Where Do Toddlers Belong at Series Meetings?
Madison, Alabama, USA
From: LEAVEN Volume 31, No. 1, January-February 1995, p. 5
A cornerstone of La Leche League philosophy is that mothers and babies belong together. But to a mother who is new to LLL meetings and protective of her infant, a room full of happy, playful toddlers can be a noisy, distracting place to participate in a discussion.
Is it a contradiction to encourage mothers' availability to their children and sensitivity to their needs, yet not welcome children of all ages at Series Meetings? The needs of all mothers and children must be carefully considered when planning meetings.
A large group of toddlers can be a real challenge to leading a discussion and effectively meeting the needs of mothers. Some Leaders have creatively met this challenge by providing quiet, safe toys in the far corner of the meeting room. Arranging the furniture to create two separate areas draws an imaginary boundary line between meeting and play areas. Mothers and children can easily pass back and forth, always in sight and earshot of both activities. The setting may be somewhat noisy, but the pandemonium is significantly reduced.
Other Leaders take this strategy a step further. A separate room or even an outdoor play area is established for the children. Mothers are free to let their children amuse themselves in a place where they won't disturb the meeting. Often mothers take turns on duty in the play area or the Group arranges for a teen helper. The noise and hubbub at Series Meetings are reduced and many Leaders find this works well. Several cautions are in order, however, before a Leader adopts this plan of action.
It is essential that we don't create the impression that children are required to play separately away from their mothers. It must be made clear that use of the play area is optional, based on each child's readiness. Think for a moment how a mother attending her first LLL meeting might interpret what she sees. If toddlers are ushered out of the room and encouraged to play elsewhere, we could be sending a mixed message.
An important point sometimes over-looked by Leaders eager to hold a calm meeting is that new mothers need to see other mothers dealing positively with parenting challenges. By watching mothers of older babies, we've all learned parenting techniques we might have otherwise missed. You can't learn it if you don't see it. "By commenting on good behavior of toddlers, Leaders can help mothers gain confidence in responding to their children," says the NEW LEADER'S HANDBOOK (p. 64).
But what about the noise? Won't it scare away new mothers? Certainly this is a valid concern. As in many cases Leaders can get best results by discussing this with Group members. The best forum is an Evaluation/Enrichment Meeting.
Explain the double-edged dilemma: the need for a reasonably quiet meeting versus the need for toddlers to have access to their mothers. Ask for the Group's understanding, sensitivity and cooperation in keeping disruptions to a minimum. Ask for input.
Suggest that mothers of toddlers take seats near the play area so their comings and goings won't' be as distracting. Suggest quiet toys. Suggest that before the meeting mothers discuss with their toddlers "playing quietly so the mothers can have their meeting." Remind mothers that their interaction with their toddlers is valuable for new mothers to observe. It demonstrates that we can participate in valuable activities with toddlers in two. However, mothers should also be re that Series Meeting is not a playgroup. If the meetings are getting too crowded with older children, mothers may be feeling that they are expected to bring all their children even though older ones are just as happy staying at home with dad or playing at a friend's house while mother and baby attend the meeting.
A Leader could also make an announcement at the beginning of the Series Meeting: "Our toddlers sometimes get carried away as they enjoy each other's company, yet we also know that they still may need to stay close to mother. Please help us meet the needs of everyone here at this meeting. Encourage quiet voices and quiet play. Try to be one step ahead of your child. Don't hesitate to leave the room for a short time to tend to your child."
Take a break to regroup or adjourn entirely if you feel that exuberant toddlers or upset children are overriding the meeting. If a new mother seems distraught about the noise level, make a point of talking with her during the refreshment break.
Toddler situations need to be handled in a manner that's best for your Group, with careful thought given in advance to possible repercussions. There are many options and it's important to consider all of them before deciding which to try. Leading a meeting with plenty of toddlers underfoot may be a challenge but with creativity, good humor and sensitivity a Leader can make it rewarding.