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Context

My neighbours have a child who is around 3 to 4 years old. The walls in my house are really thin, we can hear most things. Which is completely normal in an old terraced British house, but he screams uncontrollably for hours every day, some days are better than others but most days he screams throughout early hours of the morning and then again in the afternoon. It's keeping me and my housemates up and disrupting our studies/working at home. It's not that the child is screaming that is why I'm asking (we would have had a word already to let them know it's disrupting), but, it's the way they are approaching it, they just scream at the child to stop which to me rings alarm bells, as I feel if I do approach them they may become aggressive about it (they are obviously stressed also). This is why I've come to you. I'm not an expert on children or anything, but I know what is a normal amount of crying for a child but this really is excessive - it's been going on for ten months, although it didn't affect us until three months ago.

I've spoke to them a few times as neighbours should, they've asked for sugar and milk and we have done the same, which is normal in our culture. But, I just don't know how to approach it, we don't think the child is being neglected or anything like that, or anything malicious is going on and I know for sure we can't approach them and say "maybe if you stopped screaming at him, he might calm down" because again I'm not an expert. I just want if applicable a polite way to approach them about it without causing any animosity between us.

What we have tried so far

  • Sleeping downstairs on the sofa away from the child's room (this helps If I have a meeting the next day or something important as we can be guaranteed more sleep but it's not comfortable)
  • Wearing earplugs doesn't work.
  • Moving the bed on the other side of the room doesn't work either.

Without moving house, We're out of ideas without approaching them, but now I think it's time we need to approach them about it. But I want to be delicate.

Question

How can I approach them politely without causing any future animosity?

I would love for them to be able to not feel like we're judging them or anything as I'm from a family of 5 and having children is really hard, I just simply want to let them know that that it's disrupting us and in return may trigger them to change their approach in how they handle it, instead of shouting too. No parent is perfect and we're certainly not perfect neighbours either.

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This is a very tough one, I feel sorry for you, really...

As you can't tell people how to raise and take care of their kids, you're walking on eggs. Doing so would only lead into a dead-end and a no-win situation.

You're left with:

  • Say nothing (not good, you already tried)
  • move (???)
  • Let them know.

I would use a quite flexible (snaky) approach, without telling them directly. Next time I'd see them, as neighbours (going out / milk / sugar...), I would just ask about the child:

Is [ name of the kid ] OK ? I heard her/him crying so loud and for so long [ yesterday ], hope she/he not sick / hurted her/himself bad. Everything fine with your little loved one now ?

This way, you let them know you hear the noise, be it the child or them shouting at him.

What to do then, it's hard to tell right now, better wait for their answer and future behaviour before you decide what should be the next step.

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    I took this approach and they didn't react as I expected them to, but they replied with "We've tried loads of things and it's hard right now, we think he is doing it for attention". I didn't have the courage to mention about their shouting. But, the goal was achieved that now they are aware of our displeasure with the noise. I don't think there's much else we can do, except for what we're doing now and just wait until we move and try better ear plugs. – Bradley Wilson Aug 10 '17 at 10:45
  • @BradleyWilson : Good! glad you're (almost) out of trouble and that they're not being rude to the kid :) – OldPadawan Aug 10 '17 at 11:03
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    That was my main concern, I knew the household was a happy household, I'd never hear arguments or anything. Just them being obviously distressed about the child keeping them awake – Bradley Wilson Aug 10 '17 at 11:10
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    This is a truly excellent answer. By employing an empathetic approach, concern for the child in a general fashion, and restricting the time frame to a specific event it defuses embarrassment for the parents and also presents a potential ally for helping solve the issue. – BeaglesEnd Aug 11 '17 at 16:01
  • You have to be extremely careful though. If any kind of formal complaint is filed by either side (noise, intimidation etc.), even if it is completely without merit, you may have to declare it when selling the house. – user Sep 12 '17 at 10:32
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It sounds like more screaming than normal, and our kids were/are very bad sleepers; thankfully we had a lot of support. So it sounds like either:

  • The parents aren't coping – in which case the parents are suffering far more than you are (it's louder for them, and your own child crying is a lot worse than someone else's; additionally, the time when you don't hear the child screaming, they're probably still awake for a lot of it, so the parents can't sleep). They may have given up due to exhaustion or depression (may have PND and need professional help), and a kind word would certainly encourage them, which might help them keep going and help the child stop crying.
  • The parents don't care – in which case you might want to get a second opinion, then call Social Services.

You'll have to make a judgement call. You can certainly ask how the child is, mention you hear them crying and ask if the kid's ok, ask in a friendly, non-judgemental way if they're coping ("your son seems to be up a lot in the nights; are you coping ok with that?"). Ask (conversationally) if they've got relatives near to help. If it sounds like they're not coping, there's a lot of support around if you know where to ask for it, but new parents often don't. You can ask friends with kids what's available locally, then pass it on – just don't sound like you know it all, there's no easy fixes.

  • Social Services (or some other organization) is a better way to do it. It is not about punishment of the parents, it is about helping the parents understand their child and developing a better relationship. Step 1: talk to the organization and ask for their advice. – virolino Mar 14 at 6:52

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