neighbor toddler tantrums
February 17, 2011 7:45 AM   Subscribe

My new neighbor's toddler throws constant tantrums. Can I say something?

I live in an apartment building, and while I haven't noticed the walls being paper-thin before, my new neighbor's toddler's tantrums come right through the walls. They have a three bedroom apartment (I have a one bedroom) and they chose to put their toddler's bedroom adjacent to mine when they moved in. It has become a regular occurrence for me to be woken up early in the morning by a screaming child, and for more screams to come any time they leave the apartment, and at random times during the day.

The tantrums seem to me like more than what a normal child would go through, and I fear that there is something developmentally wrong with the kid. Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?

I should note that in the past I had an issue with construction noise coming from their apartment when they were moving in, and it was resolved with a pleasant conversation.
posted by soy_renfield to Human Relations (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?

Your involvement begins and ends with the noise coming into your apartment, not with the child's development. You are allowed to speak with them about possible moving the child's bedroom, but you are not allowed to speak to them about their child's welfare.
posted by Think_Long at 7:48 AM on February 17, 2011 [34 favorites]

You need to be VERY delicate about this, ESPECIALLY if their child has developmental issues. "Look, this is really really awkward, and I feel really uncomfortable bringing this up, and do not want to offend or hurt you in any way, but the walls are very thin."

I think it's fair to ask them to put up some kind of sound deadening wall hanging on the wall that faces you. You should do the same.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:52 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

The tantrums seem to me like more than what a normal child would go through, and I fear that there is something developmentally wrong with the kid. Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?

No, there's not. You might be right, but there are some toddlers that are just like that and grow out of it. The best bet is pleasant conversation about noise, possibly switching bedrooms.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

soy_renfield: "The tantrums seem to me like more than what a normal child would go through, and I fear that there is something developmentally wrong with the kid. Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?

No. Mind your own business.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding Think-Long's advice about distinguishing between neighbor issues and parenting issues.

Surely the parents are aware that their child is having tantrums, and surely they are aware of whether their child is having an abnormal number of them (indeed, they probably know more about this than you do).

You are, however, entitled to complain about the noise, and to suggest moving the bedroom.
posted by willbaude at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mention you're being awakened and disturbed by the child's screaming.

Do not mention anything about development delays or behavior.

Some toddlers have a hard time with transitions. One of Toddler Zizzle's friends loses it on a daily basis when it's time to leave daycare. Then she loses it when it's time to stop playing on the sidewalk and get on the bus. She just has a hard time with transitions, and if you see her in those moments, she would appear to be a badly behaved child. But she's not. She's very well behaved with the exception of this.

There's also a HUGE difference between a toddler who just turned 2 and a toddler who is 3 and a half. Without knowing how the old child is and how the child is developing otherwise, you cannot make any judgments on whether this is "normal" toddler behavior or not. And unless you have any training in the field of child development, work with children on a regular basis, or otherwise interact with large populations of children, you do not have any basis on which to make such claims.

And it may be there is something going on with the kid and the parents are handling it under the advice of doctors and/or other appropriate trained professionals. You don't know.
posted by zizzle at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

Oh, if you want to be a real sport, offer to buy the wall covering for them.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2011

Response by poster: @Think_Long

I guess my wording was a little fuzzy. I am in no way looking to talk to them about their kid's developmental issues. I am only concerned with the noise. I was just noting that I think it might be a contributing factor.
posted by soy_renfield at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2011

I think if you say something like, "How is little Johnny feeling today? He didn't sound very well." that can be seen as neighborly, and you'll get the info you need in order to decide if it's too noisy of a place to stay longterm. Also, do you talk to your neighbors?

I'm assuming you want to know this info so you can decide if you want to move or if the toddler will phase out of this.
posted by anniecat at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2011

I have a baby, and we live in an apartment. For this reason (among a few others, but honestly, primarily this reason), we don't allow him to "cry it out" ( a sleep train method where you basically let a baby cry for hours at a time to train them to go to sleep ). We also consciously put his nursery that shares a wall with the neighbors garage/storage room rather than the opposite neighbor's bedroom. It doesn't help with the upstairs neighbor, but it's the best we could do. Apartment dwellers have an obligation to at least TRY to make things better for their neighbors.

There are a few things they can do to minimize noise in their toddlers room, if for whatever reason, they're unable to move it to another room.

