On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jan 22, 2020

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

Hello all! Thanks for joining us today. Check out Meghan's latest column right here, along with On Parenting's other essays and stories.

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Okay, lots of questions await, so let's get started. 

Hang in there, everyone. Little technical issue, but something will pop up soon. 

Hi, my daughter is 7 years old, incredibly loving and compassionate child. She is however hypersensitive to all visuals and audible stimuli. She is afraid to watch any kids movies, friends at school that tell her fiction stories will make her have Bad dreams. Any ads in between iPads games will make her be afraid to walk into a bathroom or a dark room in her own house and more sleepless nights. We do not watch tv much and any Netflix for kids is controlled to ensure no violence is shown. iPads limited. I have had her dance class, swimming, now in martial arts with hopes to build her stamina assertiveness confidence. It helped for a while but we’re back to the same, again being scared of everything and more sleepless nights. She wakes up in 2 am crying. I have to sleep with her from there on. We live in a really nice neighborhood and she attends really good school. We attend church. Family stable and loving. What am I missing? What else can I do to help her out please?

Hi there....I don't think you are missing anything, and it sounds like you are working very hard to help your daughter.

So, let's relax this all a little.

Let's first take a look at this visual and audible stimuli worry. I would begin with a call to the pediatrician with your comprehensive list. Take this letter you wrote to me, as well as any other pertinent detail....has your daughter been like this her whole life? Are there any current transitions in your home? Have there been any recent traumas? Even mundane details...through them in. Your daughter may meet some of the criteria for Sensory Processing Disorder...and if your doctor thinks this could be it, it is important to rule it out. Why? If her brain is hearing and seeing more intensely than other children, her behavior will look anxiety, and you will only treat the anxiety. That's not a bad thing, but occupational and other therapies can help the sensory issues, help naturally lessening the anxiety...get it? I am trying to get to the source of her sensitivity so that you don't waste time and money treating the wrong symptoms. 

I would also look into the possibility of some kind of known or unknown abuse. I am reticent to even say it, but the frequent awakenings and panic make a red flag go up for me. Children are frequently abused in this country, and while it is likely your daughter is extraordinarily sensitive and will need help strengthening her bravery and courage, I would be remiss to not mention the possibility of abuse here, especially if there has been an inexplicable onset of these behaviors.

SO! Get making your list, call your pediatrician, and don't stop until you get some support for  you and your daughter. Period.



My toddler daughter recently started nursery. She’s very happy and settled but we don’t love it - the parent communication is mediocre, the admin is terrible and there’s little things about some of the policies and set up that feel like they lack attention to detail. Basically, we generally don’t feel hugely positive about it. It’s not all bad - like I said, she’s quite happy (though she’s also pretty independent so she’d probably be happy anywhere that was decent.) Overall, we’d probably stick with it if we didn’t have a solid alternative. However, we’ve become aware of an alternative arrangement that looks like it would improve on the areas where we are concerned, as well as being more convenient and less expensive (yes, we really wish we’d known about it a few months ago!) Our only hesitation - how bad would it be for our kid to pull her out of her current nursery after only a few months? It wouldn’t be immediate - we have to make a final decision and then give notice, so we’d have time to prepare her. But are we being unfair to our child to remove her from somewhere she’s happy due to issues that are primarily about our experience as parents? Some of the little things impact her experience but not in ways she’s likely to notice. Currently feeling guilty over the idea of pulling her out, but then also feel awful about the idea of leaving her there for another year and a half due to what might amount to the sunk cost fallacy.


I think if the new school checks all of the boxes you need, and if your needs are reasonable and attainable, you move her.

There may be some emotional fall-out for her, but if bridge the separation, stay patient and understanding of her clinginess for a bit, it will all be fine!


Our 2 1/2 year old daughter is "rebelling" with bedtime/sleep, eating, and potty training. We transitioned her to a "big girl" bed 2 months ago after several months of her refusing to sleep in her crib/daybed. Now, she is doing anything she can to delay bedtime, including roaming. We have tried letting her roam, since we can't force her to stay in her room. But, then she just gets so tired that she gets fussy. She also is still waking up at night wanting to sleep with us, and we are so tired, we aren't cognizant enough to take her back to her room. She also isn't eating much dinner. She eats okay for breakfast, a lot for lunch, and then barely any dinner, unless it is one of the few things she likes. We don't feed her extra after dinner, so she will learn she needs to eat the food given to her, but so far it hasn't worked. And, she is regressing with potty training. She wasn't fully trained, but she did like sitting on the potty when we suggested it. Now, she refuses and starts to cry. So, we aren't forcing her. I guess, we just need to tips or assurance or something. Overall, she is still healthy - good height and weight and is alert and active and very loving.

Ugh....these months are brutal. 

As for assurance, I can promise you that, one way or another, this time will pass. You need to keep your relationship and your sense of humor afloat, not take any of this too seriously and...(here's the bad news), pick some boundaries and hold them.

When you have an immature human, you cannot hold every boundary because you will go totally looney-tunes. It will be too much crying, upset, and mayhem.


If you allow the rebellion to take total hold, this beautiful child will rule the land you will be exhausted, angry, and bossed around by an immature tyrant.

I cannot tell you what to do (I don't know schedule or life), but do NOT worry about the potty training. Put a pull-up on the child and move on. 

As for food, dinner is the worst meal of the day for every child, so load her up with her needed calories in the first half of the day, offer her a little bit of food at night, and leave it be. She will come around in the next couple of months. 

As for night, welp...that's a toughie.

You have to decide if you care about her getting into your bed and what you are willing to do about it. Because sleep is so important, I am loathe to lecture parents about marching children back to bed in the middle of the night, but I also respect that this is what may need to happen.

Call a meeting with your partner so that you guys can get a little plan together.

Please know it will get better...and this is a time of MANY tears (yours and hers).

I wrote in last month for tips on taking away my 3 year old's pacifiers over the Christmas break (you thought it was a terrible idea :-) ). I'm thrilled to say not a single tear was shed. She got treats the first two mornings for not crying at bedtime/during the night, and it's like they never happened. We were shocked. Now I wish she'd be this easy with potty training!


Is there an average amount of time that kids in daycare are out due to sickness? My son has been in daycare since he was 4 months old and he just finished his first full year there. He was out of school due to illness for 34 days (mostly due to colds, ear infections, and other illnesses like hand, foot and mouth, pink eye, and one bout of pneumonia). He is 16 months old and was born 2 months premature (but with no major or lingering issues like trouble breathing - he was thankfully just small and needed time to develop). He is otherwise a happy and healthy kid. My husband and I knew that this was a factor when putting him in daycare, and I'm very pleased with our daycare overall (cleanliness, class size, involved and helpful teachers/administrators), but I wonder if this is abnormal? Most of my friends with kids are either stay-at-home parents, have nannies or family help, or are in smaller daycare setups, so I'm not sure their experience would be comparable. My son's class has only about 5 or 6 other kids, so it's not like it's overcrowded and he doesn't always catch everything that the other kids get. I will say a few of those days that he was out were us keeping him home to make sure he was fully recovered, but not a lot of them. Thanks and hope you might have some thoughts on this.


So, it is really normal for little kids to be sick in daycare...and A LOT.

It is upsetting to see and rough on the parent's schedule, but there is data that sickness early leads to heartier later.

As for your worry, I would hope that your pediatrician would have had some red flags when it came to something more serious, but I ran across this list that may be worth reading.

When warmer months prevail and health resumes, let me also suggest hosting a happy hour or party at your house for the other daycare parents. Even if you meet TWO people you like, befriending some parents with whom you can commiserate will emotionally help you!

Want to preface by saying all kids are different BUT in my experience and that of all my close friends, the kids handled the change better than the parents! Most kids are very resilient and go with the flow. That's not to say switch them all the time willy-nilly but I'd bet she'll do great!

You said it better than me. ;)

Hi Meghan, I wrote in a few chats back about having my toddler go to school/live part-time with my parents. We have started the transition this week, and while it has been emotional for both of us (though I am staying at their house Sun, Mon, Tues), I felt it was the right thing to do. He eats and sleeps really well there, the new school is excellent so far, and he couldn't have any better company/care than grandma and grandpa. My goal is to spend my days at home finding a better job, taking care of myself (6:30 am spin class, here I come!), and getting things in order so our weekends together our good. Thanks for letting me word vomit and providing some good, objective ways of looking at things.

Oh, thank you for writing! I am so glad you took clear and direct steps in taking care of your family (which means taking care of yourself).

Keep giving yourself short, mid, and long-term goals so that you end up with your son, in a job you like, with some mental and physical rest in there. It IS attainable!

Keep checking in...I would love to hear how you are doing.

Hi Meghan and Amy! Question for you on gender* preference for kids. I am going to be going it alone as what they call a choice mom (either IUI or IVF with donor sperm for the conception). I have always had a stronger gender preference for having a girl, and that has only become stronger since deciding to go it alone. Sure, it's going to be impossibly hard, but at least I will have the lived experience of a female (albeit asexual) to guide my child through puberty, the meanness that are other female children, etc. Also, because I am asexual, I really don't want the first time I see male gentalia to be when I have a child. However, I know I will love my child no matter what and that lots of single women have raised sons before and forever will. I also feel guilty for having such a strong gender preference and the cost that would be involved to "guarantee" a baby of a certain sex. Is it wrong of me to have such feelings? Something to work through? Something to acknowledge but also acknowledge that I will love my child no matter what? *I say gender knowing full well even if my child has male parts or female parts their gender expression could be different from those bits. A fact I am 1000% okay with.


Congrats on making this big decisions, and congrats on being so thoughtful about this process.

I don't know if you have a good therapist, but I suggest finding one to help you sort this out a bit. There ARE therapists who specialize in gender identity, and those who specialize in IUI and IVF, and it would be lovely to merge the two. You don't sound panicked, but it may help to unpack your stories and worries to a third party and see what comes up.


You can decide that gender is a construct, throw caution to the wind, not choose, and see what you get...knowing that you are fully capable of loving any child you bring into the world.

The truth is...all of the therapy and planning will not fully prepare you for what is going to happen...and having a girl may not make you feel any more comfortable than having a boy will. Your path, as a parent, will be as winding as every parent's is...so you don't need to tell yourself stories about it. You CAN decide that you have enough love for yourself and whatever child you have.

I don't know....

But a stop at a compassionate, empathic, knowledgable therapist is never a bad thing.

I am going to be thinking of you and wishing you the best.

Hi Meghan! Love your advice, always! My eldest - 7 and in first grade - is in the gifted program in school. He seems to be a textbook gifted kid - super high performing in some areas, extremely sensitive, a very active and complex inner monologue going at all times, scattered, easily distracted, and very moody. He is also controlling, bossy, and a know-it-all (to his 2 little brothers, in particular). Do you have book recommendations to help me be a better parent to this complex child? He is my hardest child, as our personalities are actually quite similar, and this means that he pushes my buttons the most. Thank you.

Oh boy, gifted children.

You cannot parent them as you would a neurotypical child.

It is hard because, while the giftedness is the root cause, the other symptoms can wreak havoc on his life and yours. The sensitivity and distraction look like anxiety and ADHD, and he may legitimately have both (diagnosable - I mean). Please, see a developmental psychologist and get a plan together for him that address his needs across the board....it will help you tremendously.

As for books, this list is awesome.

I'm one of nine siblings, and I can say unreservedly that girls and boys differ as much among themselves as with each other. The sweetest and quietest of us is a boy and the rowdiest by far are two of the girls. Just something to keep in mind. A child doesn't have to have gender dysphoria in order to not meet your expectations.

Agreed, that any assumptions one carries about the boys and girls in parenting is blown out of the water once you have them!

Thanks all for joining us. We'll be here again in two weeks, ready for more parenting chatter. If your question wasn't answered, keep an eye out for Meghan's columns -- she may answer you there. 

Have a good day, everyone. 

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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