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Hi, My name is Nicola, My nine year old is having problems with our next door neighbours daughter. There is a lot of nasty name calling and sometimes it gets physical. Its been going on for 5 years and as we live beside each other so you can imagine how difficult it is. I realise there are 2 sides and Holly (my daughter) is by no means perfect but physically she is much smaller and by nature more quiet. About a year ago I stopped Holly from going round to play beacause there had been a row and Megan was hitting Holly and my son Luke with a huge stick. I could see them from my kitchen window so went out because i could hear my daughter crying. My neighbour came out too and shouted at my daughter and son telling them they were only getting what they deserved. I no longer speak to the neighbour and tell Holly not to go in their garden for fear of arguments, but when they go outside (which isn't very often now) they are being called stuck up, stubborn and even bitchy. Not the type of language you would want children to use so think they are hearing this from home. please help as i really am struggling to cope with this situation.

Answer

Maureen Whitehouse Replied: Hello Nicola,

Thank you for your important question.
First and foremost you do not want to establish or reinforce the idea of "victimhood" in your children. So despite what you may be now seeing, this situation with your neighbors is happening for you and your children not against you. But to see that you must ask yourself, "What's the most productive and empowering way for me, and my children, to look at this situation?"

Here's my suggestion: First sit down with your kids. Then, all three of you ask yourselves, "Why? Why is this happening?" And then with your children look at all of the reasons why this scenario is happening. But here's the catch. Realize that because of this problem with your neighboring family you all have been given a great opportunity to share something very valuable - something that will aid and empower you all and enhance the rest of your lives.

You are now getting the opportunity to very carefully look at a situation that appears to only be detrimental in order to find the gift in it. That's right. THE GIFT! You have been given an opportunity - a wonderful way - to remind yourself and to teach your children that no one has the power to upset you in any way - but yourself! Who can make you feel bad, or sad or disempowered if you choose not to feel that way?
The answer is, no one.

As a somewhat extreme, but beautiful example, I recently heard a story from a Holocaust survivor who was a teen at the time she was taken prisoner and sent to Auschwitz. She told about how every week, despite her emaciated and starving condition, she was chosen to give blood. When she found out that her blood was going to be given to the wounded German soldiers she said she thought, "How wonderful, they can have as much blood from me as they want, because I am a peace loving person, so the more German soldiers who have my blood the better. With my peaceful blood in them they will never win the war! "

So where is your gift in this scenario? If you guide your children into seeing that there is often much power and insight to be gained from adversity you will be giving them tools that benefit them their entire life. You can teach them a little very empowering phrase, "I can see peace instead of this." Then help them to look for the peace in the situation.

One way I often tell people to easily find the peace or the gift in any unsettling relationship is to realize that, when it comes to any conflict "only love is real." By that I mean that love is the only real, strong and triumphant empowering emotion that is worth focusing on. It always feels good and joyful to feel love. Whereas fear, on the other hand makes us feel weak as well as a host of other negative emotions.

So we can look at everything in life as either love or fear - as either love, or a call for love. What are your neighbors children doing then? They are giving a call for love. Afraid of what? Who knows... you don't have to figure that out. All you do have to know is that the one and only antidote to fear is love!

Maybe other people might not realize this, and therefore buy into their seemingly dramatic, combative story, and therefore experience "hell" right along with them as they war and battle it out. But consider what would happen if, just like that amazing teenager in Auschwitz (who is alive and loving her great-grand children today!) you taught your children to see something entirely different here. They can see that they are so strong and powerful that they can give love in return to any apparent assault. Not because your children are superior, or any better than your neighbors next door, but because EVERYONE deserves to feel loved. And what we give, we receive.

If your children return kindness and love to an assault from anyone, they'll feel their own power and peace and love. And amazingly enough, they'll feel like they live in heaven! Now, enjoy this great lesson in life fully as you sit down with your children and discover together how you can all unearth the love in this situation. Good luck and have fun as you all bring heaven to earth!
Posted On 2009-09-20 17:30:22
Dr. Tom Greenspon Replied: Hi Nicola,

This is an awful situation with a neighbor who seems clearly disturbed. Unfortunately there is no quick fix for this, but there are some things you can do for yourself and your children that can help. Typically, this kind of unpleasantness with a neighbor is resolved by a visit over coffee and the courage to begin a dialogue about what you are seeing and what effect it is having on your family. If your neighbor is one to constantly cast blame on others, though, this probably wouldn't go far. If you think about it, even if your children did do something provocative, neither they nor anyone else "deserves" to be attacked with a weapon. Your neighbor may be deaf to dialogue. In some cases, it helps to talk to other neighbors who might have had similar experiences so you can feel supported.

Do talk with Holly and Luke about the situation as you see it. They may not be able to change things with Megan, but they needn't be passive victims. Remind them that it is never OK to do what Megan has done, that this is called bullying, and that the name calling -- "stuck up," and especially "bitchy" -- reflects unresolved problems within her family. Megan's epithets tell us much more about her and her family environment than they do about your children. Being called stuck up doesn't mean you are stuck up!

Holly and Luke of course have as much right to play outside as Megan does. It is completely appropriate for them to ignore Megan, or to say to her, "We can play together, or you can call names by yourself -- you decide!" Tell them you will continue to look for creative solutions to the problem; it is always possible that Megan, when faced with little response from your children, will rethink things and come to play. In any case, she doesn't own the outside, and Holly, Luke, and any other children who live nearby have the right to play there safely.

Posted On 2009-04-07 10:00:48
Elinor Robin, PhD Replied: Children are often able to work out their disputes over time and so parents are usually best off leaving them alone. Typically, when parents get involved the children eventually make-up and the parents stay stuck in enemy mode. However, your 5 year feud doesnt quite fit this model. Can you talk to your neighbor without getting emotionally charged? If you can you want to let her know that you saddened by the fact that your family and hers are disconnected. At this point it doesnt matter whose fault it is, it is just too bad that you are missing out on what you could be sharing. Tell her that you want to find a solution for this that will work for all of you. Ask her what she thinks it would take to have positive interactions again. (Or at least the start of positive interactions.) If she responds favorably work with her and stay away from blaming or fault finding. She may have a long list of what you and your children have done to leave her feeling de-valued. Remain willing to admit that your daughter was a co-creator in this mess. If she is not interested then let it go. Not all disputes can be resolved. There are people who feed on conflict and they are best to be avoided, even when they are next door. See my handout on Ending Feuds at www.ElinorRobin.com. It will work you through the steps for holding this difficult conversation.
Posted On 2009-04-06 20:11:28
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