How Kids Can Make Neighborhood Friends
Help kids connect with their community
Neighborhoods matter. Where children live, play and attend school impacts their long-term social, emotional and physical health. According to research presented in the American Journal of Community Psychology, kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods get less physical activity and underperform at school compared to those in wealthier areas. Neighborhood connections matter too. The same study also shows that “social embeddedness,” or a strong connection to social and cultural relationships within a neighborhood, can help protect families from some of these negative outcomes. Like growing a garden, cultivating a richly connected neighborhood may take time and effort, but families can reap rewards for years. Here’s how to create social connectedness in your corner of the world.
Creating a connected community starts with getting to know your neighborhood and your neighbors, says Catherine Bagwell, professor of psychology at Oxford College of Emory University in Georgia.
“One of the most important ways to foster relationships with neighbors is to create opportunities for children to have frequent, positive contact and interactions with them,” she says. Often, this simply means playing outdoors, from riding bikes and scooters in the driveway to spending time at a local park. Investing in your own sports and play gear like a simple soccer goal or basketball hoop can attract neighborhood children to your yard.
Help children get to know their area by creating a scavenger hunt that includes specific neighborhood landmarks and ask other kids on the block to participate. Young children are usually generous and enthusiastic about giving. Offering neighbors baked goods or a handpicked bouquet of backyard flowers can help facilitate introductions and build friendships over time.
Remember long hours spent roaming your childhood neighborhood? Many adults do, but kids today don’t get nearly as much unsupervised outdoor time as their parents did mainly because of concerns about safety. When neighborhoods are viewed as less safe, kids spend more time inside, get less exercise and are less connected to their communities. According to Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a child care provider with locations throughout the Triangle area of North Carolina, helping kids feel safer in their community fosters a healthier, more balanced perspective to counteract the sometimes scary world depicted by news reports.
Families concerned about neighborhood safety can establish guidelines for outdoor play like requiring kids to check in with parents every hour or always coming home by dusk. They also can allow kids to explore community centers where they can play with peers in a more supervised setting. Devices like the GizmoGadget, GizmoPal or Tinitell watches provide GPS tracking and basic phone service to give parents peace of mind while kids enjoy free-range neighborhood play.
For teens motivated by earning some extra cash, starting a neighborhood business can build community connections along with independence, social skills and earning power. A quick look around the neighborhood can help teens determine which types of businesses might flourish. Are there lots of lawns in need of care? Young families who need babysitting? Professionals who travel and need pet- or house-sitting services? Or would a car-washing or dog-walking business work best? Handing out business cards or flyers around the neighborhood can help teens make face-to-face connections with people in their immediate area. Meeting neighbors and earning money are the immediate benefits, but learning about neighborhood needs and figuring out a way to fill them is an exercise with long-term learning value.
Malia Jacobson is a nationally published journalist. Her latest book is “Sleep Tight, Every Night: Helping Toddlers and Preschoolers Sleep Well Without Tears, Tricks, or Tirades.”