The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Learning how to say no to a 9-year-old neighbor


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

How do you handle a neighborhood kid whom you don’t necessarily want around ALL the time?

My children are 5 and 4 and there’s an only child, about 9, a few doors down. I don’t trust the kid. He’s rude, abrasive and often defiant. However, my boys love to play with him — obviously, the boy is older and has “cool” toys.

My problem is, the kid comes outside to play when we’re outside and I don’t know how to say, “Look kid, beat it,” without being a complete jerk. Help!

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)


“Hey, [Kid], how are you today?” . . . pause for answer . . . “We’re having some family time right now, but you’re welcome to stop by [specific day or time] if you’d like.” In other words, teach him now about the laws of dropping in: that he won’t always be welcome, and that not being welcome doesn’t mean people don’t like him, it just means now’s not the time.

Please get his parents involved, too, by saying that you’re fine with his stopping by,* but that sometimes you’re going to say no and you don’t want him or them to be surprised by that.

Aaaand, also talk to your kids. If you warn them that sometimes you’ll say no to [Kid], then the times when you do will go a lot more smoothly.

While you’re at it, you can explain to them the broader Law of No: that saying no often has nothing to do with being nice or mean, but instead is about the right time and place for certain things. It will help them not just when they get old enough to drop by a neighbor’s house; the ability to give and take no for an answer gracefully is a fundamental life skill.

*That’s why you should say you’re fine with Kid’s stopping by occasionally only if you really are. To that end, consider talking to his parents about the general idea of this much older child around your children. It requires a lot of supervision from you, no doubt, and the weight of that would probably be lighter if his parents were working with him on their end to make sure he’s aware that younger kids have important limits that differ from his.

Re: Neighbor:

Maybe there is something going on at home with the parents. Maybe they fight a lot, or there is abuse, etc. Maybe that is why he always wants to be with other kids and has an abrasive nature. You never know. It doesn’t hurt to be kind and loving. He is 9, he may not understand that he is being annoying.


Yes, that’s entirely possible, and yes to kind and loving, even if he’s merely lonely, or just enjoys playing with the neighbor kids and his abrasiveness is a personality thing.

I think it’s important to spell out that “kind and loving” and saying “no” occasionally are not mutually exclusive. If anything, a bad home situation would make it even more valuable for this boy to learn some social rules from someone who cares enough to enforce them consistently and kindly — which includes opening a door to him when the times and places are right.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at



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