The neighbour's screaming kids
November 4, 2013 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I live in a terrace with shared walls. My neighbours have really loud kids and scream at them a lot. Can I ask them to keep it down or does that make me a childless uncompassionate jerk? How do I do that?

I totally understand that kids make noise, I love kids, many friends of mine have boisterous kids and I'm completely fine with it, in fact the more energetic ones are my faves. These particular kids though are actually obnoxious little twerps from what I've seen outside and frankly from what I hear through the walls - they stamp through the house and throw things and scream and scream. The noise they make is outdone by their parents screaming at them. This happens most days.

Now I can take the noise, disturbing as it is, during the day, but it's the pre-7am craziness on weekends that is so full on.

They may not realise how loud they're being, and I've been mulling over asking them to try and keep it down for the past several months. But kids are kids and however loud it is in my house it's ten times louder at theirs, and I understand that parents are at their wits' ends sometimes, and honestly is there much they can do about it?

Oh but the screaming! And the floor shakes from their stamping and throwing heavy things, often at 6.30am. I've had parent friends over who've heard it too and told me that is messed up, but perhaps they are just blessed with awesome kids (they are).

Can I say something? Is it worth saying something? Am I not being understanding enough of what parents go through? Is there a way I can mention it nicely? At the time it happens or after? I've spoken to past neighbours before about stuff with happy results (well, once), but I'm not sure if it's just a dickish thing to do when the neighours have young children.

While not particularly friendly, they appear to being church-going Christian types and fairly well to do. It doesn't sound like they totally have their shit together through the walls though! But boy it's loud. I'm fine with grinning and bearing it if it is the right thing to be more tolerant of parents doing it rough, I don't know if they are doing it rough though and whether this is just their default setting. Just wondering where you guys think the line of okayness is. Thanks!
posted by mooza to Human Relations (41 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well I used to be a kid with siblings and with landlords that constantly complained of the noise. The thing is that kids will be kids, so unless the parents are no-nonsense types that the kids are afraid to cross in any way shape or form, they are going to keep having fun and playing around especially when they think mom and dad are not looking. Our landlords complained hundreds of times over the years, but it didn't stop me and my brother and cousins from playing and making a ruckus. We were too focused on our playing to think about the noise.

I would go to the parents and explain that you can hear all the screaming. They probably don't realize how thin their walls are. If nothing changes then it's on you. See what you can do to absorb the sound in your own place. Rugs on the floor help and you can also try noise cancelling head phones. I even watch tv with my wireless headphones on. I get a clearer sound and all unwanted noise is blocked out.
posted by manderin at 11:52 PM on November 4, 2013

I would go to the parents and explain that you can hear all the screaming.

Kids screaming you can't do much about. OTOH, as a parent myself, it would be a little bit embarrassing to know that my neighbors can hear ME screaming. I'd just mention it in a nice way, "I can really hear you when you scream at your kids."
posted by three blind mice at 12:04 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

The problem with mentioning something like this to people is, it usually just ticks them off --- *they* can scream at their kids all they want all day and night, but nobody else had better open their mouths!

Is there a 'neutral' party you can pass this through, so it's not obviously from you? Let their landlord know, for instance, so you can remain anonymous to your neighbors. Or, yeah: if it's that bad, make a noise complaint to the police.
posted by easily confused at 1:46 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Kids will play, yes, and it will never be completely quiet, but they do not need to scream. Nobody HAS to scream.

It sounds like saying something to these people may not have any effect, though, as they clearly have no control over their children--the children are screaming and throwing things, the parents are screaming at the kids, it sounds horrible and this is not normal behavior that you should just expect because you live near children.

You could say something to the parents as it is possible that knowing you can hear them screaming will embarass them and then they might be motivated to keep it down and parent their children. Otherwise, if it really is loud, you might be better off making a noise complaint.
posted by Polychrome at 2:08 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Let your landlord know. And start looking for a new place to live, if it bothers you excessively.
posted by empath at 2:11 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Call police, domestic disturbance. One time will probably embarrass them enough.
posted by smoke at 2:17 AM on November 5, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh my god, don't call the police to report a domestic disturbance or make a noise complaint. Being a parent is stressful enough without that sort of added bullshit.

