My neighborhood kids love playing outside — but it’s disrupting my work. Help!

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Quiet Please Enamel Pin by Punkypins

Christina asks:

Hello Offbeat-ers! I’m having a little problem with my neighbours. (I’m Canadian… my neighbours get a “u.”) I’m curious what you might suggest for me.

Our backdoor neighbours have a little parking lot for their backyard, and gangs of kids play there almost non-stop in the summertime. These dozen kids or so SCREAM, yell, laugh, bang basketballs and soccer balls around, and generally have a great kid time.

But it’s all day. And I work from home. So in scorching, non-AC, 35C (95F) weather, I’m closing my windows to shut out the screaming so I can get some work done. What is an acceptable level of noise for playing kids? Is it fair to swing by to ask the neighbours to keep it down for at least some of the time?

Comments on My neighborhood kids love playing outside — but it’s disrupting my work. Help!

    • How does one go about this? I’d feel like a wicked witch going over to my neighbors and saying, “Hey. We need to talk. I love that your kids are playing outside but omg the noise.” Even though I totally understand Christina’s need for a bit of quiet.

      Christina…failing all else, could you adjust your work hours?

  1. Honestly, kids playing is a rare treat anymore. Better than them indoors watching tv. I’d head out to a coffee shop for a few hours a day. Or go to the library. Plus you’ll get to be in air conditioning during that time.

    • Seconded, on both of those comments.

      It is a battle every day trying to encourage my nephews to get outside & play, away from the video games & TV. I wouldn’t be offended whatsoever if someone asked us to keep it down, but it would be a real long shot asking me to keep those kids in the house, especially with how hot it is here (and evidently is there in Canada, too).

      I think the idea of possibly working at the library for a few hours is a good one, unless Christina is a seamstress/artist/some other occupation that doesn’t involve heavy computer work.

    • I agree with this. If there isn’t a convenient corner of your house where you can get away from the most immediate noise, or if a nice loud fan in the window won’t dull it, I recommend taking the initiative to work from a coffee shop for a couple hours in the afternoon. Early morning is nice and quiet too, usually. Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds work wonders as well.

      I say this as person who works from home in an apartment with no insulation or A/C in full sun all day in Southern California. There has been construction next door since March too!

      So I feel your pain about the noise and heat, but it’s part of living and working in a community, and part of the trade off for not having to go into an office every day. These kids are using their “outside voices” outside. They’ll be back in school in a little over a month. Rather than essentially punishing them or driving them to the television for a few hours a day, I think it’s better to adjust our own expectations and habits for this limited period.

    • You are really nasty. The kids are disturbing but you tell the person to go for a walk. Did you even get the message? You let the kids be brats and the working adult out of the house for their pleasure? Great upbringing ! No wonder kids and then adults have no regard for anybody but themselves in this country.

      • What?? Who’s nasty? I must have missed that comment. Kids being kids in their own property during regular day hours and you think that the right solution is to ask them to change rather than OP finding an alternative solution for herself? This is not these kids problem, this is her problem, so she should first attempt to change whatever she can control, but not sure if she’s willing to do that.

        • This is insane, iIts not normal that kids are making so much noise all day long.It happens here as well(Netherlands), and than the mother of those kids had the nerve to telll me I couldnt mow my lawn later in the evening one day(since it had been too hot to mow earlier..Her kids play and scream anout 6 hours a day in their swimmingpool in the garden…its right next door and there are many kids!!!I also work from home!!!.I told her to get lost…really do you have any idea how insane it is to have this ridiculous screaming all day in front or at the back of your house>>No>>than you need tell this friendly person to have to leave his own house to find some peace and quiet besides it seems to me a lot of Western kids display strange behaviour…screaming all day is a bit odd all a.d.d.???

      • Your tone is abhorrent. Your lack of understanding that children are beings deserving of respect is frightening. Do you not see your logic is flawed? An adult should not be pushed out of their own home for anyone else but a group of children should be expected to forgo playing outside in their own backyard for an adult? I sincerely hope there is some reply that somehow was deleted to warrant your response.

        Children deserve respect as much as an adult. Do I think its wrong to ask them to please be quiet? No. That being said, looking for other alternatives if they can’t or won’t without calling them brats for simply BEING CHILDREN is the mature and reasonable response.

        • I have the same issue with my neighbours kids its really ruining the place I live for me I can’t relax at home in silence ever because they are outside yelling and screaming all day and the parents are outside coughing and smoking and when their kids cry they just yell at them to stop crying. And they are outside until 10:00. Pm

      • Just wondering. If it were construction noise would you have the same attitude? I find it interesting how kids elicit such knee-jerk reactions that other situations may not.

