Need help dealing with the neighbor's little boy
October 5, 2009 11:41 AM   Subscribe

The little neighbor boy thinks our house is the next best thing to Disney World and is over here all the time lately, but I have questions about dealing with other people's kids.

Mr. HotToddy and I are in our mid-forties, no kids, and very little experience in dealing with them. There is an absolutely charming little seven-year-old boy across the street who has decided that our house is the place to be. I quite enjoy his company--he's super smart and curious, and generally well-behaved, but, you know, he's seven. Sometimes he doesn't listen to me when I tell him not to do something (don't turn that sprinkler on, don't wave that big metal thing around my dog, etc.)

Also, sometimes I'll be working on something out in the yard and he'll be helping me, and after an hour or so I'd like to go back to working alone, but there's no objective reason that he should go home. I feel awkward saying, "It's time for you to go home now," because he'll just say "Why?" and come up with a reason to stay. He's sweet, but incredibly persistent.

I'm not sure how to handle these situations because 1) I like him and want him to keep coming over, and 2) I'm not sure how firmly it's permissible to speak to other people's kids. What would you say/do in these situations?
posted by HotToddy to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you met his parents? Do they know how much time he's spending with you? Take a plate of cookies over and get acquainted with them.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:53 AM on October 5, 2009

It's not whether you can, you HAVE to be firm. It's your property! You don't have to feel guilty about not wanting to supervise someone else's child! Just simply, but firmly, say "Okay! Sorry, but I guess you'll have to be heading home now. I have some things to do." If that's followed with "why?", just reitterate that you have things you need to concentrate on and that you'll enjoy talking to him later (or tomorrow, or whenever).

As long as you're firm and set a pattern, after the first couple of times it won't be a big deal.
posted by Eicats at 11:53 AM on October 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Talk to his parents and say that you need a way to get him home when you want him gone. Have his parents tell him that he needs to leave when you tell him to.

Awesome that they have a free babysitter though. Feel free to move in across the street from me.
posted by GuyZero at 11:54 AM on October 5, 2009

Also, "why?" is the biggest trick every played. Kids don't care "why". But they discover that if they say "why?" that you keep talking which is really all they want. It's the magic word that keeps grownups entertaining.
posted by GuyZero at 11:55 AM on October 5, 2009 [20 favorites]

Where are the boy's parents? Do they know anything about this? You could certainly run this question by them and they'll give you the boundaries they expect when it comes to dealing with their son. They might also talk to the kid and establish what your boundaries are.

You could also try: "Hey you kid, get off my lawn!"
posted by wabbittwax at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2009

Can you talk to his parents? You could say, "We think Kid is the greatest, and we don't mind that he visits, but it's not always convenient for us," and see if his parents have a suggestion for sending him home. As long as they understand that you really don't have a problem with him in general and are more concerned about sending him home when it's time, they should (hopefully) not be offended. Maybe a little embarrassed at first, but that'll pass.
posted by katillathehun at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2009

I had a kid decide that my apartment was his Fortress of Solitude. He was a budding little computer geek and my apartment was filled to the rafters with old computer junk, and I'd take some time showing him how to repair old Macs. When it became obvious that he intended to spend his every spare moment geeking out with me, I spoke with his mother. Together we came up with some ground rules and then we communicated them to my little apprentice. So Step One is talk to Neighbor Boy's parents. With luck, Neighbor Mom will confer some authority to you and give you some guidance as to how things operate in their household so you'll have to worry less about overstepping your bounds.

Step Two is establishing to Neighbor Boy that he won't be included in everything you do. This can be difficult, but persevere or you'll find yourself enjoying his company less as it becomes more of an imposition. When it's time for him to go, it's time for him to go.
posted by lekvar at 11:56 AM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

kid - "Why?"

you - "Because I said so."

