Attending a Conference
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 3, May-June 2001, p. 100
"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.
I recently attended our Area Conference. The experience was so inspiring that I am thinking about attending the La Leche League International Conference this year. I'm wondering about making the trip with my 14-month-old and about how he will manage being in a new place with all those people around. I would hate to make the trip and be unable to attend sessions because he was too overwhelmed. What tips do other mothers have on traveling long distances with toddlers? What will it be like to attend the International Conference with a toddler?
My youngest daughter turned two on the final day of the International conference in Anaheim, California, USA in 1989. We had a great time attending the sessions, and I only missed one that I had signed up for. It was an early evening session, and I think she had become overwhelmed because I had lingered too long talking and visiting with old friends. I sat on the floor in the back of the room for most sessions, and my daughter played contentedly nearby with quiet toys. There were many other children and parents on the floor with us. I was even able to take some notes on some of the sessions.
The one luncheon I attended was right at her naptime. I borrowed a sling from a friend and my daughter nursed to sleep in it and slept through the entire luncheon speech (a great talk by Lee Salk where he stated that he let his kids fall asleep whenever and wherever, including under the dining room table!).
There will be many toddlers there, and your presence will help your child adjust to the new place and all those people. And there are rooms for some quiet time if your child needs it. I think that even if I had had to miss several sessions it still would have been worth it.
The happiest toddlers I've seen at Area and International conferences are the ones whose mother brought along another trusted caregiver (father, grandmother, older sibling, or cousin). This caregiver can bring the toddler to you whenever needed. Often the toddler is thrilled to go to the playroom or other children's activities without Mom, at least until naptime rolls around. Many mothers of toddlers simply skip sessions that fall during their child's naptime, and use that, as time to reconnect with their toddler. Other mothers have toddlers who will nap in a sling during an early afternoon session, and then go with a caregiver for an afternoon of crafts, museums, or any of the many fun things to do in the hotel or nearby.
As with most activities we engage in when our children are very small, there will be some compromises involved, and the success will depend on the individual child's stage of development and mood. For instance, if your child is coping with teething, the beginning of a cold, or a growth spurt you can expect to be called away more often!
I found that all the new and exciting things were great distractions for my youngest son, and that he was happy to spend a day with his father and brother while at conferences. I did usually miss out on something (such as a Luncheon speaker or an afternoon session) to spend time with my family, but I was happy to make that compromise, and saw many other families doing the same. The rest of my family enjoyed getting to meet other families with similar parenting styles, and our children were never at a loss for playmates!
It is wonderful to hear you had such a positive experience at your Area Conference. Now you wonder if you can repeat this at the International Conference while bringing your toddler. In 1997, I attended the International Conference in Washington DC with my then 18-month-old daughter. We traveled by airplane, and to make the trip easier I brought several favorite toys and books, plus a few surprises to bring out when necessary. Many families find it can make travel easier to choose a time when your toddler may settle easily for nursing and a nap, or even his nighttime rest.
As far as what you might expect at the conference once you arrive, it will be most helpful to consider your child's personality beforehand. In my case, my daughter was very outgoing, so I knew that meeting new people would be exciting for her. As with many activities involving toddlers, I did find that flexibility was key and I made sure to attend to her needs promptly. My daughter tended to become loud when playing happily, so it was best for us to be seated near the back of the session rooms. I also brought quiet toys and several nonmessy snacks to meet her needs for playing and eating. We did miss a few sessions due to naps and stimulation overload. Overall, I found the experience was well worth the adjustments I needed to make.
A very helpful idea is to solicit assistance for watching your toddler at the conference. Some families are able to bring along a family member or friend to help keep the toddler entertained or give the toddler quiet time when needed. In my case, I had only two days' notice that I was attending the conference, so I was not able to set up this sort of arrangement. However, this did not mean I was without assistance! Several people attending the conference offered to help watch my daughter while I ate meals or if I was looking burned out, and I really appreciated taking them up on their offers. The atmosphere of caring for children and mothers at the conference was one of the best things about it!
