After you’ve made it through the toddler years, you enter “the soccer-playing-neighborhood-kids-at-your-house-asking-about-your-snacks” stage. It’s glorious, cheesy, loud and muddy and you will never have healthy grass again. Probably similar to the toddler years, now that I think about it.
Why should we embrace this stage?
- It’s a great way to get to know your kids. Listening from a window while they establish flag football rules or manage a sibling’s emotions teaches you so much about what’s going on in your own children’s lives.
- It’s a good opportunity to love your kids’ friends well. Although it requires you to put in extra effort, being a parent who welcomes the neighborhood kids is an easy way to minister. We’re lucky to have some wonderful kids that live around us, and I’ve loved getting to know them.
- Having friends over is free childcare. For the most part, my job as a parent transitions from hands-on to hands-off very quickly when the doorbell rings. I’m still around, but no longer dealing out Uno cards or standing guard at my pantry, warding off bored sons.
So here are some ways, categorized from easy to advanced, to help make your house be the place kids want to be. What would you add?
Easy Level List
- Have snacks and drinks!
- Have places for the kids to run wild. You might have to give up a room for hangout space or vibrant grass in your yard. It’s worth it.
- Try not to stress about the mess, but also ask kids to help put stuff away. It’s a balance; you don’t want to dread kids coming over because it means more work for you. Kids are usually very helpful, you just have to ask.
- If it’s within your budget, have some fun things at your house. We happen to have neighbors that live and breathe soccer, so we have a portable goal. You don’t have to install a pool, but if you see fun balls or water guns, mini goals or sparkly sidewalk chalk, splurge and treat the kids.
Intermediate Level Advice
- Be hands off, but keep an open ear. Kids aren’t coming over to play with me, and I don’t really want to be the goalie. Be around and present, supervising from a distance. Give kids space but let them know you’re there… watching… Be available for them but don’t be a mediator for their play.
- Set some basic expectations for your kids ahead of time (cleaning up, putting things away before getting other stuff out, having a secret word for when they want everyone to go home or if they need a break.) It will be less stressful and easier on your family if you’re all in it together and support each other in hosting. Be on the same team as your kids, let them know you’ve got their back.
- Speak kindly about the neighbors when they’re gone. Neighborhood kids can drive you crazy, but choose to be kind and love them well. Your children will learn to do the same, and approach their friendships with grace and humor. There will always be arguments and annoyances; if you hear your children complaining, acknowledge it is hard to host, and model loving neighbors even when it’s hard. It’s also ok for kids to have breaks from hosting.
Advanced Level Stuff
- Cultivate the value of being a “people gatherer.” It’s not about having a full house all the time, or being the most extroverted in the neighborhood. It’s about the spirit of Jesus, who had close friends and chose to love others well. You don’t have to start out hosting Easter egg hunts for your entire neighborhood. Start small with a few friends, and love them well.
- Give your children the ability to choose when they want to host. After a long day at school, sometimes they just need to have alone time and not entertain the roaming neighborhood kids. Stand behind your kids if they don’t want to play. Teach your kids to say politely, “No, not today.”
- I also maintain a simple rule for my sons: brothers come first. You always look out for each other first, and take care of each other first. Hosting doesn’t work well when the youngest gets left out, or the middle child gets jealous for attention. Siblings who get along are safe places for friends, and I think it sets up my family to be kind to each other and aware of each other’s needs. This, in turn, helps friends feel comfortable and sets clear boundaries; no one can come over and be rude to a brother or make fun of one another. We all stand up for each other.
Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” Likewise, kids may think your trampoline is cool, but if your kids are kind and generous, fun and welcoming, that’s what will make your house the place to be.
So if you don’t have the pool or the expensive snacks or the newest PlayStation games, don’t worry. Be kind to kids, teach your kids the value of being welcoming and becoming “people gatherers.” And give up on having perfect grass!