Images of “good old days” invariably include quiet suburban neighborhoods where everybody knows everybody else. Contrast this ideal with the all-too-common-these-days scenario where everyone—whether they live in one-family houses or high-rise apartments—is too busy rushing about with “have to finish” lists to give their neighbors a passing nod.
How many people in the ten nearest residences do you know by name? With how many could you exchange details on your children’s extracurricular activities? If your answer is “almost none,” your family is missing out on the health and social benefits of having friends nearby.
Here are some ways to help build a friendlier neighborhood.
Say “Hello” With Your Whole Self
A good first step is to expand on the conventional wave-and-quick-Hi. When you pass a neighbor on the street:
- Turn your whole head (or body) and look straight at them—preferably eye-to-eye.
- Give them a sincere smile that shows on your lips and in your eyes, posture, and voice.
- Pause and observe how they answer you. When someone seems open to it, stop long enough to exchange a few more words.
Pay a Compliment
For striking up longer conversations, a sincere compliment is a great opener—especially when focused on something someone is obviously proud of, such as the garden they’re working on. Chances are they’ll be eager to tell you more about it then and there.
Remember Who You’re Talking to
For most people, names are among the hardest information to remember accurately; and forgetting names is among the easiest ways to insult others. Make a family game of learning to remember names by seeing who can come up with the most creative word-association picture, or who can name the most people on your street/floor/homeowners’ association list.
Take Your Kids Out to Play
Even the best virtual connections are pale substitutes for meeting others in the flesh. Whether for a three-hour trip to the park or playing catch out front for fifteen minutes, plan some family outdoor time at least two days a week—when you join the kids, you set them a positive example and open a natural conversation channel with other families.
Practice Good Manners
It should go without saying, but don’t sabotage good-neighbor feelings by shaking the next apartment’s walls or ceiling, or by letting your pets run through gardens. And if someone complains about your kids, hear it out before going on the defensive.
Expect Good Things
When your neighbors are annoying you, you may hesitate to confront the issue because “they’d just get mad anyway.” Even if you see nothing to dislike, you may have been brought up to distrust all strangers—even though every friend was a stranger once.
Of course you should take basic precautions, such as instructing your children to check with you before accepting an invitation to a casual acquaintance’s house. But nearly always, if you expect others to be reasonable, empathetic, and fun to know—and if you make a point of being that way yourself—your expectations will be rewarded. And your neighborhood will be a better place for it.
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!