Loud kids are loud; they won't be able to do much but they might be able to be a bit more sensitive to it. Just go over and mention nicely that you can hear them all yelling.

There's not much they'll be able to do about weekends, I imagine. I'm sure they would love to sleep past 7am if they could manage it!
posted by FrereKhan at 2:42 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

The noise they make is outdone by their parents screaming at them

This, of course, is the real cause of the problem. These people are, if your description is correct, fundamentally clueless about how to handle kids. By screaming they state an example that their kids imitate. The problem is, this is very unlikely to change only because you tell them it bothers you. They won't get it, and even if the parents would on some level, their kids wouldn't, at this point.

I probably would look for a new place (obviously depending on the local housing situation).
posted by Namlit at 2:46 AM on November 5, 2013 [17 favorites]

I would suggest that you contact your landlord and only mention the before 7am noise. Likely when you signed your lease, there was a clause mentioning loud noise and this clause said something about hours within which loud noise was okay. Before 7am is usually not okay. If this is not in the lease it is likely mentioned in your town's noise ordinance. Either way, this lets you make a complaint about the noise without sounding like someone who doesn't like kids. You'd be making the same complaint if the neighbors were in a band and practicing at 2am.

Chances are that your complaint will have no effect, but it is probably worth an attempt. I had neighbors who ran a small daycare operation and also tended to make their own kids practice piano at really early hours. We shared a wall, a thin thin wall. White noise is your friend, and moving is the only real solution.
posted by sciencegeek at 2:53 AM on November 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

You (a stranger who does not live with any kids of your own) saying something totally unsolicited that they might hear as judgmental of them as parents will not change their behavior. Guaranteed.

So they are a yelly family, and nothing like what seems normal to you. Maybe it works for them.

You calling the police for something like this, where clearly no major law is being broken, and no child is being endangered - where the officer will show up to find a two parent, respectable-looking enough family... hoo boy, that could totally backfire on you when the officer takes their side, sees you as the aggressor, and tells them which neighbor called (it happens all the time, most recently on my block.)

On preview, @sciencegeek is right about contacting the landlord and only about the pre-7am noise. "White noise is your friend" indeed.
posted by hush at 2:59 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This will not get better; you should move
posted by thelonius at 3:47 AM on November 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

Ask them to use their inside voices.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 4:31 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Encouraging people to be quiet is a good thing, I think. A note (anonymous or not, depending on how brave you're feeling) lets people know about actual things that are happening in their life space and how it's impacting on others.

Looking at it from the other side though, making children be quiet is harder than you think.

You'll have to decide what is your breaking point and go from there.
posted by h00py at 4:38 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

They are unlikely to change their overall yelliness without some counselling or similar instruction on, and much practice with, other modes of communication. But politely asking the parents if they could keep the noise down before 7am might indeed embarrass them and thus have a helpful effect for you. From your description, it sounds like they might be the sort of family to worry about appearances like that. And it is totally possible to ask for quiet hours to be maintained without coming across as judgy. Maybe test out a sample script with your other parent friends before you knock on your neighbors' door - something that focuses on communicating your need, in an achievable way, without getting into their parenting.

How old are the kids? If they are old enough, asking in a manner that demonstrates compassionate and calm communication in a conflict situation while the kids are present might also have a helpful effect.
posted by eviemath at 4:47 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

they do not need to scream. Nobody HAS to scream.

This is true, and also, nobody has to shake the floors with their noise.

I have lots of kids, and there are people who live below us, and I don't know how many times over the years I've repeated "Downstairs tenants!!" to them to remind them to be considerate.

I agree that you should talk to the parents. Tell them you empathize (obviously you do, having put up with this much so far), but wonder if they could remind the kids that the noise and vibrations carry. Ask if it would help as a signal to the kids if you knocked on the wall or something when it's really noisy.