I would say something to them in a nice, funny way at first, maybe just to test the waters. If the toddler is throwing tantrums constantly, it's probably a lot worse for the parents than it is for you, so confrontation might make them 1000x more upset. If you alluded to being able to hear the toddler cry, that might shame them enough into thinking about possible solutions.

If that doesn't work, and you're at your wits end, say "You probably don't realize this, but my bedroom and your toddler's bedroom share a wall and I can hear everything that goes on in there at all hours of the morning." They might be mad, they might get defensive, they might hate you, but if they're the least bit human, they'll figure out a solution.

If that still doesn't work, as a total last resort, I would go to your management company (unless you own...then i guess you're screwed) and ask them to move you to a different unit.

You are NOT being a jerk. You aren't the one who choose to have a kid, you shouldn't have to deal with the sleep deprivation that goes along with it. (This coming from a VERY sleep deprived new mom!) Good luck!
posted by katypickle at 7:56 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

If they've moved in recently and done some construction, that's a stressful time for the child, and he may be waking up screaming because the space is still unfamiliar to him. And then, certain ages are more prone to waking up crying than others.

I wouldn't bring up a potential developmental problem based on through-the-walls listening. Not because you're necessarily wrong, or that I might not wonder the same thing if a child were tantruming several times a day, but parents get defensive when even pediatricians/preschool teachers/grandparents suggest things like this, let alone neighbors.

Anyway, I would couch it in terms of its effect on you, rather than on your concern for the child's development; let them know that his room is adjacent to yours and that when he wakes up unhappily, it wakes you, too, and see what can be done. Some potential solutions might be: their switching rooms; their putting a monitor in his room so that they hear his little whimperings, before the full-blown screaming; their waking up earlier than his usual wake time so that they can get to him before he gets so loud.
posted by palliser at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2011

Many kids go through phases where they will throw tantrums like this all the time. And then just stop. Yes, there are things the parents can do to make it better or worse, but I seriously doubt that there is anything developmentally wrong with the kid.

Deal with the real problem only -- the fact that you're being woken up early by noise. How often do you cross paths with the parents? When you do, you can be all conversational-like: "Ho ho ho, that's quite a cute kid you've got there. Sometimes I hear tantrums and it makes me wonder how on earth you manage!"

If they don't get the hint, then you can explore other options (maybe sleep with earplugs in the meantime, they save my sanity nightly). But odds are the kid will grow out of it before you have time to fix anything.
posted by hermitosis at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

>>The tantrums seem to me like more than what a normal child would go through<>
LOL, I have 5 of them, and I can tell you with authority... when it comes to toddlers, abnormal is when they are awake and quiet. I would not feel bad about telling them that their kid is keeping you awake.
posted by brownrd at 7:58 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a parent of a toddler, this is rough on them as well. What may be a short term annoyance hopefully though will resolve itself as the toddler eventually learns that a tantrum will not solve their problems. I can probably placate my toddler every time he tantrums, but the end effect of that rewards bad behavior, extends the tantrum period and makes a brat of anadoleacent.

If its really bad on a given day, let them know, let them know you understand, and yeah the occasional aquiessence to the tantrum for the neighbor's sake is needed.

Warning: your neighbor may not bead reasonable and understanding as me, and may get mad and angry at you for telling them how to raise their kid.

Toddlers are a tough age for everyone and the parents have less control over the noise from a toddler than they do over construction equipment.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:02 AM on February 17, 2011

Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?

No. A child crying is not construction noise or a loud stereo or a dog barking.

No doubt the parents are as unhappy about this as you are and if they could do something about it - stop the construction, turn down the stereo, put down the dog - they would, but none of those options works with children.
posted by three blind mice at 8:05 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

As a parent of four and foster parent of thirteen over the years, I can say that tantrums are pretty normal. Bad parenting can fail to deal with tantrums effectively, for sure, and can even encourage them. Depending on how you complain, you could actually make the tantrum problem worse. Let me explain

Thing is, it's a battle out there for parents of young children, and the children know exactly when terrain gives them the tactical advantage.

Kids throw tantrums because they work. Making a lot of noise is often the child's only leverage over the superior power of parents, and they count on the parent being willing to give in (or, often just as good for the kid, substitute an alternative positive outcome) to make the noise stop. Being in a place where noise is stressful not only to the parents but to other strangers gives kids an added tactical advantage.

