On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Feb 14, 2019

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

Good morning, all. Thanks for joining us today. If you missed it, here's Meghan's most recent column about a 6-year-old with massive meltdowns. Okay, lots of questions await, so let's get going. 

My 20 mo g’daughter (who I watch 2x week) is making life miserable for our 2 geriatric cats. At times, she’ll be gentle & sweet to them & other times screeches at them, chases them, etc. They’re saints - neither have ever so much as hissed at her, but my heart breaks for these super sweet felines. I tell her “no,” “be gentle,” etc., but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Please, HELP!!!!

Oy. Well...ummm...I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you are doing what you need to do for the moment.

I would 1) lock the cats away as much as humanly (catly) possible to keep all beings safe.

2) I would continue to watch the 20 month old like a hawk and intervene at all times and places.

3) I would continue to role model and teach her how to pet and remover her from cats when she cannot

4) I would not expect for the 20 month old to "get it" now but you ARE laying the groundwork for her TO get it. Make sense? It WILL sink in (I hope), and so your repetition is not a waste of time.

Good luck and keep those kitties safe.



Code today: OP1430

Hi Meghan and Amy, My 3.5 year old boy hates daycare. I take him to daycare most mornings, and every day he tells me he doesn't want to go. This morning he was crying the entire way to school and telling me he's scared to go. That concerned me, so I tried to get him to tell me why he was scared, by asking about each of his teacher's individually and then each of the other kids in his class. He says he likes all of them and isn't scared of any of them, or of any other people. (Side note: the school has cameras, so I've watched the cameras at different times of the day, and nothing seems amiss or concerning.) His fear seems to hinge around the fact that I'm not there. He is ok going to school, he says, if I could stay. So this seems like separation anxiety, but I don't know what to do about it and what to say. His teachers say that once I leave he's fine (although full of energy and is not great at listening, like his peers hah) and the video I've seen agrees with all of that. I'm pregnant, and he seems to have gotten worse since then, but I don't know if it's because of that or if it's just his age. Any thoughts? I feel so lost.

Oh, this is the worst. Listening to your child beg to not go somewhere WHILE being pregnant can break your mom heart...I feel you.

So, I think you know your answer here.

You have done your due diligence. You have watched the video of the school, you have spoken to teachers, you have listened carefully, and you have looked at all the other options (but always stay aware of something amiss). 

Not all child development books pick up on this, but three year old's often spike in separation issues and become afraid of things that were just fine prior. This is confusing because your child is only getting older and more competent, why would he become more afraid?

Well, not to get maudlin, but as the mind matures it becomes more and more aware of itself; that your son is his own person. With this realization comes the idea of loss and impermanence. You can see babies love peek a boo, because you are there then you are not and then you are there, and the baby is surprised and delighted every time. Pretty soon, the baby is wise to the game (no, I know Mom is behind the wall) and pretty soon, the child cannot simply be distracted from every problem.

Essentially, your son is FEELING your loss more NOW.

This is a good sign.

This is not a problem.

It is painful and awful for you, but he is simply aware that he has to say goodbye to his main attachment, and that impending doom causes panic.

Add to this, there's a baby on the way and welp, that's a lot for this little kiddo.


Families have been doing this since the beginning of time, so take heart.

Let's up the special time with your 3.5 year old. Whatever his love language is right now, make that happen. Cuddling, reading, kicking a ball, playing with cars, anything. Just set the timer, get on the floor (I know, I know, you're pregnant) and really get into it.

Ease up on any "YOU ARE GOING TO BE THE BEST BIG BROTHER" chit chat. Just let's the pressure off.

Give him some luvvies for school. A picture of you, something special of yours, a picture of you together, anything! The teachers can also hang it up and he can see it whenever he likes. I used to pick up a rock (seriously) and in front of my kid, I would say, "I am squeezing every bit of love into this little rock. Please keep it in your pocket and when you get sad, YOU squeeze the rock. It has all my love, so hold on to it." You would be amazed and how well this worked.

Good luck, mama.

I have two twin boys that are turning three. I am looking into preschool for them but I am not sure both are ready. They currently go to an in home daycare with a wonderful woman who is loving and great with them (but not a lot of room to run around in her apartment). One definitely is ready, he loves to run around does well (for a 3yr old) with following directions and can stick with an activity for 10-15min. The other I am not sure. He is autistic, and has a 3 min attention span and after that he wanders and won't participate in the activity and will try to leave. If I separate them though and leave one in the home daycare, they are the oldest there, most are 2 or under there, and I'm not sure how long he would have kids he could play with especially if his brother isn't there. I don't want to set the one up to be frustrated all day and be constantly getting into trouble at a preschool, and i doubt they can just let him wonder around the room and do what he wants while the other kids are expected to participate in the activity they are supposed to do, but I don't want to have him not be around kids his age to play with and become socially isolated with only babies around. Advise please?