    • The point is not about kids playing outdoors, but rather them infringing on others’ rights by being as noisy as they can without regard for their neighbors. When I was growing up (I’m now 60) my parents would regularly come out when I was playing with my friends and tell me to hold it down so I wouldn’t disturb our neighbors. But today everyone only seems to think of themselves. So sad.

  2. I also kind of second the notion that it might be easier for you to adjust your working needs; would it be possible to work more in the evening, or at a library/public space?

    Short of that, it might help to come with a peace offering of coloring books and crayons, or more ‘quiet’ activities for the kids; or at least have suggestions for the parents and a way to deliver them that doesn’t sound condescending of their parenting abilities. But it sounds to me like there aren’t a lot of other places for the kids to be at or play safely.

    For a long term solution, maybe start campaigning your city about building a playground in the area. That’s what everybody really needs.

  3. If it’s scorching, consider picking up a window AC unit, at least for that part of your home. This will pull double duty in cooling the room where you work AND drowning out the kids. Otherwise, I think you’re stuck. If kids can’t be noisy outside, where can they be noisy? They’ve got energy to burn…better they do it outside, while being active.

    • They can walk to a park and play if they are that loud and boisterous. If they can’t walk, then they need to be driven to a park, or play at a community center. People need to have more respect for their neighbors. I’ve seen kids play peacefully and quietly outside. It is not impossible for them to do this. Peaceful kids become peaceful adults.

  4. I don’t know if it’s the same type of thing in Canada, but generally with a noise problem the first step is going to the city office and getting a copy of the noise ordinances. You can then chat with someone there about your problem and see if they have a solution. I think you’re probably in a bad spot though-people can be very touchy about their children, and with it being the middle of the day they probably won’t be considered as disturbing the peace.
    What about music? If you turn on the stereo it might drown out the noise and help you stay in the work zone. Good luck!

  5. i think that kids will play, and if it’s summer time, they’re going to play outside. there’s nothing anyone can do about that, because they’re doing what kids are supposed to be doing in nice weather. however, if they’re SCREAMING, that’s another matter. kids don’t need to scream to have a good time.

    i would ask them to please not be screaming, and to generally keep the neighborhood in mind when it comes to their noise level. unfortunately, i don’t know what this can do about the noise from basketballs or whatever else they’re doing.

    • Sometimes kids do need to scream to have a good time. You don’t want these kids trapped inside playing nintendo, that’s inhumane. I would go work in a coffee shop or a library, i find them both nicer than working at home. Anyway, this problem will go away in the winter when they are inside.

      • Seriously though, I’m a kid and kids DO NOT have to scream to have fun. A little bit of laughing and talking loudly is just as effective. I also have screaming neighborhood kids and they are affecting my homework time and I know that when they get that old, they wouldn’t want any screaming kids when they’re writing essays.

  6. Are there other places for the kids to play? Are there certain hours that you really need quiet? I think you could say, “Could the kids play in the front yard from 10-12 so that I can have some quiet while I respond to emails?” Baring that, you might have to become comfortable with your headphones and the local coffee shop until school starts.

  7. Honestly that would drive me totally crazy. If you have the balls to go over and politely say something go for it, if not i would say invest in a window ac unit!!

  8. That is an excellent idea. But I live in NY, and in my neighborhood I WISH I could go to the library or a coffee shop without encountering the whining and screaming of small children. My library is little better than a day-care center, and it’s hard to find a spot in most of the cafes that isn’t being overtaken by the stroller mafia. So I can understand this poster’s plight – she has to earn her living, needs time to concentrate, and it seems unfair that the kids are disrupting that. I’d recommend buying and a/c unit though – it doubles as a white noise machine in addition to being a cooling marvel.

    • Most libraries have study rooms you can reserve. Might be hard to get one in a big, city library, but otherwise this is a good solution to separating yourself from the families at the library.

    • Is there a university library where you might become a member? I would say there are no children there, and usually there is an enforced code of quieteness.

  9. I don’t think you can go over and tell your neighbour the kids are having too much fun outside, and if they could keep it down. When we work from home, or work nights, we have to make adjustments. Can you move your workstation? Here’s what I would do:

    1. plug in my headphones to some music to block out other noises.


    2. adjust my work hours, and spend a few of those hours (during the prime kid playtime) out at a coffeeshop, library, park, etc.

    Or a combination of both.

