On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Feb 19, 2020

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

My six-year old son is very smart and capable, and loves school and all sports. However, we have a meltdown each weekend when preparing to leave for these activities (now dance and basketball), even if we have discussed the schedule the night before without objections. He has had similar reactions to after-school activities even though he is in aftercare regardless. We do not want to push him but do want him to follow through with commitments, and he truly enjoys the activities once he is there. What is the best way to approach these situations with him?

Some children struggle with transitions, and it is typical. What happens is this:

- Child is interested in activity when you bring it up and thinks it will be fun. In that moment, basketball sounds great.

- Child forgets he signed up for a class.

- Child is happy in pj's with family on weekend, and then BOOM. Time to go. 

- Child has forgotten he wanted to play basketball, and now staying in PJ's is more attractive than leaving house.

- You rationally remind child about signing up/not wasting money/not letting down team/etc. etc.

- Child doesn't care about your rational thoughts, get frustrated, melts down.

- You drag child to practice where child remembers he like basketball and plays happily.

- You want to rip your hair out.

AND REPEAT.

So, the step that we gotta change is two-fold:

1) YES, keep reminding him of basketball the day before and the leading up.

2) STOP being rational. Agree with his emotions: "It stinks to leave the house, doesn't it? I know just how you feel. And we are going." You can keep your boundary AND listen to him and keep his feelings going. Just stop the back and forth.

And by the way, I don't mind sweetening the pot here. It is okay to give a little reward for a smooth(ish) transition. Just don't get mired in punishments...it will add frustration to frustration.

 

Hello! Our 4.5 month old seems to be going through the dreaded sleep regression. She’s waking up multiple times at night, and last night was up for two two-hour stretches. Two questions: 1) Manu nights now, she screams and cries before falling asleep. She’s not hungry or wet. Can babies this age fight sleep? 2) Her nap schedule is now out the window too. She’s fighting naps in her crib, but will nurse/nap for several hours at a time. Is this all related? Thanks!

Yup.

She is becoming more and more aware of her separation from you, and she doesn't want to let the good times come to a stop.

A little crying before she falls asleep is adaption.

A LOT of crying is traumatic.

 

We have an extremely difficult soon-to-be-6 year old daughter. Everything is an argument. Many of the kids her age seem to have outgrown that and they respond when the parents ask or tell them to do something. We argue with ours about everything. Due to this we tend to let a lot of things go (hallmark response to strong willed children, so I have read), but when it comes to the big things we have to really come down strong to enforce them. Which then makes us come down on the medium things to get her to respond, & to be consistent. She is an only child & she has always been very challenging (one of the reasons she is an only child!). Hubs and I are at a loss. School counselor was zero help. My husband wants to move her to a parochial school. Would (family) counseling even help? Is she too young? We are exhausted and we constantly reinforce each other so as to not get defeated. My husband thinks we are not consistent enough with discipline. I think we are, but most people do not have to be this consistent or do so much discipline with their kids, at keast from what i see and talk about with my sister and some good friends. She now has a reputation of being a spoiled brat and we are not doing fun things as a family because we are uncertain of her reaction if/when she does not get her own way. Sorry this is so long.....Do you have any suggestions?

Hmmmm, I don't know what is going on here. I am wondering:

Is she gifted? Or does she have other emotional/physical needs not being met?

If this is the case, there is no amount of parochial school that will help her. 

Please, write down her behaviors AS WELL AS YOUR REACTIONS (and be honest) and bring them to your pediatrician. A psych-eval could illuminate your daughter's behavior, then leading you to better parenting decisions.

In the meanwhile, I would meet with a parent coach (I know one!) to assess how to both react to her frustration, but also set up systems in the house that promote less back and forth. When parents get trapped in arguments with their kids, they become about as mature as their child (not a good look). Stopping your part of the fight is a BIG step in taking back some of the parenting power that you may have given away.

NOT arguing is one of the hardest things you will do since it is probably a six year old habit for you now. I strongly suggest getting professional help with it!

My 14-year-old son has always been the center of attention with his friends - the life of the party (though we rarely saw that at home). Recently though, he's become distant. Angry at the world, angry at us, disgruntled with school and even with some of his friends. I try not to pry too much (don't ask about the girls, just casually ask who he's sitting with at lunch, etc.), but I'm sad for him and want to help. How many times can I ask if he's OK before giving up?

