The doorbell rang just as my two-year-old emitted a particularly piercing shriek of delight on finding a toy long thought lost.
“Your children are making too much noise,” complained the neighbour I’d never even seen before. “They are too loud; they disturb us during our conference calls all the time. Please can you ask them to tone it down a bit?” A half-smile, a swish, and she was gone before I had time to draw breath.
The blood pounding in my ears with a mixture of embarrassment and fury, I shut the door and stormed back into the apartment screeching at my kids to shut up and mouthing impossible threats and punishments if they disobeyed. After taking a minute to collect myself, I began to reflect and question my reaction: Did I really want my children to cower around their home in fear of a mummy who would explode if they so much as raised their voices above a whisper?
Whether aged two or twelve, children have a lot of energy to burn, especially at home where they feel safe and secure in a comfortable familiar environment. Shouting, guffawing, running, jumping, dancing, banging, throwing, and shrieking comes naturally to them. Frustration from illness, hunger, exhaustion, or crankiness may also find release in screaming. Often when they don’t get what they want, they make their feelings known by being loudly vocal.
Whatever the reason, as a parent it is your responsibility to ensure your children find the right way to express their emotions, before everyone starts heading towards early deafness! If your family lives in an apartment, chances are your children might be disturbing the peace. People are often tolerant during core daylight hours, but everyone looks forward to some quiet time during evenings and restful sleep at night, and your neighbours are entitled to object if noise from your home interferes with this. Continuous hearing assault can stress out even the most easy-going and non-confrontational neighbours.
In my case, it was the first time the matter had surfaced and I was determined it would be the last. So here’s what I did to make sure children get the outlet they need and still steer clear of dreaded neighbour notice.
First, get it all off your chest. A neighbour, someone you live in close proximity with on a daily basis, has just stepped over your threshold and complained about a facet of your lifestyle – that is not a pleasant thing to deal with. It is embarrassing, judgemental, and makes you feel your parenting is inadequate. It also brings out feelings of anger and indignation. So find a listening ear and pour out all your grievances. Once your mind is emptied of all negative thoughts, it is free to stop reacting and start thinking.
2. Establish boundaries
Establish clear boundaries with your children. Using “indoor voices”, disallowing cross-room yelling, ignoring whining, discouraging physical activity after dinnertime, a planned wind-down routine—these techniques help re-establish control and stability at home. Lead by example: stay calm. Baby knocked over your expensive nail polish bottle? Don’t go ballistic. Children notice and imitate. Follow through on consequences consistently.
Some noise is acceptable, even expected, with children, but there is no excuse for incessant and unreasonable ruckus, especially swearing, being foul-mouthed and disrespectful of others’ property, possessions and feelings, both indoors as well as outdoors. If this is happening, immediate discipline is called for. Neighbours may report antisocial conduct to local authorities.
3. Recruit older siblings
Older children can be instructed to understand the situation – putting others before themselves, showing consideration, mummy and daddy are trusting them and counting on them to behave appropriately and set a good example to their younger siblings – all these instil a sense of what’s correct and fair, and increase their awareness.
4. Anticipate and prepare
Specify acceptable behaviour in advance—what should big sister do when junior snatches and eats her snack, what should junior do when big sister grabs and smashes his toy—anticipate likely situations before-hand and develop a plan to best deal with them quietly. Teach children coping mechanisms and help them apply when need arises.
5. Be practical
Some simple practical steps can go a long way:
- Go to the farthest end of the apartment. If you know where your neighbours are most likely to be at a certain point of time, go as far away from them as possible. This may mean playing in your bedroom to avoid the communal hallway, or even cozying up in the kitchen for some quality baking time.
- Suggest neighbours do the same. They can follow suit during the more noisy periods.
- Shut the doors. Keep all internal doors shut to minimise noise transfer.
- Insulate rooms. Invest in some rugs, throws, covers, curtains and potted plants. They insulate space to reduce echoes and absorb sound.
- Put away noisy toys. Pack away wooden blocks, shrill rattles, off-tune pianos and siren-wailing cars in favour of Lego pieces, books, and board games.
- Suggest neighbours work around down-times. Your children may be in school between 8am and 5pm, or your toddler may nap from 11am to noon and again from 3pm to 4pm, so ask your neighbours use this time to get important phone calls or meetings out of the way.
6. Chat to clear the air
Nothing beats a good honest face-to-face discussion to clear the air. When people personally get to know the parties involved in the “dispute”, it attaches a human aspect to the situation and enables them to empathise more easily. It is easier to get angry with a couple of random unknown “darn kids” than it is with “little Phil and Emma”. A short courtesy call to explain your circumstances, what you’re doing to manage the situation and any steps they can take to help, will be appreciated. Smile and be polite, but keep to the point, don’t drag other issues or vendettas into it: their garbage cans may overflow every week but now is not the time to bring it up.
Don’t get vengeful or vindictive: “You play your stereo full blast during my afternoon nap, so I will let my children trample your garden whooping and hollering as you watch TV.”
Don’t get aggressive or antagonistic. Apologise, but don’t get over-defensive. Encourage a mindset of “we’re in this together and we both want to make the best of it.” Take a plate of cookies along to sweeten the deal, and a set of ear-plugs for good measure!
Live on amicable terms with your neighbours, demonstrate you’re doing the best you can offer, remain positive about the outcome; and neighbourly co-operation will be forthcoming.
By Devyani Borade