On Parenting: Meghan Leahy takes questions about parenting

Mar 04, 2015

Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach with Positively Parenting, joined Amy Joyce to talk about parenting children of all ages.

When we serve our 3-year old granddaughter's dinner plate, she often asks for "more," or a larger helping than what is on her plate. We tell her she can have "more" if she eats what is on the plate. This leads to a melt down. Is this about food or something else? For instance, last night when she ate everything on her plate and asked for seconds, she refused to eat and pushed her plate away insisting she wanted "more" than the second helping quantity presented. This led to whining and crying for her mother. We said she had to leave the table until she calmed down, which she eventually did, and returned to the table to eat.

Food wars with a three year old.

Been there, my friend.

So, it is pretty normal for the 3 yo to try to push you and the mealtime around.

NORMAL. Not bad, not misbehavior. Normal.

And it is normal for you to hold your ground.

She is going to throw a fit (again NORMAL), and you are going to patiently and lovingly wait.

This will go on for a while, and if you LOVINGLY hold the boundary, it will get better.

Keep on keepin' on!

I don't want to get into the current controversy involving the Maryland "free range" parents, but I would like to get your thoughts about how to judge whether your kids are mature enough to be able to walk to and from school with their siblings but without their parents. Is their desire to walk alone (with their siblings) enough? I certainly spent a lot more on my own or with only my sister when I was growing up, but that was another era. Your suggestions? Thanks.

Ugh, that is such a mess, isn't it? That whole situation is a shame, and I feel for EVERYONE in it (yes, even CPS), most of all, the kids.

But you are hitting the nail on the head when you say, "how to judge whether your kids are mature enough to be able to walk to and from school with their siblings but without their parents."

This is it, right?

There are children, in the world, who are caring for younger siblings, walking dangerous miles to school, picking through trash. Pretty independent, right? But NOT what they want. It doesn't make it right, developmentally or otherwise.

So, that's the first of all: Just because a child physically CAN doesn't mean that they SHOULD.

Age is not our best prediction of maturity, is it?

Some 8 yo's are more mature than some 11 yo's.

Some 11 yo's are more mature than some 30 yo's. (cable news, anyone?)

So, only you know what your child is ready for. Truly.

To ease in, start with shorter distances here and there. See how it feels. See how they do.

Go with your instinct and your knowledge of YOUR children.

It's all that matters (that, and trying to not break the law).

My son, a middle child, is funny, social, and very smart. He's also very active and has energy to burn, even compared to most 8 year old boys. Our real concern though is he will argue and talk back every single time we ask him to do something. This so frustrating and really grates on our nerves. My husband and I both work and we look forward to time with our kids over dinner each night (we have 3 year old and 13 year old girls as well). But as soon as I tell him it's time for him to set the table, the rudeness starts. We are having a hard time responding in a calm and civil manner and I want to learn how to react calmly and get him to see how disruptive it is. It can spoil our moods for the rest of the evening.

That's a lot on an 8 year old's shoulders, isn't it? Spoiling moods and entire evenings? Let's focus on that.

1) Stop telling him to do stuff. Why? It's not only NOT WORKING, but it is creating major drama.

2) Since you will have some time to fill that would've been spent in struggle and pushing and forcing, take him outside and throw a baseball/kick a ball/shoot hoops/whatever physical. I am talking 5-10 minutes. Chat with him. Laugh with him. Smile and delight in him.

3) Come in, and eat. Share what cool thing happened to you that day. Ask him to share with the family.

4) When the meal is finished say, "Roger, grab some plates with me," while smiling.


Repeat this until it works.


Our 2.5 year old has taken to banging her head on any surface to express her frustration about anything (it can be her unhappiness with what's for dinner to us stopping her from engaging in a dangerous activity). How do we keep her from hurting herself in these situations and handle the situation positively?

So, please check with your pediatrician to rule out any underlying neurological issues, etc.

But let's say everything is going along normally. This IS normal.

Not every child bangs her head, but so many do that...well, it something that parents put up with until it is over.

It is upsetting and worrisome, though, I get that.

Why do children do this:

2.5 yo's REALLY have trouble expressing their thoughts and feelings and emotions VERBALLY, period. Then they doubly have trouble expressing these emotions quickly.

What is fast? Physical movement.

Hitting others, self, toys: this is an expression of frustration moved OUTSIDE of the body, the mind.

The child is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT consciously choosing this. NOT.

Can you STOP her from doing this? No, not really.

The best you can do is the best you can do.

Isn't that frustrating? Makes you want to smash YOUR head into a wall, right? (get it?)

Simply, the best and most gentle way you can, keep her safe. I used to keep small pillows nearby and simply placed them on the table...my children would try to move and we turned it into a game.

She is not going to knock herself out (I have never heard of a child doing it, although someone will write to me saying that they have seen it).

I *almost* promise, this WILL stop.

Good luck...you can do this.


You kind of alluded to it, but I get the impression that the first time his parents are interacting with him after work is them ordering him around. "Do this, do that". I'd be annoyed too after a long day at school if my parents/SO didn't bother to ask how I was doing or just sit and hang out for awhile, and instead started telling me to do chores.