Firstly, pick up Decoding Boys by Natterson to help you. There is so much evidence that, when girls shut us out, we parents are so much more willing to get in there and make them talk and communicate. But for an assortment of reasons, we tend to turn away from our teen boys, leaving them to fend for themselves with their big feelings and worries. Which isn't good in this time of the internet and social media.

So, don't give up.

But, you can stop asking if he's okay, because chances are good he isn't going to turn around and tell you everything in his heart.

Instead, you need some forced proximity. This means a trip. A day long, a weekend, it matters not. Just get in his space, do something that he loves, and see if he begins to thaw.

It is okay to say, "I notice you've been angry. I got pretty angry as a teen, too....it is really normal." And then shut up and wait. Let him sift around his own feelings before he talks, don't push. You are providing more of a safe space rather than a confessional.

And try to schedule these little get togethers. Dinners, getting outside, anything that brings you together.

Slow and steady and PRESENT is your goal.

I am mom to a 10 year old "star" student. In her 4th grade class, and as our neighbor, is a 10 year old boy who has not so positive family life nor adults who monitor or direct him with school work. We have occasionally taken him biking with us around the neighborhood, had him over once in a while and my daughter will play on our street with smaller kids and he will come over and play as well (my daughter will engage with anyone). The problem is that the most recent project the kids in the class did required a poster or some kind of visual to bring in with information. This boy "mike" brought in mostly an empty poster with no information. I think he didn't know what to do (only child, no mom guidance, no parent really around, no dad around) and I am wondering if or how I can help him on the next project to point him in the right direction. I am wondering how to do this. I thought of inviting him over to work on the project in our house but given he is bad at school or just doesn't know what to do for projects, or maybe he just doesn't care enough - i don't know how much to help or point him in a better direction. I guess I don't know what to do but i have the time and know-how to point him in a better direction, and wondering how i could do that. A few weeks ago, his mom and mike wrote my daughter a nice note about how he is inspired by her reading (they get points), and he reads difficult books, so he's not unintelligent -he's just lost and I want to do something. I don't want to pres my standards on him but i know he can do better with guidance. What can I do? This is all coming from me, not my daughter, so it would be me who would help. Please please help!

Reach out to the teacher and the counselor.

You are already providing a wonderful and loving space for this little boy, and you don't need to do more than that. Have interesting projects and books around, ride bikes, have fun.

But the school should step in to help this little boy. Write to them, stat.

Hi Meghan and Amy, I am pregnant with my first, much wanted and much anticipated first baby. I'm the first of my friends to get married or have kids, and we got pregnant much, much sooner than we expected. (We thought we would have difficulty conceiving and effectively got pregnant within a week stopping using BC.) My question is whether you believe I would benefit more from a doula or returning to a weekly therapist. 4 years ago I had vaginal surgery (vestibulectomy) that had some complications in recovery that led me to have pretty bad PTSD around medical treatment, doctors, hospitals, anything where I'm in a vulnerable position and being assessed. I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety from a therapist who I saw for a bit, but have not seen in over 3 years because we both felt I had a good handle on management and moving forward at the time. Fast forward to pregnancy--I cry at every doctor's appointment (even when things are good!), I dread doing a hospital tour even though I want to go it's almost like I am physically afraid of going into the hospital, I pretty much have near constant anxiety about whether the baby is okay and whether I am informed enough about the birthing process to avoid a poor recovery or further injury. Just a lot of crying, guilt about not being able to keep it together, and constant fear. Multiple people in my life have advocated for me to get a doula as a comforting guide during birth. I have spoken to a few that I really like and believe would benefit me. The issue is, financially, a doula would be about the same as 8 or 9 therapy appointments that I do think would also benefit me. My husband is supportive of whatever I choose. We could do one with a little strain on our finances, or do both but would definitely have to dip into our emergency fund, and I would rather not do that as I would prefer to be saving for the baby! And any genuine emergency or unforeseen costs that come from her arrival! So, do you guys have any advice on where you think our money would best--doula or therapy? I'm only 17 weeks and have some time to make a decision, but would like to get the ball rolling one way or the other.

Okay, find a therapist in network and get the doula.

You need a re-up on coping skills for these doctor visits, AND a good doula is an angel. Truly.

A good doula will bring so much relaxation to your jumpy nervous system, will be an excellent advocate, and will lead you down this pregnancy path with compassion and love. 

Don't be afraid to ask for sliding scales, payment plans, all of it.

Find a way to do BOTH...there is a way, you and your baby deserve it.

