On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Jan 03, 2018

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

Morning to you all and a happy 2018! How is your year looking? Did you think about what you want to do differently as a parent this year? What will your year look like? We'll write a story with some of the beautiful, funny answers we're receiving. 

Check out Meghan's column from today about a child who is easily frustrated, but won't accept help from his parents. (Sound familiar??)

It's strep season. Have you heard of PANDAS? Pretty frightening.

Finally, I think this is an important one for all of us. We need to teach our kids about actual fake news. This is how one librarian teaches her own kids and students. 

Okay, let's chat, shall we? 

I have a 24 month old boy and 8 month old girl. Son is generally great with the baby, plays with her, helps with taking care of her, is very affectionate. We had some tantrums, etc in the first few months, but we found giving him lots of attention and having him participate in caring for the baby really got us through it. In the last few weeks, he has started to show jealousy and aggression towards the baby. He'll hit her randomly, then look at me and say "I hit [baby]". I'll respond with something along the lines of "I won't allow you to hit [baby]. You can hit the couch/pillow/etc if you feel angry". I can sometimes see him grit his teeth with anger on his face, like he's not sure what to do with his aggression. I've read a lot about acknowledging his feelings and allowing emotions, but while he is very verbal for his age, he can't explain his feelings yet and I feel uncomfortable trying to explain to him why he is feeling what he is feeling. He gets lots of attention and affection from both parents (we spend plenty of time playing and reading with him), to the point where I worry that the baby doesn't get the same degree of one on one attention. He engages in independent play, but as soon as he sees me interacting with the baby, he'll want my attention too. Any suggestions?

Oh man, You are in the weeds and your intuition is right, all this talking is not going to help a two year old much. It will serve to make you more frustrated.

Here's the deal: you are the boss of two REALLY immature people. I mean, REALLY REALLY immature. Even if your son wanted to please you and be kind to the baby, he cannot hold on to that thought because he is too little. His brain is largely working on a "one big emotion at a time" kind of track. This WILL get better as he matures, but for now you are playing a game of distraction and kind defense.

Just go ahead and assume he will be jealous. There is nothing wrong with that. Go ahead and assume he will try to smack the baby (normal, too).

When he is about to hit, say, "OH, time to find our favorite book!" And move it along. Don't address his anger all of the time (don't water weeds), and if he has already landed a hit, say, "Oops, okay, no hitting, let's find your truck and play digger!"

This will get better. Promise. Just keep going...

Meghan, thanks for taking my question. My 2 year old is loud and bubbly and outgoing at home, but as soon as she is in a new situation, she shuts down. She won't talk or make eye contact. I don't want to force her into anything, but I think it is important that she learn how to make herself comfortable in new situations and maybe starting early will help with that. Any suggestions to instill confidence that in her and make her feel more at home in new situations? Thanks!

Nope, this is 100% normal and you do not have to push her to be confident or open to strangers. In fact, nature has smartly designed her to want to stay close to you and not trust others; young children have fewer and deeper connections because they cannot take their cues from everyone. She needs to stick to YOU. This avoidance is RIGHT ON TRACK and if you push her to look at people, you are messing around with nature. Don't mess around with nature. :)

If adults push, YOU speak for your daughter. YOU answer their questions. She will probably warm after a while, but that's her call...not someone else's. People who understand two year old's know this..


Hi there, love your work. We have three under 3, in a car without a third row. They are OK about half the time, but they still are in each other's space a lot, hitting each other, stealing the other one's stuff, etc. Someone is usually in tears (sometimes it's me!). I would like to get a car with a third row so we can separate them a bit. My husband thinks we need to fix the behavior. I do not disagree, but I can't think of a way to fix the behavior while I'm behind the wheel. I do a lot of distraction but there are only so many bulldozers along the road. They are too little for iPads or TV or whatever. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you so much.

Three under three all lined up? Oh sheesh. Yeah, that's hard. They are too little to follow instructions for very long...so no matter what you do...they WILL get on each other's nerves.

I mean, I would go ahead and get the car with another row...these kids are only going to grow (God willing) and how will you NOT need the space? That being said, you can absolutely make this work without buying a new car and an extra third row is not a magic bullet.

You are going to have to hold on for dear life, and I would get a very strong and clear routine going. I would have a click-in song and music playing and wheels on the bus, and yes, I would think of installing a DVD to the headrest for long trips. Constant tears for you is hard, mama. 

This won't last forever...do what needs to be done.

We're expecting our first child this year and beginning to research daycare providers. The problem is that we have no idea what we're looking for, aside from fundamentals like cleanliness, safety, and staff to child ratios (as well as cost!) Do you have any advice on what factors are important to consider? Many of the centers seem to tout things like art classes and language immersion, which seem great-- but not particularly relevant for a 6 month old. Appreciate any insight!

