On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Jan 17, 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! We have lots of questions that await, so let's get rolling. Here's Meghan's brilliant column today about how to reconnect with kids who are so completely different than you are

Hi! We are potty training our 3 year old boy and have had pretty good success at peeing although he still needs to be prompted more than going on his own. However with bowel movements, it is the complete opposite, he continues to soil his underwear and does not tell us when he needs to go. He tends to need to use the bathroom at the same time every day, which is usually on the way home from preschool and getting into the house. Any tips of how to successfully teach him how to use the potty? He is only in pull ups at night and has his favorite character underwear. Thanks!

This is so so normal.

Holding bowel movements is really so normal.

The only tips I can give you are to keep it light and keep it easy.

Sometimes a book (I am not a fan of technology) and a nice little stool can help him along, but whatever you do, don't pressure and blab on to him about it...and whatever attempts he makes, say, "well done!"

And when he goes in his underwear, help him get it into the toilet and say, "This is no big deal." Yes, it is gross and it costs money and the laundering feels next level, but any stress applied will only slow this process more.

Three is LITTLE, so be patient, go to Costco for some underwear, and if it gets bad, go back into diapers. 

Good luck.

My husband and I used to pride ourselves on what a wide range of foods our daughter ate...until around age 18 months when she seemed to suddenly stop eating anything but cheese, bread products, noodles, french fries, bananas, and occasionally other kinds of fruit. She recently turned 3 and barely a vegetable has passed her lips in a year and a half (and those few that have passed her lips have been quickly spit out). A pediatrician recommended we just keep offering a variety of foods but don't create a power struggle over it, but I'm getting increasingly impatient for this "phase" to end. She doesn't even tolerate vegetables put on her plate - she'll toss them off and then freak out of they've left visible residue on her plate. This food pickiness is her only behavior "issue" I am concerned about. Do you have any strategies for trying to gently help her eat a more balanced diet?

Ugh, I know this is frustrating. You make the veggies, she spits them out. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat. 

So, I hate to the bearer of bad news, but short of creating a social services situation, you cannot force her to eat anything. The only thing you can control is what you serve and what you give in to...

Here's the deal. Make and serve dinner, and put it out family style. I want you and your husband to thoroughly enjoy your dinners and say not a word to your daughter about how much and what she is eating.

Talk about silly things, talk about the weather, talk about preschool, talk about the park, talk about smelly farts...I don't care what you talk about, I just want you to BITE YOUR TONGUE on the food and focus on "enjoying the meal."

AND, dinner is the WORST MEAL FOR LITTLE KIDS. Like, THE WORST. Even the best eaters are kind of monsters at dinner.

This will all get better. One day at a time.

My husband and I sleep apart for a number of reasons (schedules, snoring, etc), and it works for us. However, over the last 6 months, my daughter, almost 4, has become more and more insistent that she needs to "be with" me, and that has taken the form of sleeping in my bed. She often gives a whole host of reasons why her room won't work--it's cold, she's scared, she's lonely--but mostly it's the "be with you" thing. I have tried making her room more fun, new bed, new toys, but at this point she won't even start there anymore. To be honest, I don't mind it, I like snuggling with her at night. But should I be listening to all of the people who keep telling me it's time to get her back into her own room? And how?!

I am going to tell you to listen to yourself.

Kids get in a lot of good snuggles when they sleep with their parents, I understand why they do it. Most of the sense are activated and to the nervous system, sleeping with their parents makes children's nervous systems go "ahhhhhhh..." Relaxation.


If you think you will be starting a nightmare situation or if you think that you want your own bed and time, etc and if you think that this may drive a wedge between you and hubby, think this through.

I am not saying it will be easy to walk her back to her bed, but parents do it every single night.

YOU DECIDE what you want.

Your Post Points code for today: OP1496

Hi! We have 2-year-old daughter. Before she was born, I never really noticed my husband's bathroom habits -- namely, that he doesn't wash his hands after he pees. This is gross to me. He still touches the toilet seat and flushes, but he insists that because a man doesn't need to wipe after urinating, there's no need to wash his hands afterwards. He thinks I'm overreacting; I think his lack of hygiene is endangering our child. Who is right?

