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Honour Thy Neighbour

By Dr. Jay Greenfeld

The time has come where the weather is finally nice again and we can all spend moments outside rather than on the couch, in front of some screen "catching up" on our shows. For whatever reason, we are eager to ensure our children are not using a lot of time with screens, but adults have this pattern of needing to catch up on shows? How many hours are spent doing that where that time could be used outside, connecting with the people that live in our neighborhood? As Mr. Rogers put it best, "it's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood...won't you be my neighbour." We are all surrounded by our neighbours regardless of what our neighbourhood looks like, but do we know all of our neighbours or at the very least the people that live beside us? How often do you see them AND talk with them? I was reminded of this over the last few weeks as more and more people are seen outside bike riding, doing yard work, and the occasional, yet seemingly action of the past, playing street hockey. We emphasize the importance of honouring thy neighbours and creating a welcoming community environment for our children, but does that mean ignoring the people we share a fence with because we need to catch up on our shows?

In our efforts to teach our children about respect within community, connection within a community, and knowing the people around you, we appear to be neglecting the benefits and the purpose of knowing our neighbours. Start with helping your child introduce themselves to your neighbours. Walk over to their house, introduce them to one another, especially if there are other children within the same age range as your children. Help your children understand that they can know their neighbours and not just say hello to them when they are giving out candy in October. We want to start by ensuring our children know that they live in a safe open neighbourhood and the only way to do that, is start with introductions. The more they know their neighbours, especially by first name, the more comfortable and often safer they may feel when they walk out of their house.

Ensure that your children are getting at least 60 minutes of activity outside the house and even better if it is within the neighbourhood. See who else lives within your neighborhood, who are the other children and families? What other activities are they playing and how can you get more involved with them? True, there is less time with more children enrolled in more activities, but all the better if all you need to do is open your door and see which children are outside. Although it may feel uncomfortable at first for your children, push them to introduce themselves, push them to step forward and connect with the other children within the neighbourhood, but only if you are able to see the types of connections they are making. Find a common activity that your children can do with others in the neighborhood (e.g., bike riding, leaf raking, fort building, baseball, or a lemonade stand). Instead of focusing on screens find out what your children can do within your yard. Start with the front yard, sit outside, turn your music on and be open to having conversations with the dog walkers, the strollers, and the other families doing things outdoors.

We tend to seclude ourselves all winter long because of some the most unbearable temperatures. Then when summer finally happens, we escape to our summer getaways (e.g., lakes, camping, road trips, day camps etc.). We tend to be more open and friendly in the more relaxed settings (e.g., campsites, or at the beaches within the province). Instead of waiting for these fleeting settings, create that same type of openness all summer long. Another way to help make this happen is taking the time to coordinate a block party for your whole neighborhood. I have seen it happen regularly in many other cities where each block within a neighbourhood creates an invitation for all the neighbors within a few surrounding streets to get together, have activities for children, and create an opportunity for families to connect. You do not need to become best friends with the people living beside you, but it cannot be too harmful to create a network of additional support within your neighbourhood. One of the best stress management options out there is having social support. The more you can create that supportive social network OFFLINE, regardless of the capacity, the less stressed you may find yourself.

Help your children understand the value of having good supportive neighbours. Help your children see that they can use more of their social skills often by saying hello to their neighbours. As I had mentioned in previous articles, we are losing connection with the people around us and as a result losing basic social skills and common courtesies. It saddened me to see a group of five families and their children playing street hockey together, skipping rope, and drawing chalk on the sidewalk with all parents included in the games or conversations and knowing THAT scene has slowly become a thing of the past. The most interesting part of that whole experience was seeing how happy the children were and how comfortable they felt talking with my wife and I when they saw their parents talking with us.

So as you step into the season, create an openness in your neighbourhood, establish firm rules with your children on what is safe communication with your neighbours, and facilitate the use of social skills and conversation with the people around you with honour, respect, and gratitude as the age ranges usually vary greatly. Help your children connect with all ages within the neighborhood. If we can honour thy neighbour by showing respect and integrating ourselves within each other's lives, we can feel less stress stressed, less confined to our homes, and less anxious if we happen to see our neighbour. These are the people in our neighbourhood, these are the people we can meet each day, if we create that opportunity.

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