  10. Hm . . . I have a lot of experience with this, since our property line borders an elementary school. RIght now there’s summer camp, so there’s shouting, chanting, yelling, and laughing for most of the day. My toddler sleeps through this, and I work from home two days a week through it. For me, and apparently for my toddler, it becomes background noise.

    Does the fact that there are fewer kids make it harder to think of it as white noise because the different voices are so distinct? Maybe there needs to be more kids out there? 😉

    For us, we have no choice but to live and let live, since we can’t march down to the school and ask them to kindly quit playing so loudly. Plus, we have whistles and bells to contend with, too. On the flip side, it’s great that we have a nice playground to use after school hours are through and a huge field to run our toddler on just steps away . . .

    I’m always in favor of putting on some music in the background or using a fan, as Joni suggested. There are much worse sounds you could have neighboring you . . .such as freeway traffic or a house full of heavy metal fans next door (both of which I’ve lived next to).

    • Haha! There totally does need to be more kids! I wish they were just a little bit further away, so they could mesh into background noise. What’s actually really nice though is none of the kids speak English (or French or Spanish), so I have absolutely no idea what they are saying (read: screaming). So that makes it less distracting… even if I can’t hear my husband speak sometimes!

    • I live behind an elementary school, too. I guess it isn’t helpful to say that I find it really sweet to hear laughing and fun-screaming in the background, eh? Seriously, though, when we first moved I noticed it non stop, and now it really has faded into the background.

      I also grew up less than a mile from the Orlando airport, and while other people would be shocked at the planes flying so low they practically rattled our windows, I almost never noticed them unless I was on the phone and had to ask the person to hold on for 15 seconds 🙂

  11. The thing about groups of kids is that asking them to quiet down lasts five, solid minutes if they’re exceptionally well-behaved kids.
    Since it’s daytime and they’re outside, I’m really not sure I’d find it a reasonable request. If the family is willing to tolerate the noise in their yard, they’re likely not going to see why it’s so hard for you, you know?
    Since it’s probably just until school starts back, I’d make alternate arrangements if it were me. If you can deal with the adjustment, noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs can do miracles.
    If you have to be on the phone with clients a majority of the day, I’d recommend finding somewhere else to work from if at all possible. Even if the neighbors do manage to quiet the kids down a bit, I imagine it’s still going to be a distraction.

    • The thing about noise-cancelling headphones is they work really well against loud ambient noise (that’s why they’re so great on airplanes) but not that well against sudden loud noises… such as kids screaming.

      What you need is something that blocks out noise, not something that cancels it. Many noise-cancelling headphones do this too, of course, but you don’t need the noise cancellation part of it to block out yelling kids (because it won’t really work).

  12. I think I’d only say something if they were actually screaming. We had one of my kids’ friends that used to scream. It was all for fun, but it was really high pitched and could have been mistaken for him being in trouble or hurt. So, we just said, “hey, please don’t scream; it’s loud.” He smiled and said, “okay”.
    Other than that, I’d recommend the AC or something to help you block out the noise.

  13. Yeah, it’s pretty unreasonable to ask kids not to play outside during daytime hours. It’s your choice to work from home instead of renting office space somewhere. It’s one of the trade offs of a home office. You get convenience, but you’re not in a working environment so you have less control over things like noise.

    If the kids are really screaming (not just talking loud, actually screaming like they are hurt or something) for sustained periods of time, you might be justified in talking to the parents. I suspect that isn’t the case though. Most parents respond to that kind of noise because with kids you never know if they are really hurt or just over excited.

    • I don’t think it’s really fair to say it’s my choice to work from home. Any other entrepreneurs out there agree? Ariel?!

      Renting an office is a huge and expensive commitment, especially for a start-up and after years of tuition to get the training for my line of work.

      I have looked into co-op offices though, but there’s only one in my city, and it’s currently full. Someday, that would be wonderful!

      • Agreed. I’m an artist who works from home, and I can barely pay my rent as it is. An outside-the-home workspace in my area would cost me at least half the rent on my apartment, plus there would be the cost of transportation, installing equipment (I work with ceramics), etc. etc.

        Although it always gets talked about in the media about how “convenient” working from home is (and although I do enjoy sculpting in my underwear), it presents a whole load of challenges too.

      • i work from home … but i don’t really agree, sorry. it’s part of working from home.

        instead of doubling my comment here, it’s on page 2, i think. i do understand though. heh i forgot to mention in my comment that the kids would jump into my bathroom window & every other window since we were semi below ground. lol

        my new place is a tad quieter, but still … i have kids playing & doing pull up on my fence, in this country (just moved to thailand) commercials are blasted from concert speakers ice cream truck style every hour or so, i’ve got roosters, monkeys yelling, dog packs, & even an elephant recently.

        you just can’t fight something that’s natural & healthy. you’ve got to adjust. it’s not that you picked working from home & you are somehow at fault … not at all. it’s that the noise is not wrong. adapting your work environment is part of working at home.

