Oh, Those Toddlers!
From: LEAVEN, Volume 32, No. 5, October-November 1996, p. 77
Every Leader knows the value of long-term members. However, these mothers are often the mothers of toddlers. How does a Leader conduct an effective meeting with several toddlers in attendance--including her own--and how can she keep mothers of toddlers involved in the Group? Here are suggestions from two Leaders.
Leading Meetings with a Toddler in Tow
Enosburg, Vermont, USA
Now and again in the life of every LLL Group comes the toddler--a boisterous, opinionated bundle of delightful energy--throwing a Leader's well-laid meeting plans into disarray. Some children this age are not ready to stay away from mother for several hours while she leads a meeting. But when they come along, they may become bored or unable to handle the sometimes overwhelming environment of a large meeting. They may whine, cling, become aggressive or possessive. At this point, a Leader may question her effectiveness and even consider retiring!
Take heart; the situation is probably temporary. Before giving up, consider these ways to lead meetings with a toddler in tow.
Father care can be a delightful change of pace. Some toddlers are happy to spend time at home with Dad, if he is available during meeting times.
A teen helper can entertain and mediate a small group of children during the meeting. The helper could be someone from the community or a teenaged child of a Group member or Leader. Toddlers will be more at ease if the same teen can commit to attend regularly. Try contacting early childhood education classes at schools or colleges. Some programs offer class credit for volunteering. (The students would certainly learn a lot about parenting just by being in the room!)
An activity table can be set up in the meeting room with one or more small, quiet projects available. One Group member or Leader could station herself at the table. The activity needs to be some-what self-directed as well as safe for younger children who may wander over to explore. Examples include: homemade clay; crayons and paper; lacing boards; colored pasta, 2-inch pieces of plastic drinking straws or paper shapes with holes punched in the middle for stringing. Ask for volunteers to be responsible for the activity each month.
A separate or adjoining playroom allows toddlers to play nearby with supervision. This option can dramatically reduce the noise in the meeting room. A disadvantage is that the adult supervisor may miss some or most of the meeting.
A co-Leader can take "toddler patrol," offering toys or assisting with drinks and snacks.
Individual activities supplied from home are my current solution to keeping my twin four-year-olds happy during a meeting. I set up a little bench and chairs right next to me. With them close by, I can anticipate when they need a new activity and quickly help them. Before the meeting I gather quiet, age-appropriate activities in a small bag: playing cards, chalkboard, crayons/colored pencils and a variety of paper, stencils, stickers, unopened junk mail, puzzles, pipe cleaners, magazines. I keep the items fresh and attractive by reserving the "bag of tricks" for meetings and long car rides.
Keeping young children happy while leading meetings is work but worth it! Asking for understanding as well as suggestions from Group members provides an opportunity for all to learn about the needs and normal behavior of toddlers.
Debbie Landauer, a Leader for three years, is DA for Northern Vermont, USA. Her Franklin County Group regularly has 15 to 20 children in attendance; all of the Leaders and most of the Group workers have children ages 2 to 4.
Keeping Mothers of Toddlers Involved
Monterey, California, USA
Just as you can't ignore toddlers for too long, neither can you ignore mothers of toddlers. While toddlers will let you know they need your attention in several obvious ways, toddler mothers are unlikely to tug on your clothes, throw tantrums or start whining. They simply stop coming to meetings.
Why not use techniques similar to those you would use with toddlers to keep mothers of toddlers interested? Give them attention and give them something to do! Try to meet their needs by:
- Including mothers of toddlers in Planning/Evaluation Meetings where they can talk about older-baby issues with other mothers in the Group;
- Explaining why Series Meetings are geared to help new mothers and how they help by sharing their perspective and experience;
- Devoting part of a meeting to toddler concerns when a co-Leader is available to take a small group aside;
- Holding a Toddler Meeting every Series.
Mothers of toddlers feel more involved when they are:
- Encouraged to continue attending meetings and told how much good they are doing;
- Asked to do a Group job (Mothers who no longer attend regularly may be happy to help out by taking on a job such as Mailing Coordinator.);
- Given an opportunity to find out more about LLL and leadership.
Mothers of toddlers often form the core of a Group; many times they are the Group workers. Most important, they are LLL's future Leaders. In order to keep them interested, we must help them feel welcome, needed and important, as indeed they are.