On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Jan 16, 2019

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! Here's Meghan's column from today about devices, rules and how life-changing they can be. Read it! 

So much to talk about today... let's get going, shall we? 

My son is 11 and I think he is amazing, brilliant, kind and loving to a select few people and to many others he is polite but distant. He continually has female teachers who nitpick at him and seem to be watching him constantly to find a fault with him. He currently has 8 minor infractions ( e.g. of one is not doing the assignment but instead staring off into space) and one “major” infraction which is total over policing of him and he was singled out for punishment when almost all the kids in the class were in a group chat instead of doing their computer work. It’s really hard for me to go into the school and hear these criticisms of my child. They want me to agree to some disciplinary plan. But I don’t want to agree to any of it or sign anything against my child. I feel like I am betraying my flesh and blood by agreeing with these things. Am I wrong? He’s really well liked by all the other kids, scores in the 95-99 percentile in the MAP testing and he is athletic, funny and loves to learn. I am afraid that they want me to participate in crushing his spirit and I don’t want to be a part of it.

Hmmmm.

Hmmmmm....

Thank you for writing in.

There is something about this note that is making my spidey sense detect that you think your son is without fault or blame in all situations across the board, and so I am unsure how to guide you.

On one hand, OF COURSE most parents don't want to go in and hear their child is subpar in any way, shape or form. It hurts, it is embarrassing, and it can feel like an attack on you and the child (which you say). It is hard to listen to mistakes your child has made. I get it.

On the other hand, for almost every single child on earth, mistakes are made, and some of these mistakes are in school. It doesn't mean your child is out of control or "bad" or anything; it's just life.

And then we have the matter of the female teachers who nitpick him. Either we have a problem with the school and how teachers treat the boys (which is actually quite common) or you are overly sensitive to any critique. Or a mix of both.

I don't know.

We also need to parse out that being well-liked, being athletic, scoring high on tests, etc. have little to do with his behavior in the classroom. Some of the most well-liked children in school are some of the most out of control (for a variety of reasons). 

I also don't know about the discipline plans...are they spirit-crushing? Do they use shame, blame, embarrassment, unrealistic behavioral expectations, etc? Or are they reasonable, positive, and attainable?

Finally, life is not fair. Not now, not ever. Your child will be blamed for things he didn't do, he will be caught for things that others won't be, etc.

These lessons are important for children to learn early, so I don't necessarily think that you should strive to make sure that everything is equal all of the time. That isn't life.

On the other hand, if you genuinely you feel that your son is targeted and being treated as badly as you feel he is, I cannot believe you haven't called serious meetings with the teachers and admin. If I felt that my children's spirits were being crushed, I would be in there, STAT.

Find the line between your feelings and reality. I cannot see it...so you have to sit down and take a hard look.

OP1421 is the Post Points code today

Hi Meghan--I appreciate your chat and columns. My husband and I have three very young children. Over the holidays, we stayed with my in-laws, and my husband's step-father lost his temper over a minor behavior issue with our four-year old; he grabbed her roughly (he left a mark on her arm, but not a bruise) and screamed at her in a very frightening/lengthy tirade. I removed her from him as quickly as I could and prepared to leave their house. We, and my husband especially, have had a very positive long-term relationship with him (10+ years), but are very troubled and confused about his behavior. My husband has reached out since this happened, and his step-father has apologized for losing his temper, but feels as though our daughter deserves his response and he feels justified in "correcting" her. I am concerned for him and saddened by his choices (because, obviously this was not about the preschooler's behavior, something else must be bothering him), but I'm not sure how to move forward as a family in a way that keeps our children safe. Our kids are particularly close with their grandmother, and she was very sad to hear that we would not be coming to visit unless he undergoes some counseling and is able to have a different perspective about his behavior (she does not agree with his behavior and has told him this as well, resulting in more tension). They are close in proximity and we saw them regularly and willingly before this occurred. She has come to our home since, but none of us have seen him. Do you have any suggestions for moving forward? Thank you.