        • As for the Thailand noises you mention: you will get used to that. I learned to sleep through fighting dogs on the street and roosters, the ice truck became something which I expected during breakfast… And I think you’ve totally got the right attitude: don’t fight it, adapt to it!

      • It is a choice, sort of. I’m not an entrepreneur but have spent some time working the night shift, which also runs into issues when it comes to noisy daytime conditions. When I worked 7 PM to 7 AM, 2 PM was my 2 AM.

        Working nights WAS a choice, but not my first choice and a huge compromise. It was my first nurse job. Pro: working the job I wanted. Con: on the opposite schedule from the rest of life. I think when it comes to working from home the pros and cons are similar. Working at night was the only way I could do the job I wanted to do, so it was the only choice for me. I lived in a big apartment complex at the time and once summer rolled around kids kept me from sleeping a lot of the time. It did occasionally occur to me that maybe I should ask them to be quieter but I never thought of it as a reasonable request. I don’t own the land outside my window. They have as much right to the space as I do. It’s very unfortunate but my working at night has absolutely nothing to do with them.

        Sometimes things can cause real disruption to our lives without anyone having done anything wrong. If someone is doing something that has a negative affect on me, but they are not doing anything wrong, I feel it’s my responsibility to make a change to improve my situation. If it were affecting me negatively and someone else was doing something wrong, they would have responsibility.

        Now that I’ve rambled on I’ll do what maybe I should have started with and offer my practical suggestion:

        1) A window or portable AC unit. I know they are not cheap, BUT a small one to cool just the work space would be reasonable and much less expensive than renting office space.
        2) Some light soundproofing on the walls. It doesn’t have to be expensive high end studio stuff. Just some fabric covered foam covering parts of walls or windows can make a huge difference.

    • As much as it was Christina’s choice to work at home, it was their choice to have children. We all make our own choices and in doing so we have to be careful not to impact others around us in an unreasonable way.

      Christina, I would be gnawing my ears off in frustration with the screaming kids – I think you’re well within your rights to politely talk to them about figuring out a way for you to have a couple hours of peace everyday to get the work that needs proper concentration done and dusted. Also, kids really don’t need to scream to have fun.

  14. While it totally sucks, I agree with the others that you’re probably going to have to find ways of coping like music, TV, headphones (noise cancelling ones don’t have to be playing music), an air conditioner or fan, or a change of location.
    I used to live in Montreal and there was a large green space between my apartment and a bunch of other complexes owned by the company. Kids played there, right outside my window. All the time. Lots of screaming and yelling, and I too worked from home most of the time. Some days there were family barbeques out there. It sucked, it really did. But for the summer there may not be much you can do while parents are desperately trying to deal with their kids.

  15. I haven’t had to deal with this (luckily?) but first question is, do you have a relationship with these neighbors already? Have you ever chatted? Do you know the kids names? If yes, this can make it easier. If you haven’t met your neighbors yet, well, it’s time to start. Take some tasty treats over and introduce yourself. (Treats regardless of if you know them always are appreciated I’m sure).

    To start the talk either way, chat about mostly off-topic things, life etc. Find some commonality between you to connect and focus on that. Work into the conversation that you do work from home. I think most parents don’t want their kids upsetting neighbors but want their kids to be kids. Depending on the parent this subtle conversation might be enough to make them realize, oh, I bet the gang is disruptive. Another possibility, invite the parent for coffee during the day when the kids are playing, they might hear the noise and realize your situation as well. These are both passive ways to let them know, give it a week or so and if you don’t see a change then drop by again for a chat. When it feels right you can bring up the topic. Highlight how much you love that the neighborhood is welcoming to kids and that they seem to be the local under 12 hangout. And then bring up the problem. Emphasize that the problem isn’t all the time, just that some occasions it can get a little over the top. Mention how you don’t want to limit the kids fun but if you can find a way to let them enjoy outdoors without it distracting you from your job then you both win. Be ready to sacrifice some too.

    Have some suggestions for solutions ready such as…
    Could they:
    *Arrange an hour of daily, calm, outdoor play, and keep it scheduled.
    *Arrange an hour or two at another kids house, keep it scheduled.
    *(Working with another kids parents) arrange a day on day off schedule and plan out how to share whose house is home base 2 days and whose is the other 3.

