Making new friends: Parent and toddler group survival tips
As a shy person trapped in a talkative person’s body, I found walking into my first parent and toddler group a nerve wrecking experience. Where do you go? Who is in charge? What do you do?
The first thing you need to know is that everyone in the room has had their first day too. People go to these groups for different reasons. Some people go to talk to people who can wipe their own noses; some people go because they’d like their child to have some more social interaction some people go for advice from other parents. Often it’s a mix of all three. Whatever your reasons for wanting to join a parent and toddler group, here are some tips and tricks to help you on your way.
The first problem can often be finding where to go. The Public Health Nurses, GP surgery, Family Resource Centres and local notice boards are all good starting points for finding out about the parent and toddler groups in your area.
Once you have found the parent and toddler group available, the next step is to look up whatever information you need to make you feel comfortable about going. I put off going to groups for so many reasons. I didn’t know where to park; I’m wasn't sure which building it was in, and so I decided to stay at home instead.
Now I am a big fan of using Google street view before I head off to a new group and feel much more confident when I know where I’ll be travelling to and how long it will take. Some groups have a contact person you can ring in advance to get information. Many groups have Facebook pages so you can get a feel for the group’s activities.
For months, I thought that Parent and Toddler groups meant that your child had to be a toddler. This isn’t the case at all. Most groups welcome all young children. I have even met babies as young as four weeks at a group. So haul your sleep-deprived self out of the house and get meeting people again.
Leaving the house with a child, especially a newborn, takes effort. Give yourself plenty of time to pack everything you need. Often the groups are on in the morning so you may want to back a bag the night before.
On your first visit my advice is to bring money, there is often a small charge to attend the group and I have found myself rooting around the car for change. Best avoid this by bringing a small amount of money with you. Bring food or bottles and a change of clothes for your little one too.
Go for it
I have never met anyone who truly relishes meeting new people. Even the friendliest people I know find it tiring to meet a room full of strangers. But it really is worth it.
Making friends who are in the same stage of life as you are is a comfort, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly friendships develop. You are not going to get on with everyone, and you don’t have to, but you’ll be surprised how easy it is to strike up a conversation. In my experience, everyone there is up for a natter. If you meet someone who isn’t so friendly, then try someone else. But also bear in mind the person who isn’t so friendly might not have slept for a month!
If at first you don’t succeed, try again
If there is only one group in your area and you weren’t too sure about it on your first week why not try it again? You might go one week and think that there’s no-one you really click with. Try again next week. Not only might there be different people the next week but you might find you and the people you’ve met are more comfortable with each other on your second week.
If there are loads of groups in your area why not try a few. I am the Goldilocks of parent and toddler groups. I’ve ruled out groups for having too many people, too few people. I kept trying new groups until I hit on the right group for me and my son.
Once you’ve braved your first day at one group the rest is a doddle.
People are nice
At the start, I worried a lot about other parents judging my parenting choices. I worried that people would judge my breastfeeding choices, and then I worried they’d judge my food choices. The reality is, most people are too busy trying to figure out how to parent their own children to worry about how you parent yours. Plus, one of the easiest things to forget is people are nice. Yes, there are some loose canons out there but on the whole people are nice. Parents just want to meet, chat, hang out with their kids and relax.
This is definitely something you can do. You've had a baby you can do anything!
Ann Marie is a writer, blogger and mum living in Cork City. She enjoys all things vintage, making a craft mess and finishing a cup of tea without anyone throwing a tantrum. You can read more from Ann Marie on her blog thriftyamos.com or follow her funny musings as a Mum on Twitter, @thriftyamos.