I am not sure what to say to this. WHY would your husband cultivate an argument  for not washing his hands after using the toilet? What is he, five?

From his answer, it sounds like he is feeling pushed around by you...so you may want to have him train the two year old to wash HER hands after being out or being in a bathroom...see if he gets the hint that way.

Otherwise, I would ask him, "I want you to do something basically hygienic, and you decline. Is that because you feel that strongly about having dirty hands or you are feeling like I am bossy wife?"

I would start there. (I am going to go wash my hands now).

Hi Meghan, I am 4 months pregnant with my first child. I've heard a lot from my parents about how I was a late bloomer in terms of many developmental milestones, however I apparently "skipped" some steps once finally there. For instance, I didn't attempt babbling or speaking for months past when I should have. Then I began talking in complete sentences. Or I didn't try walking for awhile, but then could walk perfectly. The list goes on and my parents' weren't concerned at all about this. Now I'm curious as to what I should do if I find myself in the same situation. I am a (high school) teacher who has taken many childhood development classes over the years. I know the importance of not rushing milestones and all. However I also know the increasing importance and help of early interventions. I don't think I could handle the same laid back attitude of my parents. Do you have any future advice about how to balance the relaxing about milestones and early interventions?


What I am hearing and seeing is either a full-blown anxiety disorder or one that is on its way to becoming a full-blown anxiety disorder.

You aren't talking about milestones...you are talking about control here. And the ultimate in losing control is PARENTING.

Becoming a parent is like earning a PhD in not knowing the heck is going on or what to do. Will you get better as you go? Yep, as long as you are paying attention.

But, you don't need more advice, you need a therapist. STAT.

You don't need to be like your parents or anyone else...you are the perfect mother for your baby. But if you only watch this baby for indications of early intervention and milestones, you will lose your mind. Literally. The baby is not just a product of development; he or she is a whole and perfect person, however he or she is born.

So, please go to a therapist so you can offer your best self to your students and your child...and so that you can have a smidge of a chance at enjoying some of your child.

And trust me, you are not alone here. I had six months of therapy while I was pregnant with my third...it made all the difference. 




I think my youngest brother lived entirely on peanut-butter sandwiches for about eight years as a kid, and today he's a restaurant chef in charge of new dishes. (Also, my mother made mealtimes a battleground and as a result I don't think I knew what the actual sensation of hunger was until I was in high school. Just don't.)

(Insert emoji praise hands here).

We started training our son at 3.3 years, and he mastered peeing in the potty pretty fast. But pooping was another story - oy. After several months of frustration, getting him to assist in cleaning himself up, we finally tried something that should have been obvious. We told him to go to the potty if he felt like he had gas. He got his mini MnM for trying, just the same for a successful poop. And lo and behold, he got it in a matter of a week or two. He just didn't know what it felt like. And "got it" is still a matter of perpective; he still had a couple of poopy accidents in kindergarten. (ugh) But we survived - he's been fully trained now for years. :)

Love this idea, thank you for sharing.

The gas is a good indication, and when my kids were farting up a storm, I would say, "I think there's poop in there, I could be wrong. Go try." I would hand them a Boynton book and leave them be. It would work!

Hi, we love your chats! We have a 2.5 year old and a very old dog. The dog is as gentle and compliant with the toddler as he can be. Until recently, the toddler was kind and careful with the dog. But recently the toddler has been going out of her way to grab, push, and generally clobber the dog. The dog doesn't fight back, but it clearly hurts him -- and the way she yanks up on his legs could potentially cause real injury. We've tried separating them, talking about how her actions make the dog feel hurt or sad, practicing gentle touches, talking about how gentle touches are helpful to the dog (she's very much into being helpful right now, and is usually surprisingly empathetic for her age), etc. It all works for five seconds, and then she's back to torturing him. Advice? Is this a phase that will naturally end, or are there things we can say or do to help get to the other side?

Aw man. Yeah, you are doing all the right things, but you cannot fight the immaturity of a 2.5 year old.

What happens is that when you tell her to leave the dog be or she is hurting the dog, your daughter is nodding in agreement about how much she is hurting the pups.

