Saying hello to your neighbours can be a risky move. Are they potential best friends that you can share sundowners with while the children frolic in the back yard or collect your mail while you're on holidays, or are they going to be stage-five clingers that grab you for a three-hour chat every time they spot you hopping out of your car?
The rewards can be great, but the risks are high because once you've made contact, there's nowhere to hide.
Science now tells us that it's worth the risk. Saying hello to your neighbours is not only the polite thing to do, it can also have a surprising positive effect on your children.
The authors of the book The Origins Of You studied research of over 4000 children as they have grown through adolescence and into adulthood, across various studies from New Zealand, England, Wales and the United States. What they found was that parents who say hello to their neighbours and foster a sense of community in their local area raise more resilient, secure children.
Not only that, but those children are less likely to engage in self-destructive and anti-social behaviour.
Authors Jay Belsky, Avshalom Caspi, Terrie E Moffitt and Richie Poulton found the biggest predictors of anti-social behaviour and aggression in teens were poverty and deprivation, but they also found this behaviour was less likely when they lived in a connected, friendly community.
They described that neighbourhood connection as "the combination of informal social control and social cohesion, and thus the willingness of community members to look out for each other and intervene when trouble arises, especially on behalf of the community's youths."
They said this level of social connection was particularly strong in some of the poorest areas they looked at in Chicago, especially when there were strong church connections, although that sense of community can come from many other sources as well.
The main thing is that the adults are showing leadership and providing a sense of belonging for the children. And those children then have other adults they can turn to if they need support, or who might pull them up if they do something wrong.
And those adults all have someone they can turn to if they need to talk through any parenting (or other) challenges they're facing.
Want to give your children the resilience and security of a strong community? Try following the authors' tips, including:
- Give your child warmth as well as structure — rules are important but so is knowing they are loved.
- Say hello to your neighbours — look for ways to get involved in your local community and foster that feeling of belonging.
- Join groups of parents — either online or in person, where you can share your experiences and ask for help.
- Become an advocate for your local area — visit local cafes and businesses, and be friendly to other local children.
So yes, saying hello to your neighbours may come with a slight risk, but the pay-off for your children can be significant, and there are many ways you can foster that connection.
The saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" turns out to be true, once again. Parenting can be a long and lonely slog sometimes, especially for single parents or those with a partner who is often away.
Being part of a community is a great support for the parent, and now it is unquestionably also good for the child.