Can we broaden the options?

Here's the deal: your sons are twins, but they are not the same. And not just because one is autistic and one isn't. They are different people, and they are going to take different educational paths.

I would work with a specialist to begin to chart a plan for your autistic son. He needs an environment that will help him grow, learn, and feel safe (like every child), and that may be the same school as your oldest child...or not.

But get some help with this.

And become accustomed to thinking about different paths for these children...this is your future.

Thank you for the piece of your February 6th column warning this parent against hasty judgement. I will never forget the day that I was on the metro with my exhausted self and exhausted, kicking and screaming, 3yo son when a very pregnant woman disdainfully and snidely remarked to me that her baby would never, ever, throw a tantrum in public. I burst into tears (I was a single mom and completely, utterly, overwhelmingly exhausted that day - if you're a parent you know how that feels) and the dad sitting behind me leaned forward and said, "you're doing a great job, what she said was completely unnecessary". Please, I beg my fellow moms out there to extend compassion to one another the way that dad did to me that day! We're all doing something really hard and really exhausting, and nearly all the time we're doing the best we can in what usually amount to hidden difficult circumstances. Be kind, you'll get it all back and then some. Remember that when you see a family out in public -- regardless of how the kids are behaving -- you are seeing a snapshot of their life, and probably it isn't as perfect or awful all the time as what you are seeing just then. My son is 10 now, and our moments of public tantrums have been over for a long time. I still remember that mom-to-be and the dad in the metro despite it happening 7 years ago.

Thank you for sharing, and I am so glad someone extended themselves in kindness...that's the real story here, right?


My husband and I work full-time but his work schedule often leaves me with our kids evenings and weekends. I am an introvert and am really struggling to carve out regular time to recharge myself. At 7.5 and 10, I feel like my kids should reasonably be able to give me 30 uninterrupted minutes to do yoga or something. However, even if I've directed them not to open my bedroom door unless they're "bleeding or dead", I'll still have someone coming at me every 2-5 minutes for reasons ranging from "He's hogging the remote" (a problem I've made it clear is not mine to resolve) to needing to tell me a story about a random thing from two weeks ago. I don't want my kids to feel like I don't care but this blatant disrespect for my request is getting old. I've toyed with leaving them in aftercare later than I already do but I feel bad when they're among the last kids to be picked up. There has to be a away to help them learn the difference between what's really urgent and what can wait half an hour to tell me, right?

You gotta leave the house.

I know it is a pain and you will have to pay a sitter, but you have to go to a proper yoga studio and have a proper class and get away.

Or sit in a cafe or quiet library.


It won't be like this forever, but please, get a sitter.

In the meanwhile, call a family meeting and CLEARLY SPELL OUT THE EXPECTATIONS.

We have to be sure that the children's connection cups have been filled before you shut your door on them, and as an introvert, you are going to plan this ahead of time as to avoid overwhelm. Create a list of things you all can do together, maybe it is play cards after dinner or watch a show together or walk the dog together...anything! And then say, "FROM 7 to 7:30 I AM GOING TO _________________. Please respect this time. While I am doing ___________, you can...."

Give them something to do while you are yoga-ing, resting, etc.

This will not be perfect. They will interrupt you. But we are looking for more respectful communication, not perfection.



For the woman who said she just wants to be left alone (and anyone else), read this piece about why we need self-care and how to do it. I love the description at the top about the generals. 

My daughter, 15, has recently gained a lot of weight. She quit her gymnastics lessons about a year ago because of a time conflict and since then hasn't been excersizing at all (her PE class is a JOKE). Her eating habits have become really unhealthy also. She snacks on junk food at night way more than she used to and buys pizza at lunch instead of eating the packed lunch I give her. This all has resulted in a 40 pound weight gain in one year (she also has only grown 1 inch). So far, I haven't said a word about any of this. When she has asked for money for new clothes, I have given it to her (just as I did in the past). I have started incorporating lower-calorie foods into our breakfasts and dinners, but without any comment. Should I say something? I am torn between not wanting to ruin her self-image and also not wanting to miss an opportunity to intervene before she heads down a very bad path. I want her to be healthy and feel good. What do you think?

I say this with love: KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.

Quietly and covertly, I would rid your house of the junk food and put out bowls of yummy fruit.

