Even the best behaved children can become downright unruly when out of their parents line of vision. When left to their own devices they’ll ride their bikes on your lawn, trample your flower beds, and worse. Dealing with these little pests can be like negotiating an intricate peace treaty.
If you approach the parents about their offending offspring, you’re likely to get a response--immediately followed by an adverse reaction.
The response: “Oh, I am so terribly sorry; we’ll have a talk with Junior and it’ll never happen again.”
The result: since you got him in trouble, you and Junior are in a feud. And you never want to be in a feud with a child.
Children always have the upper hand. They have their parents to protect them and/or validate their behavior (“boys will be boys,”); kids are around when you’re at work (giving them ample time to vandalize your property); and if they’re older (in their teens) they’re probably aware that legally they’re almost untouchable.
So how do you deal? Well, unfortunately I’ve recently had one such “feud” with some neighborhood children. One day I was in my garage working on a project and I noticed a group of about three boys running circles around my house. I live in a duplex, so when I walked outside to see them I noticed them trampling all over my neighbor’s well-manicured flowerbeds. My natural response was to shout, “Hey, you boys! Stop that! Get out of here!”
Well, they did “stop that,” and they did “get out of here,” and in the process, I became Grownup Enemy #1. These boys live in the apartments behind my home, so there was little chance I could find out who their parents were and speak with them. So over the next few weeks the boys ran around in my backyard, peeped in my windows, and made faces at me when I was out in the neighborhood.
I began to feel a bit scared by this behavior; they weren't yet teens, but weren't tiny little kids, either. The climax of the feud came when the boys began throwing pinecones at the back of my house. I was all alone and it was dark. I was terrified. It felt like a horror movie. Luckily, my husband showed up during The Pinecone Incident and demonstrated exactly how the situation should be handled.
He went out on the back porch and called out to the boys in a calm manner. It took some coaxing to get them out of their hiding places, but eventually they did appear. My husband crouched down to be closer to their level (he's intimidatingly tall) and spoke to them calmly and rationally. He told them they were really scaring his wife and they agreed that that wasn’t very nice. He asked them how they would feel if someone scared their mom like that, and they all agreed that they’d be mad and wouldn’t want anyone doing that to their moms.
He also gave them a brief, but not-too-preachy lecture about how it’s disrespectful to throw things at people’s houses and trample their gardens, and again, asked them how they’d feel if someone did that to their house. They appeared to take him seriously, listened intently and waited to leave until he “dismissed” them, saying, “Okay, so we’ll see you around. Have a good night.”
It’s been about a month now and I haven’t been harassed or disrespected by the boys again. I’ve seen them around and they’re quietly respectful and don’t bother me at all. My husband must have done something right. Actually I believe he did several things right, and you can employ the same strategies in dealing with your local bullies.
Speak to them on their (physical) level: especially if they’re small children (or you're intimidatingly tall), crouch down so you’re closer to their height. That way you’re less intimidating, and they’ll listen to you better.
Don’t talk down to them: when speaking to children, convey the message as you would to anyone else.
Turn the situation around on them: by asking how they would feel if someone did the things they were doing to their house/mom/property it became personal, and they could relate to the emotional effects their behavior was having on people.
Let them know they’re not “in trouble:” when you’re done having your talk with them, tell them you’ll see them later, end on a high note. Don’t threaten with “I’m going straight to your parents,” or “the next time I catch you . . . !” This will just fuel the feud.
To make a long story short, it’s best to level with naughty neighborhood kids, as opposed to yielding to your knee-jerk reaction (as I did) to yell at them.
©KatieK, December, 2008