Good Neighbors: Teach your child to be a part of the community

By Elizabeth Sautter

Wherever you live, neighbors are important. These are the people you’ll see day after day, and the
people you’ll likely turn to when you need a cup of milk or your car won’t start. Developing friendly
relationships with neighbors and teaching your children to do the same will build community on
your block and help your child develop a sense of responsibility for others. Here are some ideas for
teaching your child to be a thoughtful and helpful neighbor:


1. Be a Role Model: When you stop to greet a neighbor and take the time to ask how they’ve
been, your child will learn to do the same. Likewise, when you offer to feed a neighbor’s cat
or pick up their mail, your child will follow your lead. When a new neighbor moves in, bring
the whole family over to greet the new arrivals with a small gift or an invitation to dinner.
When you see your child helping a neighbor, take the time to comment on how nice it is to be
kind to others.


2. Encourage Service: Suggest opportunities for your child to volunteer some time on a
neighbor’s behalf. For example, if a neighbor is injured, your child could offer to bring in
their newspaper or walk their dog. For an elderly neighbor, your child could offer to help out
each week by moving their trashcan or recycling bin or even mowing their lawn.


3. Pay it Forward: Help your child start a kindness campaign and “pay it forward” by doing
good deeds for people on your block or in your building. The child could rake leaves, bring in
the newspaper, or help to care for a pet. After doing the good deed, your child can leave a
postcard suggesting that the neighbor pay it forward by finding a way to help someone else.


4. Party Time: Help your child organize a social gathering on the block. It might be a block
party, a holiday celebration, evening caroling, or group trick-or-treating. Or, your child could
invite other kids on the block to set up a lemonade stand or play a group game or sport. All of
these activities build ties and community among neighbors.


5. Friendly Greetings: Walk in your neighborhood, and have your child practice greeting
neighbors with a warm smile and a “hello.” The child could ask about the neighbor’s garden
or pet. End with “nice to see you” or “hope you have a good day.” These types of exchanges
not only create bonds among neighbors, but they also help your child become more socially
adept and comfortable with a variety of people.


6. Share the Bounty: If you have extra lemons on your tree or tomatoes in your garden, ask
your child to offer some to a neighbor. Your child will have fun being generous and might
even get interested in gardening.


7. Homemade Food: If a neighbor is sick or has a new baby, help your child prepare some food
for that neighbor. A homemade meal or a batch of cookies can bring joy to the giver and the
receiver.


8. Hidden Rules: Teach your child the hidden rules of being a good neighbor. For example,
walking on other people’s lawns is considered rude; moving over to allow a person to pass
you on the sidewalk is polite. Greeting people you know is friendly and expected, but talking
to people you don’t know may be seen as unexpected or even rude.


The neighborhood is a microcosm of the larger world. Learning to be considerate and friendly to the
people nearby will enhance your child’s ability to empathize with others and to understand another
person’s perspective. By getting to know and care about neighbors, your child will help to create a
safe community where people know and look out for one another. In the process, the child will also
develop the social awareness needed for building positive relationships. For more suggestions and
tools related to building social and emotional skills in children during everyday activities, refer to my
book Make Social Learning Stick! (aapcpublishing.net).


Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP, is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works
(cwtherapy.com), a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and

occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry (socialthinking.com)
books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social
Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities (aapcpublishing.net). She can be reached at
makesociallearningstick@gmail.com