I would also maybe sign the WHOLE family up for a fun-run or walk in the spring. It would involve minimal training, but just being out and about is good.

I would take her on walks and just chat. 

If she brings her weight up (she knows, trust me), BE A LISTENER.

Tell her it is normal for the body to change and that gymnastics was a lot of training for the body. Ask her what else she would like to do/try, WITHOUT A HINT OF JUDGEMENT IN YOUR VOICE.

Any food things you do are directed to the family at large, not to her.

Any exercise programs are for you and your family, NOT HER.

Stay loving and connected and close to her. That is your way in to helping her live healthier.

I was fortunate in that when our second child was born, several of the daycare classmates of my almost 3-year-old were also acquiring a younger sibling. Each time, the daycare teachers held a "Big Brother" or "Bid Sister" party to honor the older sib -- with songs, treats, and a story. This really helped him feel important (as opposed to, say, dethroned). I still recall this with gratitude, and it was 30 years ago.

Geez, I love this so much.

I love a party, I love a celebration, and this is so very sweet.

I did this with my child. I cut a square from an old favorite blanket. I traced my hand on one side and his hand on the other side with a permanent marker. I would touch it to my face, kiss it, and put it in his pocket. I told him if he felt lonely or sad to put his hand in his pocket and feel my love. This seemed to help, and he eventually outgrew it. It was small, easy to wash, and most important, a physical symbol of my love. Can't hurt to give it a try.

Love that.


My son carried a keychain with a picture of us all together for the longest time. Then one day, he handed it to his teacher and said "I'm okay now. You can give this back to my mom." (Why to his teacher? I don't know. Kids.)

Ummm, I am far from my kids as I type this, and I admit to tearing up. So lovely.

new code?

The folks who deal with Post Points Codes are trying to get a new one. I'll post it as soon as we get one. It may have to be posted after the chat.

My 6 yo daughter has known another little girl for two years. They have been in the same class for two years. My daughter comes home at least twice a week with something this child has said to hurt her feelings “you make every day worse” or upon receiving a card my daughter made for her with a heart on it, threw it at her and said “I hate love”. My daughter gets so deflated and upset because “she’s my friend!!!” I’ve tried to get her to play with other children but the two of them end up together a lot. I’ve tried to forbid her from playing with her at school but as you can imagine that doesn’t work. I told the teacher that I do not want my daughter playing with the other little girl but I know the teacher is limited in what she can do. I have told my daughter to walk away, tell the little girl that she won’t play unless she can be kind, to tell the other girl that this isn’t how we allow others to treat us etc but no luck. Last week my daughter came home saying the other child had dug her two hands into my daughter’s torso, chest and back at the same time as part of a game. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are very nice but I don’t know if talking to them will help. I want my daughter to stand up for herself and also to play with children who don’t hurt her feelings constantly. Help!


Been here. You are doing all of the right things.

I would request a meeting with the teacher and the school counselor.

Pick their brains, definitely requests the girls be separated next year, and immediately find books about friendship you and your daughter can share. While painful, your daughter IS learning good life lessons here, and you are a patient, loving, listening parent. She will get through this...

I tell my fellow moms and dads ... "It takes a village, not a jury." Because that's the truth.

OH! I love this...never heard it.

My daughter is 18 and is preparing to move out (her decision) after she graduates in late April. She has a job that she enjoys, which will become full -time once she's out of school. Recently, she asked me and her father if we could be willing to pay for half her rent, since we paid for her brother's room and board when he was in college. We told her that we'd think about it. What do you think? On one hand, i want to encourage her self-reliance, but on the other hand, her brother did get help from us. But, he was in college and our daughter chose not to go. We have the money, but is it good for us to prop her up? We believe that she will be able to pay her own expenses if she keeps a good budget. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Today's code DOES work, if you put in yesterday's date! (Evidently WaPo thought this chat is always on Wednesdays...)

Thanks. We always do this chat on Wednesdays, but had a last minute change. 

I'm the mom who wrote in - YES its about the dad who extended a kindness to me. Please be like him everyone!! I try so hard to be like him when I see other parents struggling or having a hard day and I can see in their faces that it makes a difference to hear they aren't alone.

Oh my goodness, so many good questions today that Meghan couldn't get to. Keep an eye out, your question may get answered in her weekly column. (Here she is, right here.)

Stay tuned, come back to chat the week after next, and keep an eye out for Meghan's next column. We're at washingtonpost.com/onparenting.  

***For the many people writing in about  Post Points, the code works if you put in yesterday's date.***

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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