Do you have friends who use a daycare they love? I always trust my inner circles and like to start there...

BUT, the number thing a daycare needs are loving, warm, and attentive caregivers. I could care less about art and the rest of it...I would be watching for how attached the children and caretakers seem to be with each other. 

I would also look for strong (but not rigid) routines, lots of outdoor play, and when indoors, the play is free and strongly supervised.

You will never find anything perfect, but that's my list.

So I know it’s not very early, but my 21 mo has started asking to go potty, and going whenever we put him on when he asks (plus first thing and right before bed). We’ve actually had 100% success. He’s been doing it at home, and we are going to start at daycare as well. Our approach at home has been very laid back whatever, but daycare is every hour plus any time he asks. I’m worried he’s so little that he’s not ready and this will be harmful. We didn’t want to train, just let him learn, but daycare has a pretty regimented approach (albeit with some flexibility). I’m tempted to table it, but my husband says to try it for a week and stop off he’s miserable. I’m not sure how to handle it, and second guessing readiness (even though he’s asking to go). His two besties are potty training/trained so he’s been exposed for a while.

Just go with it. I am not seeing or hearing any misery or red flags, and I trust that you will stop if he begins to fight it or have too many accidents! Some kids DO train early...just see and trust yourself.

When we were searching for providers, I looked for some long-term staff. Child care centers typically have a lot of turnover, so if you can find staff that have been there a while, then (to me) that must mean that they are happy with where the work. I would expect teaching assistants to be there a long time, but its a bonus to have a director that has been there for a while and some lead teachers that have also been there for a while. Just something else to think about.

Good one. Thanks. 

Just a tip, I would look at daycare center hours first. We have 6 within a mile of our house, but you'd be surprised how many I wasted time visiting because their hours wouldn't work for us and I didn't think to look ahead of time.

That's helpful, thanks. 

My 14 year old son is a good kid, but tends to be in the immature side. We recently discovered that he took part in an anonymous and brief but mean-spirited bullying campaign online. He has apologized to those involved. He is despondent over the aftermath. Other than taking away his phone for weeks and more closely monitoring his online activities going forward, what is the best approach to turn this around?

For starters, does his school have a counselor? A good one should be able to talk him through some of this and guide him in apologizing and moving forward in a better way. Phyllis Fagell, who writes for On Parenting and is a school counselor has a story about a boy who apologized, right here. Meghan?

Ugh...yes. This is hard because social media makes it REALLY easy for our not-so-great-sides to come out, and this bullying can take on a life of its own, very quickly.

So...you have to forgive him. You have to let him know that you know his heart, that you believe he is sorry, and that everyone makes mistakes.

He has also broken a pretty big trust and hurt some people. So that needs to be earned back. I would call a meeting and decide, all together, what this looks like. He should absolutely have a voice in what making amends and moving forward looks like. 

I would take the time (although no overkill here) to look at bullying in our world, how it takes shape, and ask some deeper questions about why we do it as humans. (And we do and we ALWAYS will).

Keep the conversation going and keep moving forward.

My son expressed an interest in using the potty around 20/21 months and we let him lead - if he wanted to go, we'd put him on, if he wanted a diaper, we'd let him. He also attends daycare part time, and they would put him on the toilet regularly. It worked, he's just over two and potty trained. If anything, seeing his peers using the potty likely contributed to the early success. My advice would be to not stress about it too much, offer but let him lead. We still have occassional accidents and regressions, especially when he is sick, but it's been amazingly easier than I expected!

Lucky you! Thanks for this... 

Your Post Points code for today: OP1177

Hi Amy and Meghan, My 4 year old excitedly awaits the arrival of his baby sister this summer, but I worry about how things will go when she arrives. Despite my son's great capacity--independent, helpful attitude, lots of skills--he continues to be pretty clingy. It picked up a lot last summer - BEFORE we got pregnant. He can put on his own shoes and go to the bathroom himself - but he wants company to go to the bathroom. Or never wants to play alone. Understandable things, and as two working parents my husband and I have always wanted to accommodate what we can because we want to spend time with him. Now I'm thinking we need to say "no" and "play by yourself" a bit more frequently, to prepare him and cultivate those skills for him before the baby gets here and he feels set aside for the baby. Any recommendations? What's the line between "these times are precious, be there and spend time with your kid" versus "mom and dad need their own time, learn to do some things on your own"? Thanks! - Getting Ready 

Ah, there is no line. There is no "just do this" "Just do that" and this will get fixed.

So, here's what I know: separation makes kids panic. They are biologically built to be near you, so again and plan that with your son and really love it. Get some special time going and dive in! No need to push him away or force him to be alone.