You don't have to mention you can hear them yelling, as well; I think they'll get the idea. And if they don't, after a friendly conversation, then I would report the noise (the parents' yelling) to the landlord or the cops. Kids will be kids, yes, but there's really no reason that parents need to be screaming at them. I say this as a parent who's sometimes lost my shit, of course--but this should be rare, not a daily occurrence.
posted by torticat at 5:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Oh my God, I am in the exact same position as you - except that I own my house, so I'm not going to move.

And honestly, it's not the kids (because they're little kids. That's what they do.), it's the parents screaming back. If I were being kind, I would say that they don't realise how loud they are, but I don't think I could ever be that kind. They know exactly what they're doing, and it's no wonder the kids scream back.

The only way I have gotten them to shut up is to go in whatever room they're shouting in, and play very loud music. It shows them that, yes, really, the walls are that fucking thin, and, yes, I can hear you.

Of course, this doesn't work in all the rooms, because I'm mid-terrace, and I don't want to become the nuisance neighbour to my other neighbour. But it works wonders in the kitchen (where, as near as I can tell, they like to take crying children and then make up songs about how they're crying and they never stop).

Please don't tell me to call the police - it would be painfully obvious that we were the ones who called, and I've already had the mother come over and ask flat out rudely if I hated her family because I didn't say "hi" to her daughter while I was in my garden. Because, apparently, I am supposed to pay attention to her annoying children and answer their every fucking question rather than, y'know, enjoying my fucking garden.

I dread to think what she would do if we called the cops on her.

posted by Katemonkey at 5:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK, I'm not a parent but . . . .

I'm actually in the call-the-cops camp. Why? Because members of your neighbor's household are screaming and throwing stuff at each other. Sure, kids throw stuff, but do you know that it's the kids throwing stuff -- especially if, as you say, it sounds heavy? This sounds like a chaotic, violent household, possibly teetering right on the edge of abuse.

Err on the side of caution and call the cops. If this were a question about a childless couple screaming and throwing stuff around at 6:30 on a Saturday, these responses would be very different. Please call it in.
posted by mibo at 5:09 AM on November 5, 2013 [12 favorites]

While not particularly friendly, they appear to being church-going Christian types and fairly well to do.

Totally, completely, 100% irrelevant. They yell & scream at their kids. Their kids yell & scream.

Find out what the noise ordinances are and talk to the parents. Where I've lived 8a.m.-10p.m. are typically the legal noise-making hours - anyone who starts using their chainsaw at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, or lets their kid's garage band keep the amps on at 11:00 on a Thursday night is breaking the law. The letter of the law may not apply to kids screaming inside their own house, but the spirit of it does.

(This is what Saturday morning cartoons were made for - every kid I've known well has had a weekend morning routine where they're allowed to turn the TV on & eat cereal without making noise so their parents can sleep in.)
posted by headnsouth at 5:52 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Hi, I grew up in a Loud Family. We lived in a suburban neighborhood with tasteful suburban neighborhood yards and tasteful suburban distances between the houses. Our neighbors called us The Loud Family. We all yelled at each other all the time and it was audible even a good distance out from our house. My brother and I yelled at each other. My parents yelled at each other. We yelled at them and they yelled at us. And so on and so forth. My mom and brother both scream, which as you know, is in a completely different, awful pitch than yell.

People gossiped about us, and we'd find out sort of accidentally and my mom would feel terribly embarrassed. She dealt with this by adding a nice "DON'T YOU KNOW THAT THE NEIGHBORS CAN HEAR US!?!?!" into every screaming rant. (Sometimes, when we were staying in motels and fighting with each other, she'd add a "AND THE PEOPLE IN THE NEXT ROOM CAN HEAR US SHOUTING, SO I'M SURE THEY'RE VERY AMUSED WITH WHAT A SMARTASS YOU'RE BEING.") Never did one thing to change her behavior.

So I would like to echo thelonius above and say once again: this will not get better; you should move.
posted by phunniemee at 6:18 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Landlords are not the best arbitrators, even at their best. The 3rd party intervention go-to is often a crutch, and it usually harms our relations.