Ugh.

I am sorry, this stinks.

This is some old-school parenting here, and back in the day, grandparents (and random people on the street) were well within their rights to discipline any child in any way they saw fit (short of full-on whoopings, those were saved for the parents). Grabbing a child, yelling, lecturing...they were all part of the playbook of parenting, and grandparents were absolutely allowed to take part. I am betting that this step-grandfather was absolutely disciplined this way, and he clearly sees no problem with it (as he has stated).

Fast forward to 2019 and putting hands on a child is a no-no. ESPECIALLY if that person is not the direct parent of said child. And while I don't think that grabbing a four year old and screaming in his face serves any purpose other than scaring the pants off of the child and I don't recommend any one do it, it is worth looking at how different your discipline techniques are from the step-grandpa and see if there is any middle ground.

I am reminded of a time when I was at my parents. My girls were young--ish and maybe it was my middle child...she may have been eight? Well, she was acting the fool at dinner, bad attitude, etc. My husband and I were slow to discipline her and my mother let her have it. She didn't grab my daughter, but she raised her voice and if I remember it right, asked her to leave the table.

The whole table froze, as my mother had never really yelled at my kids and of course I was upset, but...

Here's the deal: there was misbehavior, it needed to be addressed, I should have done it, the dinner meant a lot to my mom, and she lost it.

So, should she have yelled? No.

Should I have been on it more? Yes.

Did my mom say sorry to my daughter? Yes.

Did I say sorry for letting it get out of hand? Yes.

And my daughter LOVES her grandmother more than life itself today...rupture, repair.

Is there room for the possibility that your son needed discipline, it's just that granddad brought a gun to a knife fight?

Or was he so out of line, so unreasonable, so scary, and so out of control?

Please, unless you feel that violence is imminent (emotional or physical), try not to cut ties. Have them come over and please stay with the four year THE WHOLE TIME. Objectively watch how it is going. 

And then, put the kid in front of the TV and ask the granddad more about how he understood what happened...how he was raised, how he understands children. Then you can explain what you are trying to do. A sort of meeting of the minds so that you can both work together to stay a family.

It is worth it.

Please elaborate, I'm intrigued.

Oh, they are the life of the party! They are wild, funny, charismatic, sassy, physical, smart, and boundary-pushing. Not every child, but many children love and envy this kid. He or she is an awesome distraction. They can also be in trouble A LOT, performing poorly in school, etc. 

Any tips for getting a toddler (he’ll just be 3 when his brother is born) ready for a sibling? Or tips for those first few months?

1. Get a couple of books about siblings and read them together. 

2. Definitely ask him help and for support, but don't play the "you are a big brother, you know better" card. He's three. He really doesn't know better.

3. Expect jealousy....or not. Sometimes children are jealous and sometimes they aren't. Would love to tell you why, but I think the best way to avoid it is to allow the older sib to have all of their feelings. They are sick of the baby? Fine. They don't want to help or kiss? Cool. Just leave out the pressure on the relationship.

4. SPECIAL TIME!!!! So, the baby is like a potted plant, it can be put anywhere, but that 3 year old needs some floor time. Set a timer (I like this one) for ten to fifteen minutes and do Lego's or cars or puzzles or art or WHATEVER. It matters not. Just smile and have eye contact and enjoy that three year old. You may dead on your feet, so do your best. It means the world to the older sib.

5. Revisit the birth and stories of older. Three year old's are being ego-driven, so get out all of those pictures and retell the stories of how special he was and how much he can show little sib. 

6. GET HELP. Any responsible and loving human will do. Have someone take older child out so you can sleep. Have someone hold baby so you can take older for pizza. It doesn't matter, JUST GET SUPPORT.

Like many people, I have friends who are working but not getting paid during the government shutdown. The children in these families are slowly realizing that there is a problem, as there are not trips to the movies, no fast food, food budgets have suddenly appeared, etc. The parents are hanging on as best they can, but it is tough for them. What is the best way to handle the issue with the kids?