Another part of parenting is helping our children handle frustration, and one of life's great frustrations (to a four year old) is that his parents will not do everything he wants them to do. And it is best he runs into this boundary now, not when he is ten or 14.

This will mean he will scream and cry and beg, and your job is not to apply unkindness, just lovingly hold the boundary. "Buddy, I am stirring the eggs and I cannot come over there. But I will talk to you from here." He will NOT LIKE THIS, and that is OKAY. Let him work through it by just standing nearby. Trust me, this is easier said than done. It is hard to listen to your child scream and cry and tantrum, and we don't want to do ALL of the time, but it certainly makes sense that you cannot drop everything you are doing to be with him.

So, just keep going for the middle. 

We have a 10-year-old who is generally happy and social. But when it comes down to it, he just doesn't know how to be alone. He always wants to be with his younger brother (8), or us parents, he  hates sleeping in his own room, always wants his brother or a friend or the grown ups to play with him. If we have quiet time (ie: let's all go to our own space and read books or whatever) or if he has to do homework alone, it's like he doesn't know what to do with himself. He makes noises, plays with balls, keeps asking when the quiet time is over, etc. I'm used to small kids doing this, but how to help a 10-year-old be more independent, and even find some joy in being alone?

How do you help him find joy alone? Huh, I don't know.

Some questions I have:

- Is everyone in the family a bunch of introverts and he could be an extrovert?

- Does he have an undiagnosed issue that leads to all this "busyness?" My spidey-sense is that his nervous system has something else afoot, given his age. I am not saying he needs meds or even a diagnosis, but I am wondering if we can take this out of a judgment of him and more into that this WHO HE IS, like YOU LIKE QUIET...he doesn't.

Find a way to make this work for everyone. He can practice doing something quiet-er...help him brainstorm what this would look like. You know him best!

And I mean, you can certainly go read a book, but does he HAVE to also? Can there be other choices? I am asking: why does everything have to be so narrow?


I am trying to support my dad who is the primary caretaker for my mom who suffers from OCD and dementia. I would say that her OCD is much worse than ever and is largely a fear of germs. Nothing is ever clean enough. With the dementia, she has problems getting dressed because she doesn't know which order to put on the clothes or which way to put them on, but the OCD says that your hands are too dirty to touch her or her clothes to help. She will wash her hands a dozen times while getting dressed and if something gets wet or touches the floor, she needs to start over. She has a short trigger to frustration or anger where she will yell and scream if you try to help. I want to help out more so my dad can take a break from time to time, but honestly, I don't know that I have the patience to navigate my mom's mood swings and stubbornness. I helped with the meals at both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but my mom was constantly hovering with a spray bottle to sanitize and was uncomfortable knowing we were handling food. I just don't know that I am ready to deal with this on a more regular basis.

How can we get more support for your father? Are there services that can help HIM?

And we may need to figure out ways to get mom out of the house or away while people do certain things, so as to sidestep some of the triggers.

But please, keep talking to her doctors...there are meds for OCD but I don't know what mixes with what re: dementia...I just know that you will be riding the line of supporting your dad and loving your mom for a while, so many tears will be shed. Get some support for yourself...it is out there.

Best of luck to you.

Hi Meghan - is there any way to stop a 3.5 year old from throwing her plate at supper? We sit down together every night for family dinner, and she has started picking up her bowl or plate and throwing it on the floor. Usually she doesn't even taste it first, and often she grins at us after she does it. We have tried time outs (both in the same room and in her room) to "calm down," yelling at her, making her stay at the table while the rest of us eat -- all to no avail. We are at our wits' end and don't understand why she does this. Usually we get home from daycare/work around 7-7:30 and sit down for supper shortly thereafter, but she has done it even on weekends when we've been together the whole day. Do you have any ideas for approaches that might work better?

I know this sounds crazy, but I would invite her onto your lap EVERY SINGLE NIGHT with two bowls in front of you, and let her know she HAS TO SIT HERE AND EAT MOMMY'S FOOD.

Here's the thinking: she is really getting some power high's from this back and forth, so I would just go ahead and take the power back.

And trust me, you will not create a nightmare. SHE WILL SIT AND EAT her on food...right now you are playfully taking back power. And eating.

Let me know how it goes...

Thank you for reassuring me that my instinct to not over-talk is correct. It's sometimes hard to know when to intervene and what will have a lasting impact.

Ah, everything has a lasting impact (no pressure) and you will forever get in wrong. No worries, just keep learning.

Thank you all for joining us. Make sure to check out washingtonpost.com/onparenting and our Facebook page. Also, we've started a new discussion page about parenting while trying to work (and vice versa). Come join us! 

Talk to you all soon. 

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for OnParenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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