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There are some neighborhood kids (3 to 4 children, ages 5-8) who are apparently bored after school and roam the block looking for people and things to play with. They recently found my home as my child is one of the classmates of one of these children, and basically swarmed my yard, taking toys out of the garage and playing (wildly). We keep our garage door closed even when home, but we were outside this first encounter, and in the future, I will keep the garage closed even when working or playing outside.

I understand this is what kids do, to an extent. I was struck by the brazenness with which they assumed all items they could see were available for their own entertainment without asking permission even once.

With that initial encounter, my house is now one of the regular stops on their trips around the block looking to reduce their boredom, even to the point of knocking on my door to ask if my child can come out and play.

I know, this is Cosby show material; everyone wants to be a good host to the neighborhood kids. However, they can sometimes be too much to handle. I don't feel comfortable with them playing in my yard unsupervised, so I have to stop whatever I'm working on to keep an eye on them. They've nearly destroyed a few of my child's toys already.

I have a pretty set routine/schedule with my spouse and child, working on homework, cooking dinner, spending family time together, etc., and so the disruption is unsettling to me. I know these kids' names from my child, as they all go to the same school, but I do not know where they live, nor have I met their parents.

I do know they have limits to how far they are allowed to roam, but it seems like they have no other limits. I've told them (honestly), at various times, that my child is doing homework or eating supper, and cannot come out to play, so they hang out in the yard, waiting for him to be done. I have informed them that if none of our family are outside, that my child is not available to play, but if we are outside, there is no problem to play. But despite that, they keep knocking on the door and ringing the doorbell within minutes of being told that the time is not a good one.

I am in Texas, USA in a medium-sized city.

What is the best way to convince these children that we prefer they play when my family initiates a play time? I don't want to disappoint them or be grumpy or mean. I don't want to upset them such that their parents come find me and express their anger about how I treat their children. I just want to have my quiet home where I can work and play on my own terms, and not having to be a babysitter for children who are poorly behaved around others and who only occasionally heed my instruction.

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Based on your end goals, there are a couple ways to deal with this.

If you are alright with your child playing with these kids over the long term, I would say that you should plan a dinner. Since you said you don't know the parents, ask the kids to ask their parents to come by sometime to meet you. Tell them it's so that you can plan dinner to get to know everyone.

This method could gain your kid some lifelong friends, and make school a WHOLE lot easier to deal with.

This will set a ball rolling that will be hard to stop if you decide you don't want your child to associate with these kids (which is a whole other ball of yarn, and the reasons that I would recommend against doing that are too long to get into here), so be sure you can handle opening your family to new people

This first visit should just a be a nice get together and not to address the issues. Try to get some phone numbers or other points of contact.

Then if the issues arise again, you now can contact the parents directly.

Of course, talking to parents about problems with their children is very tough and can go very badly, so never get emotion involved. Say things like

"Johnny (or whatever) came by today, and it was really nice to see him, but I just wanted you to be aware that he went into my garage and almost broke some of our property. This has happened a few times now, and I just thought you might want to be aware of it. Thanks for listening!"

(I could see even this backfiring badly, so maybe someone else will come by and give a better script).

If you want to just maintain your status quo, then you WILL need to talk to the kids and establish clear boundaries. You could start by saying,

"Hey guys, I'm really happy that you want to play with [child's name], but I don't feel comfortable you going onto our property without our permission. If you guys got hurt over here, I would be personally liable, and I would feel so bad. I am worried about your safety, as well as the possibility of my property being damaged. In the future, could you call us to ask if it is alright to come over? Here is my number [hand each kid a paper/card with your name and number]. Does that make sense to you?"

(With the age range, this COULD be a bit too much, and over their heads. I've met kids that would understand this, but you should modify this quote to fit what you know about these kids)

You should then listen to their response (the same as you would with an adult).

I have found that treating children the same as adults makes them WANT to be more responsible to live up to that respect. Not always of course, but far more often than not in my experience.

If that doesn't work, I would recommend getting in touch with the parents. You can contact the school with the names of the children to get this information.

Personal Opinions Regarding this quote: "I have a pretty set routine/schedule with my spouse and child, working on homework, cooking dinner, spending family time together, etc., and so the disruption is unsettling to me."

I believe that comfort is the true opiate of the masses. You are comfortable with the way things are, and now there is a change. Your kid is pretty young, so you should buckle up for MANY more disruptions. Might as well start getting used to it now.

I would personally just let my kid go out and play with them. Eating times can be very flexible, and homework can be done before or after playing. The long term benefits of making friends and interacting with ones own age group are very important. Of course, you also need clear boundaries and rules for your child. Balancing these two issues can be difficult.

Do not feel bad about disregarding this opinion, only you know what is best for your child (unless we're talking about vaccines, in that case, trust your doctor /rant).

  • This is a great answer. I think it could be improved with more emphasis on the benefits of free play alluded to in the second to last paragraph, as well as links to some supporting articles. I would go so far as to say this social interaction could be far more valuable in the long term than any amount of homework. – Nicholas Jun 16 '18 at 20:00
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There was a similar question at Parenting SE with a helpful answer, take a look.

You can shut these visits down completely if you want to. However, you may want to consider finding a level that you're comfortable with. Here's one possible route towards that:

Next time they knock on the door, step outside to have a short conversation with them. Focus primarily on the one who seems like the most mature of the bunch. Explain whatever constraints you've decided on. For example (I'll suppose your daughter's name is Ellen.)

I'm glad we're living in the same neighborhood with you! I'm happy for Ellen that there are other children living nearby that she can get to know and play with.

Ellen is only allowed to have a guest over to play on Tuesdays.

Ellen can have one guest over to visit at a time.

I need to meet your parents before you come over to play with Ellen. Tomorrow, Ellen and I would like to walk with you to your house, so I can see where you live. Then I'll go knock on your door one day when your parents are home, so I can meet them.

When it's not a Tuesday, please don't come over to visit us. That means, don't knock on the door, and don't come into the yard. Because Ellen just isn't going to be available unless it's a Tuesday.

I'm looking forward to one of you coming over to play next Tuesday!

Separately, you may wish to contact the local school and ask if there are any affordable after-school programs that might be appropriate, and then you could pass the information on to the parents.

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Put them to work. Yep, when around ask them to help with small tasks. Take out the trash. Pick up some leaves, untangle the Christmas lights.

Two things will happen. Eventually the entertainment value will diminish and the problem will self-correct. Or you get a lot of things knocked out and maintain face as a great host.

Children can take directness personal and even if you spoke to their parents they are intelligent enough to know you used them as a proxy. Save feelings and face. And be grateful people like to be in your company.

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