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Leading Successful Meetings for Mothers of Toddlers

by Laura Cunningham
Mission Viejo, CA, USA
from LEAVEN, Vol. 29 No. 1, January-February 1994, p. 8

In the natural evolution of a La Leche League Group, a Leader may find that suddenly her meetings are attended by quite a few mothers of nursing toddlers. The questions, concerns, and needs of these women are very different from those nursing a newborn, and the Leader may find it difficult to structure her meeting so that the needs of all the mothers are met.

Two possible solutions are (1) to hold a special toddler series or toddler meeting for those mothers in your Group, or (2) to form a whole new LLL Group specifically for mothers of toddlers. A special series or occasional toddler meeting may be the answer for you if you have no co-Leader or live in an area where LLL Groups are few and far between. Discuss the possibility of designating one or more Groups as a Toddler Group with your District Advisor.

In Orange County, California, the second option has worked well. Both Tina Pulice and Lisa Polzein lead Groups especially designated for mothers of toddlers. They find these groups have a very loyal membership, are a rich lode for possible Leader Applicants, and enrich their chapters and district as a whole. But whichever option seems best for you, here are some ways you can approach leading a toddler series and some ideas for solving problems.

Tina Pulice, Leader of the Fountain Valley Toddler Group, simply follows the four-meeting format of regular LLL meetings and adapts it for mothers of toddlers. She pays special attention to the interests and needs of the Group members, emphasizing areas that may be of special concern to them. For instance, if several members are expecting a second child, a discussion of helping a toddler adjust may be included. And at certain times of the year, Tina may highlight a seasonal topic. During the December holiday season, she finds the mothers enjoy talking about how to avoid too many sweets or avoiding "holiday overload."

Here's a typical series outline used by the Fountain Valley Group that you may find helpful in planning your own toddler series or meeting:

Meeting 1: The Advantages of Nursing a Toddler

What's in it for mother? Dealing with mother burnout and finding time for yourself; tricks of the trade; setting priorities in nursing a toddler; advantages during an illness; communicating with a toddler; how toddlers assert their independence; and building the toddler's self-esteem.

Meeting 2: The Family and the Nursing Toddler

Finding time for everyone; sibling relationships; tandem nursing; sleep habits of a typical toddler; the family bed; fathering; father's and siblings' feelings about a nursing toddler; and toddler safety.

Meeting 3: Challenges of Nursing a Toddler

Nursing patterns--what's "normal"; how needs and wants change; setting limits on nursing or continuing nursing on demand; special situations--restaurants, church, traveling; using a code word for nursing; appropriate activities for toddlers; separation anxiety; potty training; loving guidance and how to shape behavior; temper tantrums.

Meeting 4: The Nutrition and Weaning of a Nursing Toddler

Toddlers' nutritional needs; eating habits; snacks; mealtimes; how long should I nurse? the weaning process; how to handle pressure to wean.

If you are forming a special LLL toddler group, you could use this outline again and again, moving through the topics according to the changing needs of your group. Or, if you would like to offer an occasional meeting or series of toddler meetings, these ideas may trigger your thinking. As with any LLL meeting, our goal is to provide information and support about breastfeeding. Although playgroups and other parent education have their place, LLL's focus remains on breastfeeding. Both THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and Norma Jane Bumgarner's MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER will provide you with ample information as you plan your discussions. You can also check the LLLI Catalogue for other helpful books.

Of course, a meeting that includes a lot of toddlers is going to be noisy and a bit chaotic. Expect it. Let mothers know that it's okay to get up and tend to the needs of their toddlers. A comfortable room with lots of space to sit on the floor while toddlers play may be a good setting. Group mothers or co-Leaders may be able to trade off watching toddlers play in an adjacent room. Keep meetings short and flexible. Start meetings with topics that are most important to the group because you may not be able to make it through everything you had planned to discuss! If your own toddlers or preschoolers are present, be sure to stay tuned in to their needs.

Although the Orange County toddler groups are listed in meeting notices as toddler groups and traditional LLL Groups are readily available, occasionally a mother of an infant will show up at the toddler groups. In that case, the Leaders are careful to welcome her and to make sure her questions are answered first. They tell her about the other LLL Groups available to her, the meeting dates and times, and encourage her to attend one. Of course they should invite her to remain at their meeting if she would like to.

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