My son is a go getter. He is smart, thrives on competition, works hard and won both his school Geo Bee and Spelling Bee this year. Some kids at school are calling him a “Tri-hard”. They tell him he should have let another kid win because he always wins. He’s a good sport when he comes out on top but feels sone shame now instead of feeling proud. What examples or words do you have for a him?

It is hard to be a winner....other children get jealous and will insult him. It is not fun.

There isn't really much to say except that words hurt, and it is okay to feel hurt by what these children are saying.

In the meanwhile, be sure your child is experiencing some failure, somewhere. I am not suggesting you ruin him, but he needs to develop some tolerance for failure. Read The Gift of Failure to learn more.

Hi, not quite about parenting but about pregnancy. I'm a First time mom and I'm wondering how you deal with the anxiety that something is going to go wrong with the pregnancy or child birth?

How do you deal with the anxiety of the pregnancy? Like we all have: one day at a time.

Pregnancy is one space where humans, while we can make the baby, have very little control. It is maddening, but in a funny way, it is the best preparation for having a child (another ultimate way to not have any control).

I will suggest a couple of things:

1) stay busy. meaning, just keep living your life and try not to dwell on what is happening. The body is running itself just fine with your over-active mind, so keep on keeping' on with your life.

2) move your body A LOT. Walking, swimming, you name it....any movement keeps anxiety at bay.

3) yoga for preggo ladies. This is a beautiful way to give yourself some body love and BREATH.

4) Don't read parenting books or pregnancy stuff. Yeah, you read that right. All they will do is churn you up and you don't need them.

5) If you feel like your anxiety is spinning out of control, please see a therapist. There are simple ways to help a worried mind, so don't go it alone. 

I messed up. This weekend my son and I decided to accompany a friend of his and his mom to an amusement park kind of place. He's been afraid of riding the roller coaster. I asked if he wanted to ride the coaster with me and he said yes. When we got in line, he backed up and said he didn't want to ride it and refused. His friend was teasing him but his mom helped and said, let him decide. I gently reminded him that we had agreed at home. But I relented and said we would wait. I told him it's ok to be scared and maybe on day we would ride it together. When he said he might never ride it, I said(and this is where i messed up) that he shouldn't be afraid or let his fear prevent him from having fun. I mulled this over the next day and said to him, "you know how I told you that you shouldn't be scared? I want to tell you that I admire that you listened to your body and didn't go and also that no one, not even me should tell you what you should feel." I don't know if that helped. Any advice for future?

Ummmm, no? I think that 1) messing up is PARENTING and 2) you handled it beautifully the next day.

Keep going.

I was just like that at that age. Ballet lessons, Girl Scouts, etc. sounded like so much fun when I was signing up for them, but after a couple/three weeks I couldn’t imagine why I ever thought I’d prefer to go to some lesson than to stay home and watch “Lost in Space” or play tag with the neighborhood kids. But the letter made me laugh because I’m -still- like that; I love my season tickets at the beginning of the season, and by the end it’s almost a chore to drive to the stadium: I just want to finish my book! At least it’s my -own- money I’m wasting these days.

I would say that MANY people are like this! ;)

My 8 year old is super respectful to everyone outside the house, but often acts rude, rolling her eyes and just talking in a mean, disrespectful way to me, her dad, and her sister. While I'm glad that she doesn't act this way with other people, it's so frustrating. I just want us all to get along. She is the younger one; her sister is almost 10. I want to change the dynamic but I don't know how. She is not mimicking what she hears as we don't talk that way to each other. She does seem to do better one on one, so I wonder if she doesn't feel "seen" unless she's making a raucous.

Hmmm, I think you are on to something with that last sentence.

I don't know what is going on in the family, but rude behavior like this is a cry for connection and help.

I know that everyone wants to punish and nip it in the bud, but I would carve out meaningful special time with her while ALSO finding a way to address the rudeness.

Hi, Meghan. We recently had to put down the family dog, Patches. I am struggling with figuring out how to talk to my two-year-old son, who absolutely adores her ("Patchy is my best friend."). I've found a few children's books that come recommended, and requested from the library, and also come up with a script for myself in talking to him, but I'd love any guidance you can provide, both for the immediate and longer-term in managing such a loss.

Here's the beauty of the two year old: because his brain is so young and immature, he will not process this loss like you will. On one hand, your son will move on quickly, but on the other hand, he will forget where Patches went. You will have to keep repeating your script, giving hugs, reading books, and keep on keeping' on. 

That's grief.

I have 2 daughters, one is 5 and the other is 3. I love them to death but they DO NOT LISTEN. