Raising a child in an apartment

There must be thousands (millions?) of people raising kids in apartments, but among my friends and acquaintances, we’re somewhat of an anomaly.  I can think of exactly one other apartment-dwelling family-with-kids that we know in St. Louis.  Other than that, it seems that by the time children enter the picture, there’s a house involved.  While in many ways, I’m in no hurry to buy a house, raising a kid in a multi-family building presents some challenges, mainly involving noise.

We live in a two-family duplex/flat with wood floors.  We intentionally chose a second-floor space, in part because it tends to be quieter on top, compared to living on lower levels with people walking around above you.  That said, there is very little up-down sound insulation, and sounds carry both ways.

In the beginning, when Gabriel was younger, the challenge mainly came from noises below, and my concern that they would wake him.  As he’s gotten older, the noise he makes being an energetic little person — walking, marching, running, jumping, dancing, knocking down blocks — has become an increasing issue.  The sounds don’t bother me at all, and would be a complete non-issue in a house, but I totally get that, for our neighbor downstairs, they are loud, unpleasant, and annoying.

The question is what to do about it.  We ARE actively looking to buy a house, but given our land and location requirements (and the fact that we’ve already been looking for years, since before G was born), it doesn’t seem that that will happen anytime soon.

We could look at rental houses, but I imagine that a rental house that is similar size and quality as our apartment would be out of our budget (and the cost and hassle of an extra move — oof!).

If the noise downstairs is really as bad as I imagine it to be, I’m somewhat surprised that our neighbor hasn’t moved, but that would not solve anything for us, because there would just be another tenant.

Measures to minimize noise

  • Using area rugs might help somewhat, but they’re not going to cover everything, and I don’t want the hassle of keeping them clean (cleaning wood floors is soooo easy).  So we probably won’t go this route.
  • We’ve been trying to keep Gabriel out of the bedrooms (which are above our neighbor’s bedroom) in the morning, especially on weekends.
  • Now that it’s cooler, we’re encouraging Gabriel to wear his slippers, which might offer some sound dampening.

Kids will be kids? 

While we discourage blatantly loud, unnecessary activities, like repeatedly banging his wooden blocks on the floor or shouting inside the house, we’re not willing to suppress or discourage the normal sounds that come with being an exuberant, happy, active child.

Focusing overly on the noise, e.g., asking Gabriel to walk quietly, is stressful for us, and it often seems to produce the opposite behavior.  We try to explain that we’re doing this “to be respectful of our neighbor,” but at three, he just doesn’t quite get it.

Still stressed

Overall, our neighbor has been patient and understanding (and we try to respond in kind to sounds that travel up to us).  We’ve talked with her about the accommodations we’re trying to make.  Still, the ongoing worry about the noise we’re generating makes me feel stressed and “yuck.”  The fact that our neighbor is being bothered by sounds that we can’t totally eliminate also creates a dynamic where it’s very hard for us to bring up reverse concerns.

Having a little person means that we are not ideal neighbors.  I wish I could magically create a sound barrier between the first and second floor units, but short of that, I guess I’ll just have to make my peace, as best as I can, with the situation.

I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations, whether you were the one with kids or the one living with sounds from other kids in the building.



  1. EcoCatLady says:

    My Ex and I lived in several different apartments when his daughter was young. We only had her on weekends, so it’s not the same as having a kid in the house all the time, plus we were fortunate that she was neither terribly rambunctious nor an early riser – and our apartments all had carpet. But I think our main strategy was to provide plenty of time when running, jumping and shouting were encouraged so she could easily get it all out of her system.

    One of the things we regularly did on weekend mornings was to go out for breakfast. Usually we’d walk over to the neighborhood cafe which allowed her to be outside and burn off some energy before we got there. After the meal we’d head over to the park and let her run around for half an hour or so. I think that helped with the noise in the morning issue. Probably not the most economical situation, but it worked for us.

    The park was our friend during the 2’s and 3’s. We tried to go every day, and somehow she got the idea without too much trouble that loud rowdy play was for outside. As soon as she was old enough to figure out how to get what she wanted, she’d start in with the sweet-talking, eyelash batting “we could go to the park if you want to…” thing – that totally cracked me up.

    Our biggest challenge was that we were in a band together and often had gigs and/or rehearsals on weekends. We actually did several shows where my Ex had a child in one hand and a harmonica in the other! And then there were the shows where she was marching around on stage with her toy guitar. But even there, we tried to carve out at least some time for active kid songs during those situations. One good round of “10 Little Monkeys Jumpin’ on the Bed” would usually wear her out for at least a little while, and if the whole band and/or audience was singing along she got to feel like the star!

    Gosh… this is making me feel old. She graduated from college a few years ago! So I guess the other thing is to realize that these years are fleeting. He’ll be grown up before you know it!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Yeah, I think it would be more tolerable if you knew it was just going to be a couple of days a week. That said, Gabriel is either gone (at school or Baba’s house) or asleep for much of every 24 hours. Sundays, especially mornings, are the trickiest. Gabriel wakes at his usual hour and neighbor girl likes to sleep in on the weekends (not usually an issue on Saturdays b/c G spends most Friday nights -> Saturday mornings at Baba’s).

      We do focus on outside time and burning off energy walking, playing, etc. in that setting. That will get trickier in the coming months, but we survived last winter.

  2. emrsster says:

    We live on the first floor of a triplex with a 13-month-old. We wanted a first-floor unit because of noise concerns; I’ve been in the (shared) basement and can hear her pushing things across the floor. Our upstairs neighbors are quiet–we only hear walking around–and they haven’t said anything to us, but I get nervous. I tend to think of quiet hours as 7 am-10pm, whether that’s official or not. I used to live below a family with 2 young boys who made noises at all hours of the day and night. When your ceiling is someone else’s floor, things sound so much louder.

    We’re considering a duplex and I waver between wanting the top floor or bottom floor. We plan on at least one more child and also have 2 cats. I’m less interested in a house because we don’t want to deal with a yard.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      It also depends on the building. There are certainly ways to build so that noise doesn’t transfer between levels, but it would take some pretty major work to outfit an older building that was not constructed that way.

      In our previous building, which was a four family, we heard basically no noise from the unit next to us (the other second floor unit) due to the fire wall. So I guess my ideal older building would be a side-by-side duplex with a good fire wall between the two sides.

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