Communicating Loving Guidance in Series Meetings

Philippa Pearson-Glaze, West Midlands, United Kingdom

From infancy on, children need loving guidance which reflects acceptance of their capabilities and sensitivity to their feelings.

La Leche League Philosophy

La Leche League promotes gentle and practical ways to guide children as they learn to handle both their feelings and their behavior. Through promoting a child’s self-awareness and self-esteem, having appropriate age-related expectations, practicing empathy and using positive discipline, many negative behavior patterns can be avoided.

While as Leaders we are aware of a range of techniques to redirect undesirable behavior, parents coming to Series Meetings may use quite different strategies. Leaders may sometimes witness a parent spanking (smacking) their toddler or using threats and punishments that seem out of proportion to the behavior. How can we best communicate La Leche League philosophy in that moment, to present examples of loving guidance and positive discipline tools while being respectful of the parents’ feelings, beliefs, and choices?

Ideas to consider include:

Be proactive via meeting announcements

By drawing attention to the issue during notices at the start of the meeting, we can give the expectation that mothers will put the needs of their children first. We can mention that some children might be overwhelmed in the meeting room; they may be hungry, tired or bored; they may want to make a lot of noise and race around. We can indicate that we understand this and that it is normal behavior. We can ask that mothers feel free to follow their child around during the meeting to meet their needs. We can point to which rooms in the meeting venue are accessible, where the toys and activities are and, if applicable, introduce a designated Leader or attendee who will help out with the children. Make sure that the meeting has some quiet toys for older toddlers and preschoolers.

I preface the meeting by saying that there’s nothing we are going to say here that’s more important than caring for your toddler’s inquisitiveness, boredom, or stress. Because I have an evening meeting, I add that if a toddler becomes bored or tired to please feel free to leave before your little one gets too over tired or unhappy.

Renee DiGregorio, California, USA

Be ready to step in with helping strategies

As Leaders we may become aware of situations that are escalating between mother and child. Step in as soon as you see potential difficulty by talking directly to the child and reflecting how he or she may be feeling. This may give the mother a new insight into the behavior and can also calm the child who needs focused attention. If there are several co-Leaders, one could be designated to entertain toddlers and older children and to watch out for any child who is becoming disruptive through boredom or frustration.

I had a meeting a long time ago with a mother who was clearly close to breaking point with an overtired toddler. I immediately welcomed the mother with kind eye contact and then bent down to do the same with the child. You could see the mother hesitate for a moment and then relax ever so slightly, understanding that she wasn’t the only one in the room who would be present with her child for the next little while. I sat down on the floor with the child and led the meeting from there. He sat in my lap playing with blocks most of the meeting. I made sure to engage directly with the child when he asked for my attention, and modeled active listening with him, in the hopes that might give the mother some “tools” to take home. I also brought the conversation around to loving ways to handle all kinds of challenging situations, including night nursing and mama self-care, as often as I could. Fortunately I had “plants” in the audience (i.e., Leader Applicants) on whom I could draw for the kinds of anecdotes I already knew were in their experience. I also didn’t have my own children with me (they were older by then), so I was able to focus entirely on the meeting and that child.

Halle Eichenbaum Barnett, Ohio, USA

Speak to the mother

Speaking to the mother one-to-one after the meeting may allow her to open up about any challenges she is experiencing. She may be interested to hear of the resources available in the Group library, e.g., books with different discipline techniques. If the mother’s treatment of her child is very harsh, this can disrupt the meeting on many levels and it may sometimes be appropriate to speak to the mother during the formal part of the meeting rather than waiting for a private conversation. Sandy suggests:

I think it’s worth interrupting the topic and saying something like, “lt looks like your child is having a hard time in this environment. Is there anything we can do to help you get more out of the meeting today?” Or “Sometimes meetings are hard for our children. Be reassured that we expect some noise from the little ones.” I’ll often comment that it’s amazing how long distraction works as a discipline (i.e., redirection) technique.

I try to go to the source of the conflict first, and let the suggestions in gentleness responding to conflict come after. Mothers may open up about their child’s behavior if engaged, but may feel judged or hear nothing if we just try to slide comments into the conversation. “A child who doesn’t feel right doesn’t act right” has helped me right through the teen years. I find this applies to adults too.

Sandy Doyle, New Jersey, USA

Schedule a meeting about positive discipline

A meeting that focuses on positive discipline can remind mothers of all the ways we can support our children with loving guidance. By encouraging mothers to remember the emotions they felt as children, and how they react to conflict in their relationships as adults, we can help to set the scene for new insights and strategies.

Further reading:

  • Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, How To Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, 2012
  • Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too, 2012
  • Hilary Flower, Adventures in Gentle Discipline: A Parent-To-Parent Guide, LLLI, 2005 
  • William Sears and Martha Sears, The Good Behavior Book: To Have A Better-Behaved Child from Birth to Age Ten, 2005
  • Arnall, Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for Raising Caring, Responsible Children Without Time-Out, Spanking, Punishment or Bribery, 2008
  • Eileen Harrison, Time OutBreastfeeding Today, 2015
  • Lisa Hassan Scott, Myself Through His EyesBreastfeeding Today, 2016
  • Discipline and Loving Guidance, LLLI

Philippa Pearson-Glaze has been a Leader since 2002 and is currently the Managing Editor for Leader Today. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant working in private practice in England and owner/editor of Breastfeeding.Support.