you try and appease the neighbours and give in to avoid the battles and screaming, you'll raise a complete brat with no rules, no respect and no manners and you'll be considered a bad parent.

I'm sure these people are trying their best and if you're aware of it, imagine how much they are. In your shoes, if you must do something, visit with some muffins, have a friendly chat, tell her you heard her kids and ask her if there's anything you can do to help. But mostly, if you can't be part of the village, I would stay out of it.
posted by Jubey at 6:24 PM on August 26 [16 favorites]


A friend of mine with a townhome put a second layer of drywall over the adjoining wall, said they could no longer hear anything at all through the wall.

Do you think you could help us out by trying to teach indoor voices?

I'm not a parent but in my experience the only time it works to ask someone to control their child's behavior is when the parent is unaware of how the child has been behaving. Unless your neighbors are actually completely deaf they probably know already and don't like the screaming either.

If it seems likely that the neighbors either haven't noticed the screaming or think it is a wonderful and enjoyable sound, sure, gently let them know that the sound is inconveniencing you and suggest specific times that you want to be more quiet. However, it's still going to make things awkward between you and the neighbor.
posted by yohko at 6:27 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Talking to them about it is a really bad idea. They know their kids are loud. It annoys and embarrasses them. They would do anything to make it stop. But unfortunately, you kind of just have to wait it out.

Talking to them about it will just embarrass them further, and make them feel extra awkward and guilty every time their kids scream and yell. Nothing good can come of this.
posted by barnoley at 6:33 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


My kids are two and four and yes, when they don't get their way they occasionally scream. I can try to avoid those battles during certain times (though not always, ask any parent if they've ever told their kids to please be quiet so they could make a phone call and how that worked out for them) but I can't avoid the battles permanently. I'd be a WORSE parent if I didn't stand firm for the tantrums. So yeah, unless you have some other evidence that these people are being bad or negligent parents, you aren't going to get far with this route.
posted by celtalitha at 6:40 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


Just want to second investing in sound proofing. The next neighbors might have a yappy dog. And the ones after that play the sax. And the ones after that have frequent dinner parties. You don't want to have to have conversations with every single neighbor from hear on out do you?

I lived in an apartment in NYC with thin walls and ceilings. Soundproofing was worth every penny.

I cut the noise of feet, tv, phone, loud voices by 85%-90%. Made a definite improvement in my quality of life and increased the overall property value.
posted by brookeb at 6:44 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


I wrote this a while ago when a friend was complaining about crying babies on a plane: Crying Babies. It sort of fits here as well.

Unless your neighbours are really clueless or terrible parents, they are probably aware their children are screaming. They might not be aware you can hear them, and if you let them know maybe they'd feel bad about it, but it's not a give in that the screaming would stop.

Maybe you can negotiate with a 4 year old, but a 1 year old? That's going to take some magic.

Good luck. Other peoples children are the worst!
posted by chunking express at 7:15 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


there are few things more pointless than telling a kid below the age of 7 or so to be quiet all the time.

That's not what the OP wants, as evidenced by them saying:

"I would never ask them to stop the kids from "making noise" or playing or anything, just the screaming."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:16 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


If parents could stop their kids from screaming they would. Who wants to listen to screaming children? Nobody.
posted by chunking express at 7:18 PM on August 26 [8 favorites]


Extra drywall and other soundproofing options for your property!

Don't bother your neighbor. This will backfire in so many well meaning ways, and it won't solve the problem.

Soundproofing your space will solve the problem, tho. Get to it!!
posted by jbenben at 7:36 PM on August 26 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's unreasonable to mention something about quiet hours at night, and letting them know that you can hear. (And while I hear everyone who says that you can't control little kids' screaming, I don't completely agree...as a babysitter and nanny when I was younger, I took care of a bunch of different toddlers, and though the occasional tantrum is normal, I don't think that it's impossible to help kids use *slightly* quieter voices when they're playing, or to let them know when they're freaking out that screaming is not okay. This is why I think it might be okay to say something).

But otherwise, noise-cancelling headphones do work fairly well, at least for me trying to block out my own loud neighbors (not kids, but definitely boisterous). You could try that if you haven't already. Good luck.
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:39 PM on August 26 [6 favorites]


I am echoing that setting limits with kids is a part of parenting and is loud. I am sensitive to sound and have tried hard with my kids from early days and each of them still went/are going through these phases. I would help contribute to the cost of soundproofing though.

And with tons of genuine respect for childcare experience...the child-parent relationship is often really different. I was a nanny and a babysitter and I never had significant bedtime issues...then I had my son and whoa. Kids are more secure and often way more volatile with parents, because that is where they test the hardest. That doesn't mean parents can't apply techniques etc.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:51 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Generally, suggesting people are not parenting well or that they need to do a better job with parenting is going to make you persona non grata, as well as being ineffective.

