The Pros and Cons of Caring for Neighbor Kids

Watching over neighborhood children can take a toll

Mom taking a walk with child and friends
Mom taking a walk with child and friends. Getty Images/Cultura RM/Charles Gullung

Caring for neighbor kids provides perks to local parents but can financially drain the family who oversees and feeds these children after school. It's comforting for the host family to know what their kids are doing, watching, playing and even eating, but having their home become a hangout spot means constantly supplying food and drinks for growing children. Such families should consider the pros and cons of being everyone's home-away-from-home.


Enforce Rules About Food and Drinks

Treat other kids like you treat your own when it comes to snacks and drinks. Most parents don't allow unlimited snackfests with their own kids, but then turn out the hospitality when other children come over. The downside to this is that you're creating a mixed message that encourages your kids to have kids over all the time because they get better or more frequent treats. If your kids are allowed one snack and soft drink, then make it the same for all. If your children are only allowed to munch on fruit and milk or juice, then don't make an exception just because other children are over.

Teach Your Kids to Be Hosts

If you have certain rules about eating and snacking, then be sure your kids know and will tell their friends. Give them the duty of playing host when friends come over. Kids will easily accept that they are limited to certain snack items as long as they understand the expectations.

Let Children Know What's Off Limits

If certain items are off-limits, specify this to your children and their friends. One parent became increasingly angry because teens constantly drank his favorite soft drink. He solved the problem by telling the kids they weren't allowed to have drinks on "Dad's shelf" of the refrigerator.

Anything else was fair game. The kids followed that simple rule.

Provide Safety Rules

Specify standing safety rules and supervision requirements. One mom lamented that while she loved having her daughter's friends over, she felt that it kept her from doing tasks that she really wanted and needed to do because she had to supervise them. She complained that she didn't have time to watch them on the trampoline. The solution? Easy! She told them that she'd watch them one day a week on the trampoline; any other day the trampoline is off-limits. Her daughter was fine with this new rule, and the mom was much more receptive to having guests come over in the future.

Teach the Neighbor Kids Your House Rules

Don't expect your child's friends to "know" the house rules. Different households have different requirements about snacks on the couch, shoes worn on the carpet, bouncing on the bed or putting toys away. Whatever your rules are, let others know. 

Send Kids Home Who Don't Follow Rules

Tell kids they will be sent home if house rules are not followed. If a child is old enough to come over and play, then he is old enough to understand that inappropriate behavior such as fighting, hitting or excessive whining are all reasons to be sent home.

Kids will learn that getting along and not disrespecting your house are requirements to playing together at your home.

Avoid Becoming a Free Babysitter

Don't become the free neighborhood sitter. Kids playing together is a fun time for all, and parents often enjoy it as much as the kids. But there is a difference between invited guests who want to play together and parents sending a child over to your house so they can run a few errands. Unless this arrangement is agreed to in advance, it can be easy to get taken advantage of. And once that starts, it often becomes hard to stop.

Set Time Limits on Play

Parents often welcome a child into their home to play without setting an end time.

When a family has no other commitments, then this practice is fine. But if you have to be somewhere in three hours, then be sure to inform the parent and child that you welcome the play date for a certain time period. Too often, parents scramble to get a child home, only to find that no one answers the door and feeling "stuck" by having an extra child for a longer time period than intended.

Enjoy Your Children

Above all, watch your children interact with friends and celebrate their emerging social skills. It can be a fun bonding experience.

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