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by Abigail Van Buren

Toddler's Trips to Dad's Home Don't Meet Mom's Approval

DEAR ABBY: The homes in my neighborhood are very close together. Last year a family moved in next door, and they have terrible fights. Off and on throughout the summer, I couldn't help but hear them yell and cuss at each other, and say horribly cruel and painful things.

Winter weather and closed windows have brought some relief, but I dread the approach of summer and having to listen to their fights again. Abby, I know -- I've lived through situations like that. Thankfully it was a long time ago. It is painful for me to hear them, knowing how much they must be hurting to say those awful things.

I have two questions: If they start fighting again this year, is there an appropriate way of asking them to keep the volume down?

And what, if anything, can I do for their children, who bear the brunt of all this yelling? I have never seen any evidence of physical abuse, but I know all too well the verbal abuse they are receiving can be just as damaging.

I know that low-cost family counseling is available in this community. Should I mention it to them? I don't know them very well, and I'm hesitant to do anything that will make the situation worse. Some people might consider an offer of information about counseling as a statement that they're sick or bad, and I'd hate to give them that impression. -- CONCERNED NEIGHBOR

DEAR NEIGHBOR: Before you offer any information, first establish a level of trust and communication with one or both of your neighbors.

A good place to start would be an invitation to join you for coffee or to go walking -- anything to open the lines of communication.

During one of those chats, you might reveal something of your own painful past, and mention that counseling services are available in your community.

And if your neighbor protests that he/she cannot afford professional counseling, tell them that they can't afford to ignore it, and all the reasons why, including how damaging verbal abuse is to children.