How We Make PATH Parenting Events More Child-Friendly

by Scott Noelle

In a perfect world, children would always feel welcome in the social sphere of their elders, as valued members of society. Babies and younger children would always have easy access to their attachment figures, especially their mothers, to meet their natural needs for proximity, connection, emotional support, and breastfeeding.

In practice, children today are excluded from most adult-focused activities, and their attachment needs often go unmet at those times. Their parents may not want to exclude them, but parents have needs, too, after all. Herein lies the source of the problem: the belief that meeting parents’ needs and meeting children’s needs is an “either/or” proposition.

I believe that with a little creativity and flexibility, we can refine the structures of adult-focused activities to be more child-friendly, while allowing parents to give adequate attention to their own needs. As we embrace a partnership approach, we blur the line between parents’ needs and children’s needs. “My” needs and “your” needs become our needs.

If you plan to attend a PATH Parenting event, and you feel that leaving your child(ren) at home would not be good for them, you are welcome to bring them with you to the event.

Below are some the steps we can take to make our PATH Parenting events (workshops, presentations, and support group meetings) more satisfying for parents AND children. Check the info page for your particular event to see what steps have been taken for that event.

1. Choose (or create) a child-friendly venue.

Children are natural explorers. When we take them with us to an event, everyone will enjoy it more if they can explore the environment safely. Event organizers can reduce the children’s frustration and the parents’ anxiety by removing any objects that are off-limits, easily breakable, or potentially dangerous, prior to the event. If babies will be allowed to crawl freely, the adult attendees should be reminded to watch their feet!

The shape or arrangement of the space also makes a difference. The room can be set up with a space “at the back” (farthest away from the presenter/facilitator) where children who need to move around can do so without distracting the audience/participants. This area can be stocked with toys, books, and supplies that encourage quiet activities.

Outdoor venues such as a park or campground have certain advantages and disadvantages. Most children are happier in an environment of open spaces, fresh air, sunshine, flora and fauna. But parents of toddlers may have a hard time focusing on the main event if they’re concerned that their children could wander off site. This could be prevented by enlisting helpers to make sure the children stay close, and/or by choosing a site with natural boundaries.

2. More control of SOUND means less need to control the children.

If the children’s area can be in a separate, nearby room or lobby, noise will be less of a concern. Noise can also be reduced by using a few strategically placed acoustic dividers — the kind that office cubicles are made of. (Used cubicle dividers can often be purchased very cheaply.)

If the presenter is using a microphone, the sound can be routed to a wireless speaker placed in one corner of the children’s area. That will allow parents to go with their children to the play area while remaining connected (through sound) to the adult activities.

A room with carpets, drapes, and/or acoustically treated ceilings will be less echo-y, and it will reduce the loudness of interior sounds that would otherwise be a source of distraction. Ambient sound can also be reduced by choosing a venue that is not too close to external sound sources like traffic, construction, or loud animals. (A pet shop is not a good venue!)

3. Food & Feeding

If there will be a food/refreshments table, try to include only foods that most parents agree are “good” for kids. A selection of raw, organic fruits and/or veggies is unlikely to push anyone’s food buttons! For ongoing events, you might want to survey the regular attendees for their food preferences.

It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that breastfeeding is a normal, natural part of mothering. Every PATH Parenting event is one where mothers and their nursing children can breastfeed openly and unapologetically at any time.

4. Onsite childcare

If there is a separate children’s room or outside play area, experienced caregivers can be enlisted (or hired) to supervise and attend to the children’s needs during the event. Parents could also bring their own helpers — a babysitter/childminder, “mama’s helper,” nanny, or relative — to be with their kids. When a child needs to connect with his or her parent(s) during the event — for emotional comfort and/or breastfeeding — the caregivers can facilitate that connection.

If the event cannot include onsite childcare, it may be better for some parents to leave their children at home with a caregiver. It all depends on the developmental stages of the children and parents, as well as their present needs and capacities. There is not “one right way” to do this.

5. Considering children’s routines

The event will feel more child-friendly to the children in attendance if their routine needs are proactively attended to. For example, parents can be encouraged to bring snacks or a sleeping pad if the event takes place during a time of day when children typically get hungry or tired. Event planners can also choose the event time with such considerations in mind.

6. Inside-Out Strategies

PATH Parenting teaches you how to make every occasion more child-friendly by changing your attitude and questioning certain beliefs about children and parenting. When children attend adult-focused events with their parents, many of the “problems” that arise can be dissolved instantly by deciding it’s not a problem! Often these “problems” become opportunities to practice new parenting skills as you’re learning them, and everyone benefits from witnessing the process.

Parents at a PATH Parenting event can expect it to reflect at least some of the “messiness” of real-life parenthood. If we can tolerate that without diminishing the adult learning experience, everyone wins!