Dear Rachel,

I live next door to a woman who has kids the same age as my kids. While ideally this should be a great situation for us to have playmates next door, her children are terribly misbehaved and a horrible influence on my children. When they have played together in the past, my kids have come home saying things and acting in ways that I will not tolerate. Worse yet, the parents don't seem to notice or care. When I spoke to them about things their children did, they paid no attention at all. It is clear that I don't want my children playing with them, but being that their children are outside daily, every time my kids see them they ask to play. How many times can I tell my children "no, not today"? Please help.

Jerusalem, Israel

Dear S.C.,

When children are involved, both yours and your neighbors, it is always a difficult situation. However, from what you describe it is clearly an unhealthy combination. There are really two issues here. One is the behavior problem that takes place when the children play (and can anything be done about that?). And secondly is what you should tell your children in the meantime.

Regarding the behavior, there is no question that if you determine a situation is not positive for your kids, you cannot allow them to partake in it. Our children are sponges and absorb from everything around them, and bad behavior is unfortunately something they are particularly adept at picking up.

Being that the parents of these kids don't seem to notice or care, it is very possible that the kids are acting in such a way as a cry for attention. When children are basically ignored, they will often go to great extremes, often negative ones, for someone to simply notice them.

So perhaps, rather that forbidding your children to play, maybe you can first try another option that might potentially be beneficial to all involved. Have you tried having these other kids over to your home where you are able to completely monitor what is happening? Maybe try inviting them over for very limited periods of time and in a situation where you are able to be completely present when they play. If you tell the kids that they can have the neighbors over for an hour, and then come up with a board game to play or some other supervised play, it will not only provide your children with a play date, but it will allow you to see first hand what is going on.

There are two possible outcomes to having them over. Either the children will behave well in a different environment, in which case you are providing play time for your kids and providing these other children with a healthy, loving and caring environment to play in. Or, they will misbehave terribly.

If you see these children misbehaving, they can be told very firmly the rules of your home and how they need to behave. Sometimes children misbehave simply because no one told them that certain things were wrong. If they can do whatever they want at home and are never disciplined, how should they know that such behaviors are necessarily a problem?

When you are explaining to them how they need to act (in this house, we say "please" if we want something… in this house we do not slam doors… in this house we put away a toy when we are finished playing, etc.), you should have this conversation with all the children involved. It is always good for your children to be reminded of how they are expected to behave, and it is important for them to see firsthand that you have given this explanation to their playmates as well.

Ideally, the children will follow your rules and change their behavior, at the very least when they are in your home. If they can learn to behave while with you, then perhaps you won't mind the children playing. Granted, for a while it will require your involvement, but it is important for your children to see that before you forbid something that you explore all options. And simultaneously, although it is not your responsibility, it is a big mitzvah that you are doing for these other children. Providing them with a structure and rules, and teaching them proper behavior is something they clearly need, and are not getting at home, and this could be a real opportunity to influence them.

If, however, you set down the rules and these kids will not listen to you, then you need to make it clear to these kids as well as to your own children that they are absolutely not allowed to play together.

However, rather than just looking like the mean mom who said "no," there is a very good chance that even without explanation your children will understand exactly why that is the case. After all, they will have heard you explain what you expect, and if these kids have refused to listen to you, then the obvious punishment is that they will not be allowed to come over to play.

This will also give you a time to explain to your children that it is important that we always listen to our mothers and fathers. Furthermore, explain to them how the concept of kibbud av v'em, honoring your parents, is a mitzvah from the Torah. If their friends won't listen to you, and are being disrespectful, then they cannot come into your home to play and you certainly can't allow them to play over in their home when you are not watching them. Chances are that they will have already witnessed the problem and not even need the explanation.

You can tell them as well that it is because you love them that you want what is best for them, and in this case it means saying "no" when they want to play with these kids. So that they don't feel left out, perhaps arrange play dates with other kids from school so that they have other children to play with. Or maybe take them to the park if possible or away from the home if the neighbors are outside playing.

So while it will take some work on your end, give it a try and see what happens when you invite these children into your home. Regardless of the outcome, it will result in some very positive and important lessons for your children (as well as theirs) and will truly be an educational experience for all involved. Good luck!