This is the sticky part, I don't know what is happening as soon as they get home, but I know that when commands are not working, MORE commands are not the answer. :)

My son is 2.5 and has started to hit and stick his tongue out when he isn't happy about something (not getting to eat cookies for breakfast for example). This occurs a few times a week. He also says 'go away' when he wants to do something we don't want him too. I'm not too concerned about that. However, when he hits I have told him 'no hitting' and if he repeats it I put him down, say no strongly and walk away (5-10 feet or so). He cries splayed out on the floor. I let him cry for a minute and then go back to him, hug him and tell him not to hit because it hurts. Is this the right course of action? He is more naughty when he is tired or hungry and I get that and try to solve that problem but times he is just going to be a naughty toddler and I want to make sure I'm handling this the right way. Any advice would be great. Thanks!

Oh boy, you may not like this answer, but here goes:

You are a ROCKSTAR with the tongue-sticking-out and "go away's." Seriously. ROCK STAR.

I want you to apply this to the hitting.

I know, I know.

Let's put all of our fears out on the table:

1) He will grow up to be a "hitter."

2) He won't learn right from wrong.

3) He won't respect you.

4) He will hit in school and become "that" kid.

5) Any other fears?

Okay. Good. Fears out. Place them into an imaginary box.

Take the box to a cliff, and toss it over. (we are throwing all organic material into more organic material, no littering here).

Imagine the fears, fluttering down to the sea.

Crashing on rocks.


The other fears that are there are the tongue-sticking and go away. You have already pushed those fears over the cliff.

This is one to add.

He is going to hit, off and on, for years. YEARS.

So, buckle-up, buttercup, it's gonna be a bumpy ride, and you CAN DO THIS.

Firstly, we gotta put an end to the "attention, rejection, attention" cycle you got cookin'

It is hurting your relationship.

If you were hurting (emotionally), and I said, "I cannot love you until you stop that feeling" well geez. You'd be pissed and super hurt.

Take out the walking away and stick to the staying with him part. Keep him from hitting you, yes, but stop leaving him (unless you are beginning to feel violent toward him, then get out of there).

Secondly, take naughty out of your vocab.

Use "Normal"

Use "Perfectly On Time"

Use "Just right the way he is"

Write these on stickies and put them everywhere.


He is the MOST violent time of his life. He cannot help it. He needs lots of empathy, love, cuddles, smiles, and UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE.

You can do it.

I believe in you.

We want to begin our daughter in a language. Her current daycare offers sign language. A new daycare we are reviewing offers Spanish. Is there any value of one over the other?


And there may be little value in both.

She's better off just playing, freely, in a safe and simple place.

Or, you end up with my brother who never had to do anything because he would throw a fit or be rude, so my parents would take him outside (what he wanted in the first place) and the siblings, who were not rude, got stuck with all the work.

Right. So, your parents felt your brother needed to something at that time and gave it...but then never moved it along, right?

Never upped the expectations?

They kept the status quo while your resentment built?

I get it.

I had this too, growing up.


What’s the difference between a 13 year old being forgetful v irresponsible v being human? I am not pleased that my 13 year old didn’t remember to bring her speech to an after-school team meeting. Yes, she should know better. Yes, we discussed the matter. But I was equally surprised that the teacher has no interest in keeping copies of the team’s speeches – just as back up for when occasions like this happen. I get teaching responsibility, yet, something about this leaves me unsettled. Why?

I don't know.

Why does it leave you unsettled?

It seems like awesome life-lessons are being learned here...on all fronts, right?

I have a six year old daughter who seems to have leadership skills. I can't really pinpoint it exactly...she's socially fearless, the others in the class (boys and girls) seem to look to her to lead...I'm wondering how I can encourage this in her, before the world starts telling her to stop being bossy. She's not one for group sports, an obvious place for leadership...any other ideas?

Doesn't sound like you need to do anything other than what you are doing.

Why add more to what nature has made perfect?

Why add trouble?

There are leaders needed EVERYWHERE...she will shine, as needed.

Sounds strange, but allow her to emerge...she has SO much life in front of her, drop your assumptions (maybe she doesn't want to lead).

See where she goes. See what happens. Leave it be.


I've tried it all..light up/vibrating toothbrush, "tooth monsters in his mouth..get them out", songs, him brushing my teeth...I'm just so tired of tantrums when brushing my 3 yr/1mo old son. The teeth do get brushed, sometimes these tactics work, then sometimes it's just me holding him while he screams and cries. Will this ever end??

Ummm. yes?

And I know I will get flamed, but I would STOP brushing his teeth for a while.

My heavens, pinning a child down for teeth-brushing is rough stuff.

I know, I've done it. (boooo)

I would argue that the struggle and mayhem and violence is worse than plaque.

Just decide to give it 7 days...and see what happens.

I don't know what will happen.

But just see.

That's all for today everyone! Thanks for joining.

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach.
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