But then, because her brain cannot hold on to that promise (just too little), when she needs to get up, she does it. She just pulls up on the dog. A 2.5 year old is pure impulse.

So, she WILL grow up out of this, but for now, she cannot be trusted with the dog. 

Can the dog be crated while you have to cook or clean or work or be out of eyesight?

Can the kid be crated? I kid. But can she be shielded from him?

And when you are all together, you will have to constantly place defense and some offense with this. 

It is annoying as all get out, but keep going. It will get better.

Hi! I wrote in a couple of weeks ago asking about my 8th-grade son, who despite a recent downturn in his academic work was planning to audition for the play. We encouraged him to try out and (after many snow delays) he got a small part plus he will be in the chorus. Even before the auditions he was starting to come out of his funk and take a little more care with his work, so that was great, and it looks like this new activity will be energizing and fun. Here's hoping he ends middle school with a bang, onstage and hopefully off as well!



You have discovered something very important here.


And let's face it, 8th grade schooling is simply not that energizing, even in the best schools. 

But extra-curricular and trying new hats and being brave to audition and GETTING the part and being part of a group and using your voice and body. PRAISE!!!!

When the time is right, have a little convo with your son about how he seems more alive doing this stuff...mention it and help him draw the conclusions between the musical and his performance in school.


I found out that my wife and I will be having another child, any advice on how to tell my five year old that she will be an older sister soon?

So, what's your kid like? You know her best, so you will have an idea of what and when to talk to her...more than me anyway.


Here's what I know:

1) Your five year old has been an only child for five years. She has had you and your spouse all to herself and this will be a big transition.

2) She may be excited (a permanent buddy!) and she may be pissed (someone taking away my parents!) and both of these feelings may flip flop around for quite a while.

3) She is old enough to truly help, but don't pull the "you are big sister now, we expect you to..." Your daughter is still young and immature. She still has her own emotional needs.

4) Your only real job is to listen when she speaks to you. If she's bummed about the baby, let her be bummed. If she's excited, let her be excited. 

5) Go with the flow here.


Thank you for your advice and wisdom! I have no children (but am planning for them soon) and also have a few nephews and nieces. This past Christmas, my nephew received a book as a gift on Christmas Eve. He threw the book down and said "books are boring." Lol. My brother was MORTIFIED. I told him, look, I read this article online and this is SO NORMAL. I gave him your advice (prep him before gifts are even given) and I could tell he used it because the next day on Christmas, he received another book--it took him a few seconds but he said "Thank you for the book." It's funny how some things seem so huge in the moment ("my kid isn't grateful") when all it takes sometimes is a little preparation.

You just made my day.

And what a good aunt you are. :)

This isn't going to resolve the situation but for insights into how we create our food habits read Bee Wilson's First Bite - it's excellent.


pediatrician had a special time set aside for "stupid" mom questions. Meaning not stupid, but the ones that get to you and you really don't think you should be asking them. He took them for a few hours a week while doing paperwork. On one of those calls, he told her that a three year old who drinks two glasses of milk, eats half a peanut butter sandwich and a banana (plus a vitamin pill) a day will be fine. Not "won't starve to death." Actually fine. And my mother carried around a grilled cheese sandwich for me for years when I wouldn't eat anything else for lunch no matter where we were.

I love this.

Thanks for sharing. 

And I am trying to imagine a grilled cheese in my purse...

We have started to discuss summer camp options with our 6 year old. She loved the camp she attended last summer except for the 1/2 hour parent show at the end of each week. This show is meant for kids to be able to show off skills learned and is very brief for each kid. It made her anxious and upset because she was worried about everyone (about 50 parents) watching and messing up. She now does not want to attend this camp just because anxiety over the show- to the point where she gets upset just discussing it. The camp is overall very good for her and works well with the family schedule. We are at a loss coming up with ways for her to face this fear (5 months out)- she shuts down at the mention of it.

I mean, can't you tell the camp, "We are a no-go on the show at the end. Lily can help put the show together, etc."?

That should not be a big deal.


Thank you all for joining us! We'll be here again in two weeks. Until then, check out washingtonpost.com/onparenting, our Facebook page, Meghan's Facebook page and our discussion page about trying to be a parent and trying to work. Enjoy your days, everyone. 

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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