This is your neighbor, you are their neighbor - go there and talk to them. Tell them exactly what you told us. Be direct; don't worry how they may react. Your place is quiet and they don't hear you. People can be deaf to their own noise. You sound like a good natured person - they will pick up on this as well.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:46 AM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

There are things that you can change, but other people's kids aren't on that list. If it were me, I'd put it down to bad luck and look for another place. You might be able to use the excessive noise to get the landlord to let you out of the lease early.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:01 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you just deal with it? I hate dealing with loud people one-on-one but loudness is one of those things, like traffic, that I can tune out.

If these people are simply phunniemee loud - and that's what I thought from you question - try being Zen.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:15 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh gods, I feel your pain. Similar situation, except that we own, and we ain't moving.

I have had some luck by stomping down there to complain when they're being too noisy and during late/early hours. "HEY what's going on?" "HEY keep it down!" "HEY it's too early/late and we're gotta sleep for christ's sake."

As much as this seems like punishment for me as well, it's the only thing that shocks them out of self-absorption for a moment; if you wait until the episode passes to talk to them at a more reasonable hour, they've forgotten about it and/or can minimize it in their minds.
posted by desuetude at 7:43 AM on November 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Loud people either change or it gets explained to them, each time you see them, that they are living in an attached living situation, that if they want to continue living as they do, they have to get into a house.

It's a real pain in the ass to be or become willing to get into their faces about this.

First time was where the kid downstairs was completely unaware that his very shiny new amaaaaazing stereo literally made my floors shake, not to mention the noise, from the instant he got home until, well, until whenever he turned the damn thing off. He used it to watch movies, mostly, and turned the bass totally thumping, it was nuts. I knocked on his door a number of times, and saw him in the parking lot also, told him nope, you wanna do that, you either get you some headphones or you live in a house, not shared living space. It took a short while but he did stop with the noise, unhappily but hey, gotta get glad in the same pants you got mad in, kid. Along with talking with him, I have a six-pound sledge hammer, and I blasted it on my floor / his ceiling; it had to sound like the end of the world, I'm pretty sure he hated that part, it sure was effective. He kept on pushing back, it's like he thought "Hmmm, maybe tonight it'll be different, maybe tonight he won't mind his floor vibrating." Sledge hammer time. BLAMMO !! He moved on, fast.

The other was a passive aggressive woman who took it poorly when I wasn't interested in her flirting winking batting her eyes cooing and billing etc, she began to run the dishwasher all hours (exactly next to my bed, other side of 1970s built paper thin walls) and also with the stereo, and the jumping up and down -- apparently she was jumping up and down, I really don't know what it was she was doing, perhaps practicing marching band movements, or karate moves, or maybe mixed karate / marching band, no telling. But it sure sounded like she was jumping up and down. Again, total bs, and had to get into her face, again and again, which she surely was not happy about but I surely did not give a rats ass. I didn't use the sledge but I surely did pound on the walls, which, while not quite as loud as the sledge hammer, it was still plenty loud, and it got her awfully fussy. It was awkward, next door and all, but noise with shared walls just doesn't work.

In both of these cases, I had people over to listen also, to make sure I wasn't being over the top. I wasn't. Living together, we have to make allowances, let people be people; whenever two of my three neighbors gets laid I surely do know all about it, every screech and every moan, and I'm awfully glad for them, I'm all fist-pumping in their honor, doesn't bother me at all to have been awakened or whatever. It's life, I want them to get laid, they want me to get laid, it's all A-okay. They wanna watch a movie sometimes and run it loud, hey, no problem. But not every damn day and / or night and / or non-stop, they're going to hear from me.

These people you're sharing space with don't give a damn about you, they're inconsiderate as hell, and religion doesn't mean squat. And why would you put up with that jive during the daytime hours? It's just got to stop, they've got to control themselves and their kids.

If you're not willing to get into these peoples face, then you'll have to start calling the cops, which you might start doing anyways, no matter what else. And you'll have to start to get into your landlords face, and if he refuses to address it move on, fast as you possibly can, and if you have to get into his face about cutting your lease short then do it, and move on, making sure he knows that he's lost a steady tenant by his refusal to protect your peace.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:53 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I grew up in a chaotic screaming household, and I had little oversight and guidance from my overtired, workaholic/alcoholic parents.