The only effective way to deal with a tantrum is some symbolic separation (e.g. Moving them across the room to the "Approved Tantrum Spot." and then going about your business in view, but not engaged), occasional reassurance ("When you are calm, I will be happy to come talk to you. Not ready? Okay. I'll be working right here until you are ready.") and then just sit through the screaming until the child is convinced (s)he is not going to get results that way.

Any attempts to engage, control, negotiate with, or soothe the child are just positive feedback which will encourage the tantrum. Responding with a matter of fact neutral tone and waiting it out is the only way.

Being in an apartment means not having any really good place to do the proper procedure. By complaining, you may actually increase the child's tactical advantage, thus increasing the likelihood that tantrums remain a successful strategy for the child.

Sure, it's worth a discussion about noise and alternative locations for the "Approved Tantrum Spot" so that it's not right over your bed, etc. But you might benefit by considering yourself as part of the parent's team here. You both want the tantrums to stop, right?

Of course, if you have any evidence of real abuse. Report that right away. Safety first, right?
posted by cross_impact at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2011 [9 favorites]

Previously. And once more. The consensus on AskMe seems to trend towards "They are aware the child is loud, and probably a bit self-conscious about it (if they are decent people). Maybe ask politely about relocating the child's room, or adding soundproofing, but there is a limit to what can be done in apartment/condo living; such are the trade-offs of urban living. If you are really unhappy about it, move."
posted by misterbrandt at 8:27 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?
No hell no. You can't possibly win here.
posted by Blake at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2011

In early toddlerhood, my son had a drop-down-to-the-floor-kicking-and-screaming tantrum. One in which his kicking propelled him, head-first into a corner where he stopped forward motion but continued to kick and scream. Because I have a home policy of not negotiating with terrorists, I ignored him. Total time: 45 minutes. Perfectly normal. Much to my dismay.

So yeah, agree with the others.
posted by plinth at 8:41 AM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Sigh. I was that toddler’s parent three years ago. When the neighbours came to us complaining that they couldn’t sleep and asked us to do something about the wall, we sold our condo to the first bidder in a very bad market and moved to a house with no neighbours.

There was no other solution, quite honestly. Not in our case, anyway. We hated having to do it, but realized they were right and it would be better for all concerned.

Confirming what others have said, many toddlers are a nightmare between ages 1.5 and 3. As a parent you just have to go on autopilot till it’s over. It’s incredibly frustrating to deal with, particularly as you’re constantly aware that your neighbours are witnessing what appears to them to be your inability to control this, especially as you can’t take the most efficient route, which is to ignore the tantrum till the child learns it’ll get nowhere by throwing a fit (as cross_impact explains so eloquently).

In your case, I wouldn’t be upset if you came over and said something like, “I don’t know if you’re aware but the walls are fairly thin between our two bedrooms. I really hate to bring this up as I’m sure it’s hard enough as it is, but would it be possible to move your child’s crib to a room that doesn’t adjoin my bedroom, just till they’re a little older?”

Also mention that they should feel free to let you know if you ever bother them, for example when you play music or have a party… Tell them you don’t really know how much sound travels the other way…

Good luck!
posted by Dragonness at 8:47 AM on February 17, 2011

How about trying one of these sleep sound machines which might mask the noise enough to avoid the awkward conversation? I've used it for years to effectively drown out the noises of urban living. Depends how loud the noise is though.
posted by iamscott at 8:47 AM on February 17, 2011

Data point: my little brother had tantrums roughly every .05 seconds growing up. They stopped when he was about 16. He's a happy, well-adjusted, honest, kind, good-looking, contributing member of society now. Some kids are just EXTREMELY fussy.

Something I have done in the past is engage the toddler/parents in (friendly) conversation when passing in the apartment building hallways. (On occasion I have waited by the door listening intently in order to orchestrate these "coincidental" bumping in-tos.)

And then I'll make exaggerated baby talk with the toddler.* "How ARE you today, little guy?! I really like your cool shoes! Is that a TOY TRUCK!? I LOVE toy trucks! Did we have a bit of an early morning today?! Yes, we did! Yes, we did!"

To which the parent usually looks up and says, "oh, I'm so sorry about that."