I remember a Leader who attended an International Conference with a toddler about the age of yours and frankly, it was quite challenging for her at times. However, there are bulletin boards where teenage sons and daughters of Conference attendees can post a notice if they are interested in babysitting. You might not feel comfortable with the teen taking your toddler away from you, but you could have the teen play with the toddler outside the session room so that you both felt comfortable. This might work for you if you could budget to bring along some extra money for babysitting. I have found that toddlers will often nurse to sleep after lunch so that afternoon sessions can be attended without much interruption.
Deborah S. Q.
I went to the 1999 LLLI Conference in Orlando with my 14-month-old daughter and we loved it! My mother, to whom my daughter is very close, accompanied us. My daughter was not accustomed to getting up early, so she would stay in the hotel room with my mother while I attended the 8 am sessions. Then I would return to our room and help get my daughter ready for the day. I would usually take her to the next sessions and lunch. Many sessions had lots of floor space in the back and sides of the room for little ones to play. My daughter made many new friends! If she seemed sleepy, I would sit in a chair and nurse her to sleep. My sling was invaluable! And you can always leave a session and then return if your child needs a break.
I made sure to take time every day to let her run around and play—either in the pool, the playroom, or our hotel room, which we shared with another mother and her 10-month-old. I think you will really enjoy an LLLI Conference, as they are designed with children in mind!
I've traveled with my toddler many times and have the following tips for you.
Be prepared with snacks, toys, books, and drinks. When you travel, it's hard to know what food will be available that will appeal to your toddler, so if you pack your own food, you'll be sure it's healthy and appropriate.
Bring along your sling and/or back carrier in case you need to walk long distances. It's nice to have the capacity to lift your little one up and out of the way. Plus it can double as a sleep spot during an afternoon session.
Have realistic expectations. You may miss a session or have to leave, but a toddler's unpredictability is part of his charm.
Remember that you are in good company. Anyone who has had a toddler can appreciate the twist it brings to an ordinary situation. Bon voyage!
Traveling with a toddler can present its own challenges. We have traveled frequently with our children and have found some things that help make for a less stressful trip.
Give yourselves plenty of time. When traveling, allow for extra stops.
Have a plan of action for unexpected delays, such as layovers between flights that are longer than anticipated.
Pack accordingly, but don't bring what you may be able to buy. For instance, I find it easier to buy more disposable diapers than to carry them in my luggage. This means I have less luggage to carry.
Make sure everyone gets plenty of rest—even if that means an afternoon nap or early bedtime for you, too.
Have a goody bag full of fun things like stickers, paper, and crayons to entertain your child.
Don't try to do too much in one day.
By following these guidelines, we have been able to take our children on trips to Europe as well as across town to the zoo.
I think the main thing to consider is the temperament of your child. With my first child, I could not even sit down and eat a meal in my own house from birth until age three! With my second child, who is now nine months old, I have never missed a meal yet. I went to a pottery-painting party with my husband and my seven-month-old sat happily in the sling. Just yesterday, I attended a parent-teacher conference at my older child's school in a very tiny office where he played happily on the floor with a water bottle.
Remember that LLLI Conferences are very child-friendly. With the exception of the technical sessions for credit, the noise level is that of your average LLL meeting. Many of the speakers will say in the beginning of their session that happy toddler noises do not bother them. At the LLLI Conference in Florida, there were big sections at the front and the back of the rooms that were clear of chairs. Many mothers laid big blankets on the floor with toys. At one session, it was blanket to blanket! This could work for a low need child, but maybe not an active one. I think you know your child best.
If you decide that it will just be too difficult for you to attend the conference this year, you can always buy tapes of the sessions you most want to hear. While you'll miss the atmosphere of sitting in the session, you may be able to pay more attention to the speaker when you can listen carefully to the tape at home and it will serve as a taste of conferences you can attend when your children are older. The Technology Room at the Conference will also be providing glimpses of the conference and interviews with speakers for those who can't actually attend the conference. Check the LLLI website for details.