They really did the best they could with what they had, but I can't even imagine what our neighbors must have had to endure over the years.

As a parent myself today, I rarely yell at my daughter, breaking the cycle and all.

That said, it sounds to me like you're within your rights to say something.

Their parenting "style" and/or the "lively" behavior from the neighbors and children is not your concern, but disturbing noise in your home, whether it be a stereo, power tools, or whatever, prior to 7 am in a communal living environment should be mentioned if its consistent and problematic.

The specific source of the noise isn't necessarily the issue here, but rather the presence of it at unacceptable hours.

If you were to say something, let the complaint make no mention of how they should choose to raise their children.

If I were you, I would wait until I saw them on the street and say something to the effect of:

"Good day, I wanted to let you know that the noise from your place is really out of control early weekend mornings. I do like to sleep in on the weekends at least until a reasonable hour, but I haven't been able to for several weeks/months/since you moved here. I would really appreciate it if things could be a bit quieter over there until at least 8am/9am, etc."

This way you don't even address the kids or screaming, and by proxy, their parenting. They know what the cause of the noise is, but for all you're mentioning it could be a stereo or TV.

I would also try to be Zen and calmly prepare myself for nothing to change, but at least I will know I did something about a problem that's been bothering me for quite some time.
posted by Debaser626 at 7:59 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would talk to the landlord because you're thinking of moving because of your neighbors and the landlord will have to deal with finding a new tenant and possibly a new tenant after that if the next tenant is miserable living next to the loud family.

I empathize though. I think that I've become more sensitive to noise in my old age. I also lived below a neighbor who, from what it sounded like, thought it was appropriate to set up a bowling alley in his home at 3 a.m. one evening.
posted by kat518 at 8:07 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

See a lawyer. They are abusing you. The adults should be capable of giving the kids a quiet time out when they make noise so early.

I would ask the lawyer for specific language to use when confronting them AT THE TIME they are making the noise. IANAL but I'd guess it would be something like "your noise at 6:30 am is interfering with my quiet enjoyment of my home".
If you are in a one party recording state then do so, a smartphone in a shirt pocket should do the trick.

If it persists, then get a sound engineer to set up measuring devices, and give an estimate on what soundproofing would be needed to be added to their apartment (or both) to mitigate the noise.
Next event, hand them the soundproofing requirements, and ask them to let you know within a week when they will have their side installed. What to say when you do is something to go over with your lawyer.

If they do gain control over their shouting and their kid's noise then soundproofing would not be necessary, hopefully showing that you are serious and are willing to sue them over it would be enough to make them change.

If I, an internet stranger came to your door door at 6:30 on the weekend and started screaming "I don't care that you want to sleep cause I just enjoy making noise" you probably would not hesitate to call the cops, especially if it was every weekend. I don't think the fact that they live next door makes that behavior acceptable.
posted by Sophont at 8:36 AM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing calling the police and reporting a domestic dispute. Do it again and again, until these clueless folks get help and change their parenting style.

What you describe sounds dysfunctional/abusive, even of others don't realize this here.

If you call it in, your neighbors won't know if it is the tenant above, below, either side, or across the way that's calling in the domestic dispute.

Let me be clear - excessive yelling at minors IS abuse. Call it in to the police as a domestic dispute. Please.

Thank you.
posted by jbenben at 9:22 AM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Parents are responsible for making sure that their kids don't unduly disturb others, both in public and towards neighbors. It's completely okay to complain, just do it tactfully and reasonably, and it's probably better to communicate with your neighbors directly, at least at first.
posted by Blitz at 9:29 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your request is reasonable, but don't call the police or the landlord before you haven't contacted them directly. Start by writing them a short letter explaining that you can hear them and their kids screaming and asking whether it would be possible to tone it down a little, especially in the mornings. No need to be very wordy or overly nice about it, just a calm, neutral non-passive aggressive tone is appropriate. No threats of police or landlord. Do sign it with your name and apartment number.