I am very grateful that by the time I had a child I could afford to live in a single family home, but I do remember my experience getting a puppy in a town home with shared walls. I am sure my unhappy neighbors just saw it as "our neighbor has a dog who is barking and yelping, and it's really annoying! Can't she teach it to stop?" They could not see the things I was doing to try to keep her quiet out of concern she was bothering them… I literally slept with her in her crate in the bathroom on her first night in the house because it was the only way to keep her quiet (lying half in, half out of the crate on the bathroom floor). I feel like stuff like what you describe goes into the category of "be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." In general, I wish most people would think of that quote before taking action on perceived parental failures.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:18 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


Unfortunately, telling them won't solve anything. Who knows why their kids are howling brats, but it isn't because the parents don't realize the neighbors dislike the noise. Either the parents can't stop the yelling (likely) or they don't really mind it; in any case, the fact that YOU mind it is not going to make them parent differently.

You gotta just soundproof. Sorry. I do feel for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:58 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


I actually disagree with all those saying you shouldn't say anything. I think that if you're nice and respectful and amiable, it's a good idea. They genuinely might not realize how much sound travels, especially if you are quiet so they don't hear noise coming from your side. And they probably won't be able to stop the screaming entirely, but maybe they can encourage the kids to not scream when they play. I say this as the parent of a toddler living in an apartment complex. I would want to be told (very nicely!!) if we were too loud for our neighbors.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:58 PM on August 26 [9 favorites]


Sure, talk to them. It doesn't sound like you're risking a lifelong friendship, and the potential benefit sounds like it would really make a difference in your life. Here are some guidelines:

- Start with some gentle, kind opener. "Hi! How are you?" Maybe even bring a small kid-pleasing gift. Bubble-blowing kits/tools/liquid are often well received.

- Focus on the impact the kids are having on you, rather than their (the parents' or kids') intentions. Demonstrate an interest in working together to solve a shared problem. "I'm having some trouble sleeping/working when your kids are noisy, and I'm hoping you can help me figure out some solutions." They may or may not respond with some explanations, apologies, or defensiveness here. Either way....

- Acknowledge that they are doing their best. "I know kids can be loud sometimes, and there's a limit to what parents can do about that. I really appreciate your efforts and definitely don't expect them to be quiet all the time. I sure wasn't as a kid!" Of course, if they share some particular reason for the struggles (e.g. kids aren't neurotypical), empathize sincerely.

- Suggest some ideas of what you can do, and ask them for ideas too. "I was thinking about adding some drywall/rugs/ear plugs/white noise. Maybe I could pitch in for some insulation on your side too. Is there anything else I can do?"

- Ask them for help with something specific, just as pantarei70 suggests. Also ask for their ideas for a solution. "5 AM to 8 AM is the toughest time for me. Is there anything you can do to help make that time quieter? Are there other things you can think of?"

- Thank them for their help! And suggest they contact you if they have any more ideas. Ask for the best way to get in touch with them if you have more questions.

Good luck!
posted by equipoise at 10:32 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


Soundproofing, and in the common walls it may be that the owner (not the tenants) of the adjoining unit has some fiscal responsibility, or perhaps there is an HOA that governs such things. You should read it.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:03 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


I have kids who scream and thump and make a huge racket. I'm sorry. There's nothing I can do about it. My kids aren't typical. No amount of pleading, bribing, punishing or timeouts will change it. All we can do is the best we can.

If it isn't a parent like me, then I'm sure they don't like it either or they don't care. Most people care if their kid is screaming at the top of their lungs because the parent is in much closer proximity. So they probably can't do a lot about it.

If I could afford a house near my kids' school and medical appointments, I would. But I can't. Hence the apartment.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:05 PM on August 26 [1 favorite]


Nthing that saying something probably won't change anything (except your relationship with the neighbours). There's no teaching a 1yo about "inside voice".

But you can console yourself that every occurence of screaming and tantrum-throwing means the kids are learning their boundaries and will be therefore better behaved in the future. Would you feel better if the parents started giving into their kids' demands so there would be less noise? But then, how would you like living next door to a couple of bratty, spoiled teenagers a few years from now?
posted by gakiko at 3:31 AM on August 27


I am struggling with a 1 and 3 year old who like to scream right now. It's maddening, and I soooo feel for you. But if you came to my door and talked to me about it, I'd feel embarrassed and stressed, and they'd pick up on that, and it would teach them that screaming is even more powerful than they suspected, and give them further incentive to throw tantrums as a means of control. Preschoolers are jerks like that.

That being said, if you told me "hey, I really need quiet before 7am/after 9pm/at 1pm," I would do my best to accommodate that. Although no parent really wants their kid awake early in the morning or late at night, so I would temper my expectations accordingly.