End of conversation.
posted by torquemaniac at 12:05 PM on October 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Are his parents not around or what?
posted by jerseygirl at 12:05 PM on October 5, 2009

I have three children. I recommend telling the boy when he arrives that he is so welcome to stay for an hour or whatever time you establish before hand. If he asks why, tell him you have a commitment. You should also establish that there are rules at your house including not scaring your dog. If, after a warning or two, he continues to act in ways that you do not want him to, tell him if he breaks the rules again, you will have to walk him home. Other than that, let him be a kid.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

We have a similar problem with a young boy who hangs out at our pet store...left to his own devices he would hang out for hours, chatting up customers and offering to help. We've had a difficult time shooing him away because he's a nice kid and I don't want to be the guy who makes him not like animals cause I booted him out the store. What kind of works is just telling him right when he comes in that we expect him to stay for only 5 or 10 minutes then we'll have to ask him to go. Generally he leaves on his own now before we have to ask him to. So maybe setting a deadline for his departure ahead of time everytime he comes to visit?
posted by vito90 at 12:11 PM on October 5, 2009

I’m the parent of a seven year old and I very often have to deal with other people’s kids. The unspoken rule, at least in the circle of kids/parents I deal with, is that it’s within your right to discipline a child when he’s at your house and you’re In Charge. This, of course, doesn’t mean you can hit them or anything, but it’s perfectly reasonable to raise your voice or give them a time out appropriate to whatever it is they’re doing wrong. If they pull the “you’re not my parent!” thing, just suggest that perhaps you call their parent to see what they have to say about the situation. Usually they won’t call your bluff, and if they do call your bluff, then go ahead and discuss the situation with the parents.

Do you know his parents? You should, if you’re going to have their kid over your house. Discuss boundaries with them. Tell them you’re happy having him over but occasionally you need to ask him to not do something. I’m sure they’ll let you know the best way to handle things and if they’re good parents they’ll discuss it with him too. You also want to make sure there isn’t an assumption that you’re babysitting their kid and they’re not free to skip off to the dog track while he’s over your house. Of course, if you at all sense that the parents don’t like you or trust you, you’re probably better off not having their kid over your house at all.

It’s your house, you make the rules. If you don’t want him to do something, tell him. “Hey dude, if you want to keep coming over here you’re going to need to listen to me.” If he doesn’t listen, tell him he needs to go home.

The best part about dealing with someone else’s kid is you can decide you’ve had enough. When you’re done and you want him to go home, just tell him. “Ok, I have some work to do now. You’re going to have to run along but perhaps next Tuesday you can help me plant the tomatoes…” Little kids generally understand that adults have lives and sometimes need to do things without them. You’re not going to offend him by flat out telling him he has to go.

If he doesn’t respect your boundaries, then you might just have to tell him he can’t come around until he does.
posted by bondcliff at 12:12 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nice thing about little kids, you don't need to make excuses for kicking them out. However, a little advance warning can help a lot.

You could say something like, "OK, it's 1:20 now, and 1:30 is when it's time for you to go home, so that means we have 10 minutes to get all these leaves picked up!" Then, at 1:30, it's time for him to go--no explanations, no excuses: "Time to go home now, we'll do some more gardening together next week."
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:26 PM on October 5, 2009 [6 favorites]

I haven't been around kids much either, and reading this book really helped.
posted by metaseeker at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2009

Yes, the countdown is a huge help is easing transitions with kids. A simple 10 minute warning is all it takes.
posted by GuyZero at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies so far. Yes, I do know his parents. They're responsible parents, but they have four young kids and I'm sure his mom is glad to have him out of her hair once in a while.

So, the consensus is, talk to his parents--which should have been obvious I guess! I think my real question is how firm of a tone of voice I should use. I know that's probably impossible to answer over the internet, though, so that's why I didn't ask it. I just feel so uncomfortable having to correct him.
posted by HotToddy at 12:36 PM on October 5, 2009

I think your tone is less important with how you back it up. And if he's not listening to you in your own house, backing it up would be telling him he needs to go home. "I enjoy your company, but if you're not going to listen to me I will send you home." If he doesn't listen, you send him home. If he won't leave, you tell him that you're going to call his mother and then do if he still doesn't comply. Boundaries are a really important lesson for kids so even though it makes you uncomfortable, you're doing him a major service by doing this.
posted by Kimberly at 12:42 PM on October 5, 2009

7 year olds don't tend (IMO) to get their feelings hurt easily by adults saying "OK, you have to go now". He may ASK why, but he's not going think you're rude - just say "because it is, sorry, see ya tomorrow!" and send him on his cute way.
posted by tristeza at 1:00 PM on October 5, 2009

Tell him that you're tired and need to take a nap.
posted by anniecat at 1:03 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this will help at all, but many years ago I used to have neighbor kids visit my house, although in a country/culture different than my own,. Nonetheless, this technique still worked for me and I would feel comfortable doing the same here in the US.