If nothing changes, you can contact the landlord or even the police.
posted by tecg at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you own, invest in soundproofing. I used to live in a walk-up apartment in NYC that was basically a converted tenement. I spent about $2000 to soundproof the ceiling and party wall. Totally worth it. No tv sounds, no overheard telephone conversations, no footsteps.

Rugs and acoustic tiles don't cut it. You need to put up a wall and a drop ceiling that hang on furred channels so the sound waves can't travel through beams. You don't lose more than a couple of inches of space.

And also a polite conversation is warranted here. Your language simply has to imply that you know they're not being deliberately annoying or malicious (ex: I'm sure you don't realize it or I understand that young kids can be a handful). Always try a polite conversation first. And come with some practical solutions.
posted by brookeb at 10:58 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Omg please don't call the police. I can't believe how many people are reccomending this! This will get CPS involved. If the parents are already at the end of their rope with yelling (which it sounds like they are) they surely don't need the pressure of keeping the kids super quiet 24/7 so the neighbors don't try and have their kids removed. Think worst case scenario out of that police call: kids are far more likely to be abused in state care and yelling, although not ideal, isn't top of the child abuse list.
Why not mention it to them yourself politely? They might be embarrassed enough to pipe down. If not, moving to a residence without shared walls might be ideal.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 12:16 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

You are 100% within your rights to ask this family to keep it down; I say this as someone who works with children and families all day every day. As others before me have said, you've hit upon the real cause when you say, "The noise [the children] make is outdone by their parents screaming at them." These kids aren't going to quiet down until they have a better example set for them. I would recommend going to your landlord first and emphasizing the fact that the noise is starting before 7am and sounds like screaming and throwing things rather than talking/laughing/yelling/playing.
posted by epj at 12:24 PM on November 5, 2013

A couple things:
1. Blame it on the walls. Say to the neighbors - gosh, you wouldn't believe how thin the walls are here. I hear the kids all the time. Just be aware!
2. That might mute the parental shouting to some degree, but it will do nothing with the kids.

Ultimately, you're going to have to grin and bear it, hope they move, or move yourself.

Edit - I'm usually nice about stuff here, but calling police is flatly ridiculous.
posted by cnc at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

How excessive/unreasonable it would be to call the police is depends considerably on where you live, the expectations in the neighborhood for the police, and how you make your complaint. I live in an urban neighborhood and can say that calling the police with a noise complaint might be considered a little prissy by some, but justified if it's an ongoing problem, and it's flatly ridiculous to imagine that CPS would be automatically alerted for mouthy parents with loud kids.

Mind you, I don't advise calling the police to complain about their parenting style, just the noise at inappropriate hours. You say something like "it's 6 am and there's screaming and hollering and banging around over there AGAIN and they don't do anything when I ask them or tell them to keep it down."
posted by desuetude at 1:06 PM on November 5, 2013

Start making loud sex noises the parents can hear during any quiet spells. Do that a few times and it might make them realise how thin the walls are. If you are the confrontational sort recording the noise and playing back might work.

I only suggest these because as others have said nothing much is going to work, maybe complaining to the landlord about the early morning noise might make them quieten down for a bit, but it really sounds like the kids are just copying the parents. I know it sounds glib but moving is probably the best option.
posted by wwax at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

"calling police is flatly ridiculous"

Amen. On these facts, it's obvious the OP does not think these kids ("obnoxious little twerps") are in any clear and present danger from their parents. If you heard people getting slapped, if you saw bruises, if you saw young kids left unattended, etc then that would be a different story entirely, and worth the risk of intervening.

Folks, your hearts are in the right place, but in America today Calling The Police is never a zero sum game where the caller's identity will always be protected like a state secret. It should be, because we want folks to call when they see and hear people actually being abused and neglected.

