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My neighbour's child, who is around 5 or 6 years old, loves to cause trouble. I have talked to our neighbours countless times to please watch their child, but they always get offended. Their child is now throwing 'toys' at our window. I told him to please stop, but he started to cry. I would like to know, how could I tell him to stop it, but without getting anyone offended or causing him to cry?

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The problem IS the parents. They are allowing their kid to throw things at your window. If they don't know about it, they are negligent; if they do know about it then their inaction is tacit approval.

So forget talking to the child, they are the subject of the complaint but not really the cause.

Talk to your neighbours in a nice way if you can. Once this is all over you have to continue living next door to them.

I would say:

I'm sorry that I have to bring this to your attention but your child has been throwing toys at my window on repeated occasions. This could break my windows, but either way I cannot tolerate the noise. Please can you make sure this stops?

I don't know about the law in your area but when I have spoken to my local council (in the UK) about neighbour noise they have advised me to keep a written log of incidents. This is because many issues like this are only treated as offences if they happen repeatedly over a prolonged period.

You should avoid 'threatening' your neighbour (ie "I don't want to have to call the police") but it might be an idea to get some advice from them so you know what the next step is. Hopefully your neighbour will respond well, but if they don't it is good to be 'one step ahead', perhaps even say:

I'm sorry that you feel that way. I have taken some advice on this, I have been advised to do XYZ but I was hoping we could sort it out between us.

Hope this helps.

  • Going "legal" doesn't sound like an "interpersonal" solution to me. – AndyT Nov 22 '17 at 11:25
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    @AndyT Read it again, I haven't advocated going down the legal route as a first choice - just advised checking the legal position before having a conversation (very interpersonal) with the neighbour. I haven't even advocated using the legal position in the discussion except as a fall back if it goes badly, and even then I suggested a 'soft' approach to it. The alternative is they go into the conversation completely ill-equipped, and if the neighbour refuses to cooperate they will be back on here asking another interpersonal question. – Astralbee Nov 22 '17 at 15:23
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TL;DR: Don't talk to the child; talk to the parents.

Why you can't replace another child's parent

Over the summer, I worked in an educational nature camp, primarily working with kids aged 4-6. If you're in a situation like that, you very quickly learn that it's hard to make a child that age do anything if you don't know them well. They know you're not their parent, so you don't have as much authority over them, and they don't necessarily know that what they're doing is wrong. It's an uphill battle to start.

Consider the case of one six-year old boy, who I'll call Eric (I don't actually recall his name). When he came in on the first day of camp, he was withdrawn and wouldn't pay attention to anyone; he wouldn't even look at me when I sat in front of him. After trying to engage with him - reading to him, giving him some crafts, even just talking and bringing over another kid who was more than happy to make friends - we ended up calling his mom and talking to her.

As it turned out, we learned some things about Eric (he's far more fluent in Chinese than English; he'd never spent time with children outside his family before; he was a bit shy about being in public) that helped me engage with him throughout the rest of the week. Three days later, I was thrilled with how he was doing.

What really brought about the change, though, were the actions of his mother. She knew better than anyone else what his thought process was like, the sorts of things he liked doing, and what you could try to talk to him about. And she was able to sit in on some of camp with him, and guide Eric along at first in places where I couldn't have gotten through. I could have talked to him all day about what a certain type of Native American house was like (and I nearly did), and he would have looked the other way (and he did), but only his mom was able to basically say, "Hey, Eric, the counselor's trying to teach you about [X Y Z] right now; it's really cool."

How you go on from here

So, you want to talk to your neighbors about this behavior. First, you want to make several things clear:

  • Exactly what the child's doing. If this is a pattern, the parent might recognize it. For instance, Eric's mom figured out that Eric sometimes clams up if he's not near her, and talked to him about it.
  • What you've done, and what you're said. It's always helpful for them to know what's transpired so far. Also, keep in mind what the child's point of view of their interaction with you might have been. They could have viewed it differently than you or I would.

You say you've already talked to the parents in the past about the child. It seems like you haven't been able to be as specific as you can be right now. At the moment, you have one very specific request: That their child stop throwing things at your window. It's not out of the question that it could damage your house or hurt someone (granted, he's not a surly teenager lobbing baseballs in your direct, but still). That's all you're asking for; make that clear.

If this really doesn't work

I honestly couldn't tell you much from experience in a situation where talking to the parents about a child's severe behavior fails. Some ideas do come to mind:

  • Talk to other neighbors to see if they're experienced the same problem with this kid. Maybe going with others and talking to the parents could make them realize the severity of the problem, if it is serious (but obviously, don't raise a lynch mob!).
  • Talk to the local homeowners' association, if there is one. They might have experience dealing with this sort of thing, and could help you get to a solution.

That said . . . I haven't had to take either of these avenues before, and I can't vouch for them for sure. They're just starting points. I also don't think you'll need them; when a child is being extremely disruptive, the odds that a parent will completely ignore the situation are very low. Not zero, but still low.

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You can't talk sense into a 6 year old. For most 6 year olds, not even their parents reliably can, and you are far removed from having that kind of clout with the child.

You need to talk to the parents again. You say that they "always get offended" when you tell them to "please watch their child". Well, if you said it exactly like that, I can see why that is.

If you approach the parents, and you want them to react positively, then the worst thing you can do is phrase your approach annoyed / belittling / confrontationally.

So, look out for these points in your next talk to the parents:

  • be non accusatory
  • Highlight the problems this could cause for them
  • phrase it as a request, not an order (!)
  • don't imply by your tone, body language or phrasing that you think they're bad parents (even if you do, besides the point)

In the end, you want the parents to understand and take action, not to feel bad.

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    "Highlight the problems this could cause for them" - like "I think your child could easily damage my window or house, I'd hate for you to have to pay for repairs." If they're not swayed by your other points, let money do some talking. – Xen2050 Nov 21 '17 at 11:20

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