The kids that liked to visit my house were a group of children, between the ages of 2 to 7. I told them (no smiling) that I had a set of rules -- Basic rules, but things that either drove me bananas or that I didn't want to see in my house (eg, Don't hit others, Don't say "Give me" or ask for things, etc.) and if they did this, they would be asked to leave. So if a child broke one of these rules, I just used a firm tone and said, "You need to go home now... you can come back later, but you broke the rules." They left, no crying, no complaining. I think once or twice I raised my voice, but that was it. I think you could easily implement a "respect the dog" rule or a "Don't wave objects in front of the dog", whatever.

What was even more amusing to me was that the kids started following the rules outside my house, and invoking the same rules -- they brought over the 2 year old to my door one morning and said "She hit someone else! She won't be able to come to your house, will she?" The poor 2 year old then looked down and apologized, and looked really sad.
posted by Wolfster at 1:06 PM on October 5, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Don't think of it as "correcting" him, and maybe it will get less uncomfortable. He's probably not all that familiar with the etiquette involved in visiting someone's house yet, so see your role as teaching him how to be a good guest instead of correcting him for something he should already know. There's weirdness in telling him "You shouldn't annoy my dog," but less of it in "Fido likes to be left alone." In the same vein, creating negative rules (like, "don't turn on the sprinklers") can create some of that weirdness about correcting someone. Positive rules (like, "ask for permission before turning on the sprinklers") will give him a better guide to meet your expectations. Be clear with your expectations when he first comes over for the day, not just when he violates one of the rules.

Once you have a better relationship with the kid and he learns what's expected of him you'll probably start to feel more comfortable with enforcing the rules and their consequences. Don't be afraid to be firm with him; he's expecting it from you.
posted by lilac girl at 1:09 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have a neighbor like this too. When he comes over, I say "Hi, Tommy! I'm glad you're here. We have about an hour before I have to (clean the attic, go out with my kids, do something by myself), so I'm going to send you home at 1:30." Then, toward the end of the hour I give 10- and 5-minute warnings. I help him put his shoes on and walk him partway home (or have my son go with him). For me, it's about telling him the terms of the visit and then enforcing them gently but firmly, every time.

Some things need to be made up on the fly, as they happen. If you see him bothering your dog (or about to bother her), you can say "It's a house rule that we don't whack the dog with a stick. If you do that, you have to go home right away." Be clear about what you expect and about what will happen if the rule is broken.

If you walk him home, knock on the door. Make a joke like "Hi, Billy has been helping me rake leaves. I thought you'd like him back, so he can help you too."

If there has been a problem, talk with mom later and explain what happened, how you responded and what you'd like her to do ("He's welcome, but please remind him about the don't-bother-the-dog rule"). Then, if something happens again, you're already straight with the parent about enforcement and consequences.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:16 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't hang with a lot of kids, then you probably talk to him in a more adult tone, which may be the reason he loves doing time with you. If you feel this could be the case, take full advantage of it. Appeal to his desire for being treated more like a peer and less like a baby. I mean, really... it's not like he's six anymore (which is likely the way he's treated at home).

Tell him you want to be alone if you want to be alone. If he asks you why, tell him the truth: as people get older and become more mature, they tend to value their alone-time. Explain it to him. Tell him why that is, if he wonders. He's got to learn it somehow; if it benefits your relationship, why shouldn't you be the one to tell him?

I've always found that being very direct with kids is the easiest way to interact with them; I just assume they're hanging out with an adult because they want the adult experience, so to speak.
posted by heyho at 1:18 PM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Kids appreciate being treated like people rather than some cute or annoying subspecies of human. Be honest with him: "OK, I would like you to go home now." Why? "Because I can only take a certain amount of time with other people. Maybe you have times you like to be alone & not bothered by other people? It's like that." If he shows signs of digging in: "Would you like me to take you home, or would you prefer to go by yourself?" With the stuff he shouldn't be doing, if he does it even after being told: "I asked you not to do that. You'll have to go home now. Next time, if you remember you're not supposed to do that, you can stay longer." I hope this helps. Honesty, clarity & consistency work best w kids as with adults.
posted by Nicky Diva at 1:18 PM on October 5, 2009

I also agree with the setting the limits right when he gets there and then reminding him as time goes on: "Hey, SuperKid, sure, you can hang out for an hour." Later: "What would you like to do in the half hour you have left," (Or whatever.) "We've got about 10 more minutes." Etc.