So the OP calls. The police will get there, see that there are no bruises on anyone, see that everything looks to be in order, and then (irritated, seeing no emergency, finding out this is the first they've heard about your issue?) could say something like, "Your buddy Mike down the hall called us, he says he has a problem with the noise you're making" - once they're gone... in response, something like this could go down, where the angry neighbor dad who thinks you tattled on him to the cops for no legitimate reason comes back to have a little "chat" with you:

From a NYT story "When Do You Call The Police?" by Lisa Belkin on 3 Feb 2009, comment 70 from Gail:"I called the police once when I was staying in a hotel with thin walls. I could clearly hear a family fighting in the next room. There was lots of shouting, swearing, slapping and then some banging, which to me sounded like one of the kids being pounded against the headboard of the bed. I called the hotel front desk and the police. I could even hear the conversation between the police and the father who answered the door when they arrived. The father said he and his wife were trying to get the two little kids ready for a wedding, and the kids were “acting up.” The police then spoke to me, and told me that because there were no visible bruises or cuts on the kids, they could not make an arrest. This was in Charlottesville, VA. After the police left, I heard the father come out of his room and stand just outside my hotel room door. I looked out the peephole, and I could see a VERY angry and large man with his hands on his hips debating whether to deal with ME next! I was with my young daughter. My husband was downstairs complaining that no arrest had been made. I called the front desk, and demanded to be moved to a new room UNDER ESCORT OF HOTEL SECURITY. I’ll never stay there again, and if you want to beat your kid, feel free to do so in Charlottesville, VA. The police there don’t give a damn."

And back to the OP now, the kicker is - no behavior change: the noise persists. You can't win by trying to change these neighbors.
posted by hush at 1:32 PM on November 5, 2013

Posting on behalf of my father (a Mefi lurker and retired police officer):

"The CPS concerns are utter rubbish. If you call the police and say that your neighbours are being noisy, then the complaint is strictly in the noise violation territory, right next to loud parties and barking dogs. The only way that the situation will be treated as a domestic disturbance is if you specifically report it as such. Most of the time, noise complaints are solved with a warning or a fine. If the officer walks up to the door and hears the loud noises in progress, they'll usually fine the occupants. $100 or so is enough to convince most people to quiet down.

I seriously recommend against taking the 'friendly neighbour' route with people who seem to be aggressive, and yelling at your children continuously is pretty aggressive. Not necessarily because they'll be violent, but because people who are used to using extreme language to control others generally do so whenever they get irritated or don't get their way. Your complaints could be seen as an irritant, which will prompt them to start yelling at you. Since there are consequences for yelling at a police officer, it would be in your best interests to let them handle it."
posted by Shouraku at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Every time I've tried the nice neighbor route, it ends up backfiring on me because from then on every complaint is assumed to be from me, instead of all the other neighbors who didn't try to interact with them and just called the cops.

I now have a prepaid cellphone specifically for calling the cops on noise complaints.* That might seem excessive, but I would rather know I can call to complain without worrying about my car being keyed or people lying in wait to talk to me about it (read scream at me for daring to think that four in the morning on a Tuesday is not magic disco funtime hour) than not.

*the year I spent living next to the family of schizophrenic alcoholic drug addicts left me with some strange souvenirs.
posted by winna at 3:34 PM on November 5, 2013

To add on to what Shouraku said above, calling the police isn't going to send CPS if you simply call with a noise complaint. Frankly, calling the police is probably going to do jack shit if you live in a large city with real problems, but hey, it's worth a shot.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:44 PM on November 5, 2013

Response by poster: Dudes, I am totally not calling the cops, the kids are fine, they have lovely sweet times in the backyard too, they're just (in my view) bratty, and the parents deal with it by screaming or buying them more expensive toys to smash. We live in a nice neighbourhood. We rent, they own. We're not leaving due to the out of control rental situation in our town.

I will knock on their door and have a quiet word. It's really important to me to find a way to phrase it so that if they're stressed parents it doesn't seem like I'm judging or telling them how to raise their kids because I understand it is very hard. So any sample scripts for this I would really appreciate.

Thanks everyone! Your stories of crazy neighbour situations are a good reminder that things aren't that bad at my house :)
posted by mooza at 3:49 PM on November 5, 2013

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