    Ask them for any suggestions!
    Don’t make demands on them, instead ask for collaborative solutions. It will show you’re not trying to squelch their kids free spirit and they probably have some good ideas!

    *Get an email/cell number for the parent!
    You don’t have to bang on doors or yell when they do go crazy, you can send the parent or caregiver a non-intrusive message when things are getting a little too loud & they can ask the kids to quiet down. Let them know ahead of time when you have an important phone call or video conference you need quiet for so they can arrange other activities. By keeping communication open, it will let the kids be kids but calm them down when you need. It is probably the best way to work with summer & kids flexibility, but don’t abuse this!

    *Offer to get out for a bit too.
    You’ve requested some sacrifice from them, offer up some for yourself. Arrange to leave to the library or café for an hour during high playtime. You’re probably used to the pattern now. If the kids are most crazy at 1pm, then leave for an hour so the kids can get their energy out. Ask for a general schedule of the kids such as soccer practice, camp or whatnot, clarify it’s not to stalk but so that you know what times you can have some quiet to focus.

    *Change your home set up.
    If the other things don’t work or you still need more quiet, maybe you need to move your office space to the front if the noise comes in from the back.

    • This is all great advice! I don’t have a relationship with any of them (it’s an apartment building but apparently all the tenants’ kids know each other). This is definitely a good chance to meet them. What I hadn’t thought of is asking for an hour or two a day for guaranteed quiet. And then I can just do my phone calls for the day then to the extent possible. Definitely makes going over there seem more do-able.

      • My neighbours used to always have a lunchtime nap, so we had the agreement that we wouldn’t play basketball or do any other particularly noisy stuff between 12 and 3. That usually worked out well. But then, in my street everybody used to know each other and the neighbours lived in the other half of our semi-detached house, so we were quite close. (And this was in Germany, and we’re all about following rules, aren’t we 😉 )

  16. Thanks for all the suggestions everyone! I hadn’t thought about the headphones/music idea, so I’ll definitely try that. It’s more for phone calls that I absolutely have to close the balcony doors/windows, but luckily it’s not a huge part of my work.

    I’m no so into AC usage. I get that elderly, sick, etc should use them, but overall, I try very hard to keep my energy use and overall consumption down. Then again, it would solve the problem.

    I totally agree that kids need to play and, of course, play outside! That’s why I’m so hesitant to go next door.. at least these kids are moving and active! There actually is a great kids park a few houses down, but I understand then the parents couldn’t supervise…

    So looks like headphones are a good choice! Thanks guys 🙂

    • You must be kidding me. You agreed? Headphones?! Playground is the solution. They should be there! If the parents cannot supervise their kids they perhaps shouldn’t have them. Kids need to be thought how to leave peacefully with their neighbors it means respecting their peace.

  17. I know that Ariel has experience with a shared office space…. can’t think of the name right now. If you don’t have specific equipment needs, maybe something like that would help.
    I agree with some other commenters… the library/coffee shop often just moves the screaming kids into the same room! 🙂
    I do think that if its the insane-shrill-scream-of-death that it is reasonable to have a conversation. Normal loud play is probably out of your influence, but if it sounds like they’re being murdered all day I’d hope there’s a middle ground to find.
    Kind of a no-win situation…. I hope you can find a solution that feels ok!

  18. Even a radio on static is an extremely low power draw that can help cut the auditory edge off the squeals of delight. You’ve probably got a clock radio that could do the trick! That with some grooveshark tuneage and hopefully you’ll be able to keep working away while they are off having a great time!

  19. If they are screaming and aren’t hurt, I wouldn’t have a problem saying something.

    We live in an apartment complex and sometimes that happens, notably during the breaks (spring, summer and winter) however, even though I work from home too, I would find it hard to ask them to keep it down if they were just being kids. However, if they scream and yell and are not in need of assistance… then that’s a problem. Whether or not it is day or night.

  20. I have this situation right now as well. I try to remember that summer will be over much faster than I’d like, and in the meantime I put on my headphones and try to ignore them. It’s a small price to pay for kids being able to play outside. I wish more kids played outside.

  21. I totally hear you on this one. I used to live in an apartment complex where there was a group of kids that were outside all the time and they had the loudest, most high pitched screams. It was awful, and totally different than just kids playing loudly (which is acutally quite refreshing, as many have pointed out). I didn’t know where the parents lived, so I never said anything. Good luck with your headphones or whatever else you choose to do!

    • No, no headphones…fight for your rights. It seems like everybody here is insane … parents should take the kids to the playground! Tell them not to shout…teach them to respect their neighbors.

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