He may not have a great grasp of time, so having a watch handy or a clock he can see is a good idea. Kids don't mind these limits, generally. I used them a lot in my therapy with troubled kids, and even they got it if I was consistent. You know, you could even introduce the idea by giving him a really cheap little watch and telling him it's for monitoring your "together time." Kids LOVE this sort of thing.

You're doing a great thing. With 3 siblings, he probably is really enjoying the one-on-one with adults that are caring.
posted by thebrokedown at 1:40 PM on October 5, 2009

Dweezil, I've had a nice visit, but now I'd like to work alone.
It's easier for me to focus on my work.
As much as I enjoy your company, sometimes I like to be alone.
You've had 3 whys, and that's enough for today. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow, friend.

You have an opportunity to teach him a part of manners, which is to respect it when people don't want company, and that it's not a rejection.
posted by theora55 at 1:41 PM on October 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

I sincerely hope you have a very good relationship with the parents. I would not want my seven-year-old boy spending time with unrelated adults across the street unless I knew the parents very, very, very well.

But since you asked, I would call the parents and say it's time for Johnny to come home. Leave it up to them whether they want to come and get him or if he goes by himself. So if he asks, "Why?" the answer is mommy says you need to go home. Let her be the bad guy.
posted by teg4rvn at 1:54 PM on October 5, 2009

Best answer: You are a sweetie for being nice to this kid. He probably thinks you are totally awesome.

When you're ready for him to leave, say, "Hey [Kid], it's been fun hanging out, but I've got some things to do, and you need to go home now."
If he says "Why?"/"But I don't want to!"/"What do you need to do?"
Respond with:
"I said it's time to go home, [Kid]. It's been fun, but you've gotta go."
Any more attitude:
"Do I need to call your mom and dad and have them come get you?"

For tone: smiling, friendly, but firm. You don't need to raise your voice at all, and shouldn't. Seven is old enough to understand what you're saying. You don't need to scare him or intimidate him. Just make yourself understood.

For the doing things you don't want him to, stop him right away, and firmly. Don't smile.
"[Kid], don't wave that near the dog. Stop it right now, please."

If he doesn't stop, walk over and physically stop him, and tell him that he needs to listen to what you say, or go home. E.g.: "Can you tell me you're not going to do that anymore?" And if a "Yes" isn't immediately forthcoming, he needs to go home.

Obviously, he's enjoying spending time with you and feels close to you. He actually needs you to set limits still at this age. If his parents are cool, discuss this with them and ask them for ideas! I'm sure they want to keep up his visits for as long as possible.
posted by tk at 1:57 PM on October 5, 2009

I like everyone's answers so far, but I just wanted to chime in that it's awesome that you are so open to having this kid over. I spent a lot of time at my neighbor's house when I was a kid and it was a really great part of my childhood.
posted by radioamy at 6:34 PM on October 5, 2009

Response by poster: Well I marked some best answers, but really I think everyone is pretty much saying the same thing, so you're all the best! I appreciate your help. Thank you.
posted by HotToddy at 8:06 PM on October 5, 2009

Find some good books, and give him one every time you want to distract him.
posted by Slinga at 8:10 PM on October 5, 2009

Just wanted to add that you should actually follow up on the consequences if it comes to that point (taking him home immediately, not letting him stay over as long next time, etc.) I tend to give my little cousins (who are around the neighborhood kid's age) one chance to redeem themselves (if they look particularly distraught and upset that they broke the rule), but after that, i don't go back on my word. Sometimes kids are pretty good at faking remorse or simply look remorseful because now they have to go. (i.e., they don't always actually learn the lesson).
posted by mittenedsex at 10:08 PM on October 5, 2009

Aww, I also want to thank you for being so nice to this kid. When I was seven, I used to go over to the neighbours' all the time (Dr. and Mrs. Harrison! woo!) and just hang out. It's amazing how special a kid feels when an adult pays attention to them, especially when the adult isn't being paid to do it.

(Eventually my mother told me I was only allowed to go over every second day for half an hour. Honestly, at the time I did not clue in that Mrs. Harrison had spoken with her; my feelings were not hurt.)

I think the other advice you've gotten is great; I would just add that I wonder if you're an INTJ. INTJs sometimes feel needlessly uncomfortable around kids -- I believe it's because they hate being patronized, and so they're super-cautious not to patronize others. The thing with kids is what lilac girl said: he doesn't know how to be a good guest yet, and you are doing him a service by teaching him :-)
posted by Susan PG at 10:41 PM on October 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

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