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Dear Jido,

I need advice on how to handle a disagreement I’m having with my neighbor. We have an ongoing dispute regarding our children who play together. They are good friends, but occasionally they do have conflicts (which I think is normal).
My neighbor and I have differing opinions on resolving the children's conflicts.
She constantly interferes with their arguments and always blames my child. I, on the other hand, let them resolve their problems on their own.

Although I do not particularly like this woman, I do act cordially towards her out of respect for my child. Recently however, she has treated my child poorly on two occasions, once when my child telephoned to speak to her child, and once outside their yeshiva. Both times, my child was emotionally shaken.

I’m at a loss of what to do here. I would feel terrible to tell my daughter to end her friendship because of the girl’s unstable mother. Your wisdom about this situation would be greatly appreciated.

Signed, In Need of Neighborly Advice

Dear Neighbor,

There are many familiar expressions about how to deal with neighbors:

Love thy neighbor.
Good fences make good neighbors.
Distance yourself from a bad neighbor and do not befriend a bad person.

Some people are naturally difficult to deal with. Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot)recognizes this and recommends that you stay away when you can. I am certainly not going to suggestthat you sell your house and move, but establishing certain boundaries for yourself and for your daughter would be recommended.

Limit the amount of time that the children play together. The cold weather is a good time for your daughter to be indoors with other school friends. If they must play together, let it be in your house so your daughter is less exposed to the mother, both as a precaution against being reprimanded and as a potential of being a poor influence.

Your approach of having the children resolve their own disputes is certainly commendable. Many times, parents will continue fighting over something their children have gotten over days ago. But I would recommend you take it one step further. “Love your neighbor.” Whenever she says, your daughter did so-and-so or she said so-and-so, “yes” her to death. Tell her how grateful you are that she pointed this out to you, and that you will definitely speak to your daughter about it. It’s called “roll with the punches.” She will be so excited that she helped you correct your daughter’s behavior, you will turn a potential enemy into a friend.

Don’t forget the approach that I recommend to many of the writers-in to this column. Tell your neighbor what’s bothering you – don’t assume that she knows that she is causing you a problem. Be open and direct and demonstrate a willingness to listen. Stay cool and positive, even if she’s not. She may be doing this just to get a reaction. Perhaps she wants attention and this is the way she has been conditioned to get it.

If you try and cannot win her over, then good fences make good neighbors. Advise your daughter that it is better for her to be alone at times than to befriend a bad person.

Best of luck, Jido