I'm told 5 year olds are better, so hopefully relief is in sight (for all of you!)
posted by snickerdoodle at 4:58 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


This is rough on you, of course, but there are few things more pointless than telling a kid below the age of 7 or so to be quiet all the time.

In my experience, there is no way to get someone who believes the opposite of "screaming" is "quiet all the time" to think any differently. However, I disagree that they for certain "know" how loud their kids are. They know intellectually, sure, but parents become inured to it. In the moment, they're probably not thinking about how much you can hear it.

I don't think you'll really change their behavior at all, but there's a chance they're attempting some sort of "let them tire themsevles out" strategy that they can change. And while I doubt it would seriously factor in their decision making, if they knew (and possibly embarrassed), maybe they wouldn't renew the lease and go somewhere else). That's not going to sound very nice to posters above telling you how hard it is to have kids, but the question isn't how can you be supportive of harried parents.
posted by spaltavian at 5:55 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


This idea that parents don't learn to tune out their own kids' screaming flies in the face of any observable reality.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:13 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


I have a nine month old and a three and a half year old. Aaaaaaaaaah! I hate it when they scream. Luckily all of my neighbours have screamy children.

This is what I'd do. I would pick a day in advance where I have something important to do. I would go visit my friendly neighbours with cookies anc chat. Then I would say "Hey, I know kids can be a handful and there's not much you can do to stop them from getting noisy. But I have this really important thing going on tomorrow at one pm and I was wondering if there was anything you could do at this time specifically to stop them from screaming? The problem is that the walls are so very thin and having some quiet tomorrow is important to me."
Or better words to that effect.

There ARE things a parent can do in a pinch, such as let the kids play outside or be extra mindful to not let a situation escalate in the first place. It's just that if you are busy doing laundry, cooking, and doing part time work, you can't do your childminding job 100 percent, you're distracted. If I knew my neighbour had this specific time where it would be important to them, I would try to shift my routine a bit so I could pay more attention at that specific time.

In the conversation reassure the person that you're not mad or anything and you understand their situation. You could also let drop at which times you don't mind the noise (inferring the other times in which it is a bit of a bother.) I know that if I like my neighbour I would try to keep that in mind.

To that end, I would work on building up a relationship with them. Give the boy a cookie now and again or let him pet your cat or something. Strike up regular chats. Inquire after the kids. For one, your neighbour will be more willing to make an effort for you, and for another, you will become more tolerant towards the occasional screaming fit, once you know the kids well. It will be more "Oh, I guess Timmy isn't allowed to watch tv today" and less "Ugh, random repetitive screaming sound."
posted by Omnomnom at 6:22 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


I can understand why this would be be bothersome. But it's probably driving the parents crazy too -- the kids are at the pinnacle of their loud years. If someone came over to me and started lecturing me about teaching inside voices I would be annoyed, because I'm already trying my best to do that. But kids are impulsive little creatures, and sometimes they squeal and fight with each other.

If you own the condo, you could also look into adding a layer of sound-proofing drywall.

I'd make friends with the family and kids first and then bring it up in casual conversation. I agree with making it about you rather than their parenting skills.
posted by Ostara at 10:13 AM on August 27


You say you're coming from a value-neutral place, but your question has plenty of implicit judgment in it. Do you think they haven't tried teaching indoor voices?

If someone came over to me and started lecturing me about teaching inside voices I would be annoyed, because I'm already trying my best to do that.

The above poster and a lot of other people in this thread are bringing to this thread a lot of assumptions based on their own values and experiences as parents. Nobody in this thread, including you OP, has any way of knowing what they've tried. Maybe they're teaching age-appropriate boundaries and limitations; maybe they're not.

Certainly the families immediately surrounding me are not, shall we say, excelling at parenting and there's nothing wrong with reminding folks that their children need to be neighbourly, too. There is also zero guarantee anything will change, but the request itself is perfectly in line.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:36 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


As a parent, I will say that if you did this, you would forever be the asshole neighbor in my eyes and I would be less likely to respond to any other neighborly requests - because of course I know my kids are screaming. I want them to stop screaming too. Who would think I did not? Who would think I had not tried absolutely everything there was to try?
posted by corb at 5:42 PM on August 27


We used to hear our next door neighbors' child scream a lot when we first moved in. Now she's close to 4 and I haven't heard a peep for months ... especially over the screams of our now 2 year old! Just give it some time - 2-3 years - and hope they don't go for #3.
posted by yarly at 5:56 PM on August 27


Maybe they're teaching age-appropriate boundaries and limitations; maybe they're not.

And if they are not, is the juniperesque going to suddenly convince them they should stop half-assing it with the parenting? I suspect not.

Any conversation that involves sayings "Do you think you could help us out by trying to teach indoor voices?" is going to go no where. I think the best you can do is tell them you can hear their children and leave it at that.
posted by chunking express at 9:35 PM on August 27


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