Teaching your kids the subtlelties of no
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Dear Carolyn • How do you handle a neighborhood kid 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!

Neighbor

Dear Neighbor • "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 likely 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.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.