To which I reply, "oh, that's ok. These walls are SO THIN. Some things just can't be helped."

So, you're 1) friendly, 2) alerting them to the problem, 3) saying that you're "ok with it" in a way that shows that no, you're not really ok with it so please try to be a little quieter, even though we know you can't really do a whole lot about it.

*It helps that I am a girl with an extremely non-threatening face. If you are a dude or have perpetual AngryFace, the talking-to-someone-else's-kid thing may not fly.
posted by phunniemee at 8:54 AM on February 17, 2011

This is such a difficult situation with no good answer. You have every right to not want to be woken up in the middle of the night by a screaming toddler, but there's also likely not much the parents can do about it, other than move out. And dealing with his screaming is much more of a problem for them than it is for you.

If I were in your situation, before I went to talk to them about it, I'd try really hard to mitigate the noise on my side of the wall. At least try a noise machine, earplugs, or maybe some soundproofing. That way, when/if you do have to talk to them, you can say that you've tried all sorts of things to try to work around it, but it hasn't helped, and can they please switch his room to a different one. That way, you don't sound like a jerk, but someone who is trying to be understanding and work with them.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2011

Very little kids are often very lousy roommates (and neighbors.) Just part of the package.

As annoying as this is to you as an adult, especially as a neighbor and not a parent, it may be good to remember that when you were that age, you were undoubtedly just as troublesome to someone else. Maybe not your neighbors through the thin walls, but I guarantee that someone had to grit their teeth through the tantrums you threw.
posted by Sublimity at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2011

Yeah, it sucks for everybody.

If there's something specific you need, the parents might be able to accommodate you, like "I know it's nearly impossible to keep a toddler quiet, and the walls are so thin here, but at ____ time I will be doing ___ activity that requires quiet, and if possible I'd really appreciate it if you could try to take Toddler out or have him be quiet during that time. Thanks."
posted by chickenmagazine at 9:20 AM on February 17, 2011

Before you spend any money, I think you should talk to them about the noise. They have a large apartment, and maybe one of the other bedrooms would be less of an inconvenience not only for you but the surrounding neighbors as well.

One would think they will be willing to work with you on this. I don't think your request is unreasonable. Without knowing anything other than what you've written here, the solution would be to put the kid's bed away from neighbors' walls and for them to buy some sort of noise muffler.
posted by vincele at 9:24 AM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

For god's sake, say something about the noise.

If they had a dog that barked incessantly, you wouldn't even ask the question.
posted by brand-gnu at 9:51 AM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

is there any way for me to bring this up without being a total jerk?
No. Some totally fine and normal kids enter their 3-years screaming phase with such aplomb that you can't be sure even about your analysis above. It sucks for the parents most of all. A complaining neighbor is the last thing they need, and you know, they won't be able to do diddly squat about the situation, apart from drugging the kid or something. But it sucks, I know.
posted by Namlit at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2011

YES, you can bring this up!

Look, I'm with katypickle here. We're about to have our first child and we put up sound deadening board (upholstered in an attractive fashion) and extra rugs on the stone floor, etc. etc. to get our bedroom ready. We'll be in an apartment for the first six months, and that's what nice neighbors do. I would NOT be angry if you asked me to add some simple soundproofing solutions to the room my child inhabits if I hadn't done so already, because every time he cried, I'd be upset thinking about the disturbance anyway.

But that's how my family rolls.

Your story that a simple convo about construction noise in the past was positive leads me to believe you can work with these neighbors directly. They may not know about sound deadening board ($10 for a 4'x8' sheet at Home Depot, easy to cut with a carpet knife!) or acoustic tiles, or that even putting a few bookcases on the adjoining wall will do wonders - but maybe you can enlighten them.

The techniques they want to google are the same used for stopping echo in sound booths during recording -or- soundproofing for makeshift band practice rooms, like garages or basements.

In my apartment, we realized the most helpful thing was to decorate with stuff that would help baffle the sound to keep the sound vibrations (noise) from strongly traveling through the wall we share with the neighbor next door. Again - rugs, pretty upholstered wall hangings that absorb noise, book cases, etc.

I wish you luck because I lived somewhere that a family was allowed to noise-terrorize all their neighbors and it was completely unnecessary. I think it is OK to bring common courtesy about this issue back into the vernacular.