First of all, I am sorry for all this suffering. Sigh....

1. Be honest with the kids. Whatever age child you have, you can explain what is happening. You want to explain it in a way where you end POSITIVELY. So, you don't want to say, "And therefore, Mom and Dad cannot pay the rent and we are scared." No. You smile and say, "Yeah, this is not an ideal situation for many many families, but we are making our way through. Our family is okay, and we are hanging in. Mommy  and Daddy got this." This may not feel true, but as the parents we have to fake it till we make it. Our children need to feel safe, and this is what we can offer them. So, yes, be honest about the budget, but don't panic in front of the kids.

2. Have the kids help you creatively make fun! Have them offer ideas of what your family can do that doesn't cost money but provides fun! Children love to help and they have great ideas...use them!

3. Allow your children to feel worried and scared, even if you have said all the right things. Between the feeling in the country and the ubiquitous news, children know that things are bad. If they come home upset and worried, be a listener. Let them know that you are here to listen to all of their worries and answer all of their questions. Remember: the more space you give a feeling, the less room it takes up. And this goes for you, too. Be sure that you have someone you can complain and worry, too. It is a release valve for your worries.

Above all, join together as a family and highlight that, as long as you are together, you can make it through. Yes, you are scrambling, but children just need to feel safe. 

Best of luck to everyone suffering....

There's no mention of how old the OP's FIL is, but is it just faintly possible that there is a cognitive decline or personality change going on here?

Ohhhh, good thinking. Sometimes, early Alzheimer's can manifest in little (and big) explosions....

Definitely something to keep your eye on.

Thanks,

I get what you're saying, but I would find it incredibly hard to be around someone who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to yell at a 4 year old. You're right that this is how his generation dealt with children, but when you're that far in life, what are the chances you're going to change your mind?

Absolutely, and I don't think it is a worthwhile practice to try to change others.

But if there can be a meeting in the middle, an appreciation of both sides, a common understanding, some empathy and a true discussion, it will show you your path forward. Maybe she can trust again, maybe she cannot.

Another factor is when you are day-in and day-out with your own kids, you forget what it's like not living with children around and I'm a bit more sympathetic to the grandparents getting more easily frustrated and out-of-practice of keeping their cool even while punishing obviously wrong behavior and actions.

Oh, this is true. 

Even though many grandparents are ga-ga for the kids, the noise and rambunctious behavior, coupled with how differently we raise our children, can create a powerkeg of trouble.

The younger the children, the shorter the visits (says I!)

My usually delightful son is close to 3. And he has suddenly started to resist napping. He will rub his eyes and yawn while I read to him but as soon as I put him in bed he sings, shouts, plays to keep himself awake. I wouldn’t care if he naps or not except he is exhausted by 4 pm, crying, hitting, shouting, running around one moment, lying down the next. It is very stressful for everyone. I’m not sure what the problem is. He gets lots of outdoor playtime and has a good diet. Nightime is fine. He sleeps from about 8 pm until 6:30 or 7 am. Any ideas to help him nap or get through the day?

With patience, a sense of humor, and lots of Daniel The Tiger. (I kid, but only kind of).

It's a tough transition.

Just establish the quiet time and even if YOU nap and he reads and watches a short show, great. Just make it quiet and do your best with the rest of the day.

It WILL pass.

Have your friends over for dinner, even if it's just pizza and salad. Ask if you can take their kids out for ice cream with yours. Depending on how many and how old, a Saturday movie or Netflix afternoon at your house complete with popcorn. Something 'normal' for them that they are not getting now. Added bonus of giving affected Mom & Dad an afternoon break if possible.

That does it for today, folks. Interesting questions and thoughts today. As always, thanks for joining us. Meghan's columns can be found here, and On Parenting is right here. Thanks, take care, be nice. Talk to you in two weeks. 

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach. She holds a master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins, taught high school English, and was a Parent Educator with PEP. She is the mom of three girls.
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 On Parenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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