Once the fog of being a new mother has lifted a little, you might feel ready to face the world. Where better than a Baby and Toddler group? These are often found in church or village halls and for a nominal weekly charge, you get a cuppa and a chance to socialise with other parents and carers in a similar position to you. What could possibly go wrong? Here are a few hints and tips to get you through the unwritten rules of a new group!
In any group like this, there are unwritten rules that have evolved over time and everyone else knows them apart from you! The best way to find out is to just ask. For example, one group might expect all rubbish (including dirty nappies) to be removed from the premises before you leave. Other groups might only stipulate that nappies be bagged before being binned. The only way to find these things out is to ask!
The thought of walking into a new group can be terrifying, especially if these situations tend to make you nervous. Remember, most people at these groups have been through the process of having a small baby or an energetic toddler. Plus, your baby gives you plenty of talking points. You already have something in common. Show an interest in other people’s children and the chances are that they will reciprocate. What’s their name? How old are they? Where did you get his T-shirt? It’s so much easier to think of questions when children are involved than in adult-only company.
This is probably one of the biggest bug bears of all groups. Even if your child is a six-week-old infant and has spent the entirety of the group asleep in his pram, make sure you help to tidy up. A few blocks chucked back in their container or puzzle pieces put in their rightful place goes a long way. Many hands make light work and as your child gets older and tries to single-handedly empty a ball pool, you will appreciate all the help you can get!
Going back to point 1, if you don’t know where something goes, just ask. Once you’ve been shown the ropes once, you’ll be much more confident in lending a hand.
The first group you attend might not be the one for you. Many people find they have to attend a few groups to find the one they gel with the most. This might be anything from atmosphere to price to the quality of coffee and cake on offer. It doesn’t matter. What matters the most is that you find somewhere you want to attend each week and it doesn’t feel (too much of) a chore.
Once you find a group you like, try to attend as regularly as you can. It makes life easier for the person organising it if they have a rough idea of how many people attend each week, but also it makes the whole experience better. This is especially true if your group is quite small or rural. These services are much more likely to keep going if they are well attended. It’s also good to attend regularly so that other attendees get to know your children and vice versa. If you need to nip to the loo, it’s easier to ask a familiar face to keep an eye on your child for five minutes!
It has happened to every new mother. You take along your tiny, newborn baby to a group and you lovingly place her down on a playgym (with a muslin cloth under her head) only to have an absolute bully of an 18-month-old trying to grab her nose or a 3-year-old with ambitions of Formula One ramming her with a trike. As horrifying as this sounds, this is all normal behaviour for children and your child WILL do it to a younger one at some point.
The parents of the toddlers will be reminiscing about when they used muslin cloths and still cared about dangerous germs living on playgyms, instead of just trying to survive the day with a tyrannical toddler. Those parents are also tired and busy, so don’t shoot them too many dirty looks when their giant children come into proximity with yours!
Baby groups are also not the time to comment on other people’s parenting choices be it weaning, sleeping or discipline. Everyone has different ideas about what is right for their child, and you bringing up several articles on why baby-led weaning improves a child’s IQ by 39 points will not be appreciated by the parent who has spent the previous evening sieving butternut squash puree. By all means, discuss these things with family and friends, but most people at baby groups are looking for a chance for a light natter over a hot cup of tea.
Other new mothers or parents with children a similar age can be a lifeline. These are people who know exactly what you are going through and are best placed to cheer your good days and console you on your bad days. This is especially true if you are the first in your circle of friends to have children or if you’re new to the area. If someone new starts the group, make them feel at home and help them settle in.
If you are planning on staying in the same area for the foreseeable future, these people may not just be limited to baby groups but their children might join yours in nursery classes all the way through to secondary school. Invest in your relationships with other parents as you never know when you might see them again!
This is another burning issue in the world of the baby group. Even if your toddling darling is the epitome of angelic at home, there is every chance he might become territorial and destructive when faced with his peers. Even an older child will become frustrated if a wee one demolishes yet another a tower of magnificent magnitude, because his mum wasn’t watching. It’s not just the older children who need to be reminded to give the smaller ones space. It works both ways.
If your group provides a snack for the children, try to make sure your child sticks to her own plate. Many a tear has been shed over nicked crackers! There’s always a child who happily hoovers up leftover snacks at the end. If that’s your child, that’s absolutely fine (waste not, want not and all that) but just make sure all the other children are definitely finished!
Getting down on your hands and knees and playing with your children is part of the fun at playgroup. There are lots of toys you might not have at home and it’s nice to see your child playing with different toys and interacting with other children. Sometimes children are more comfortable playing when an adult is nearby. If you know your child needs a bit of support in sharing and coping with other children, you might find that the session runs more smoothly if you are on hand.
Whatever you do, don’t worry too much. The chances are that most parents have seen the best and worst of behaviour in their own children. If your child has a bad day, the chances are most of the other parents are thanking their lucky stars it’s not their child’s turn. If you’re watching your child and monitoring and reacting to behaviour, that’s all you can do. Most other parents appreciate that.
Some days, children are superglued to your hip and you can’t put them down for love nor money. On these days, it’s difficult to help tidy up or even maintain a conversation so don’t sweat it too much. If you’re a regular attendee who usually pulls their weight, the odd week where you sit down and try to relax a bit won’t matter a jot.
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