(On direct approach, I'd probably just tell them what my experience has been and ask if the have rugs, or maybe plush furniture etc. in that space to help curb the sound transference.

I'd frame it as... "I know you must have your hands full with a toddler, but maybe if we can't solve this together we can get the landlord to add soundproofing inside the wall between our two units - what do you think?"

Ideally, they switch the toddler's room. But don't suggest that yourself!)
posted by jbenben at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sure these tantrums suck for the parents, but they made a decision to have a baby and deal with the consequences that came with that.

You, on the other hand, didn't have a say and it's unfair that your own life should be disrupted by their inability to resolve (or reduce) the impact that these tantrums are having on those around them.
posted by mr_silver at 11:15 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Phunniemee: "...Did we have a bit of an early morning today?! Yes, we did! Yes, we did!"

If you need to talk to me, please address me. I'm a parent, and I don't ever want to inconvenience my neighbors, but it would annoy me if you were trying to convey important information to me by addressing it to another person in my hearing, and make me less interested in hearing you out.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Hey look. I'll phrase it another way. Go ahead complain. Call the cops if they don't respond. If the parent doesn't set you straight over your complaint, the cops will. The cops will also back up your noise complaint though - despite the fact that they will probably let you know how out of line your lack of empathy is.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2011

Also, while you may think this is a human relations topic, its far more of a science and nature question. It isn't the parents that are making the kid scream, and the only thing that will come out of this is ticked off parents with a kid who still screams.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:30 AM on February 17, 2011

Having been on both ends of this issue, I'll just add (as others may have) that having a conversation with the parents is a great idea--just not while the tantrum is occurring.
posted by GPF at 12:07 PM on February 17, 2011

The issue isn't the child - it's the walls! You didn't mention whether you own or rent but maybe you can have a conversation with your neighbors about some practical physical solution to the problem (soundproofing like a vinyl barrier is often a cheap and incredibly effective solution, rearranging furniture like bookcases against the shared wall also helps).

The other point to keep in mind is that this toddler is probably in a "difficult phase", these tend to last 1-2 years max (hopefully!). If you can stick it out, play some music during the tantrums, you might get through this with your sanity, while staying on good terms with your neighbors.
posted by smithsmith at 12:32 PM on February 17, 2011

they chose to put their toddler's bedroom adjacent to mine when they moved in

"Honey? Which room is Mikey's?"
"Put him next to the neighbour's bedroom."
"That's a great choice!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:56 PM on February 17, 2011

This isn't about them or their screaming kid. This is about noise from their apartment disrupting your sleep and impacting your life negatively.

I have two young kids who, thankfully, didn't go through prolonged tantrums or screaming fits.

Don't even bring up the cause of the noise, just bring up the fact that the noise is directly affecting your ability to get sleep. You have every right to expect to be able to sleep in your own apartment.
posted by fenriq at 3:16 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are their neighbor, not their friend, yes? So you interact as a neighbor ("I wanted to let you know about this sound issue, and maybe we can brainstorm some ways of addressing it as neighbors") not as a friend ("I'm wondering if you need help with what's going on with Johnny").

So one of the children who was once my egg had a significant tantrum phase when he was four or five, and the neighbors called CPS* because--well, because I have no idea why, but maybe his having two dads and no mom might have been part of it--and I can tell you that his dads were NOT happy to deal with the bureaucracy around the whole CPS visits, and would have been much happier to talk with the neighbor about his legitimate concerns around noise. After that, their attitude about noise vis-a-vis said neighbor was far more "Fuck him and his CPS-calling stupidface self" rather than "How can we help our neighbor enjoy a reasonable level of quiet." So not only is it not helpful to engage about the child's behavior, it is probably counterproductive for you on a pragmatic level.

*Note: Said kid is off-the-charts gifted and socially very well adjusted, he just had a lot of tantrums when he was four or five. Different kids just have different stuff going on in their development.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:16 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for all of your helpful responses. I'll lay a few things out.

1. No one is calling the cops, CPS, the FBI, NSA, or anyone else. I'm not crazy, people...
2. I own, so moving is not a good option.
3. @obiwanwasabi - I'm sure they did this unwittingly, but they still made a choice.

I think I probably will talk to them, not while the tantrum is happening, and I will suggest soundproofing on both sides of our shared walls.

Thanks again!
posted by soy_renfield at 7:27 AM on February 18, 2011

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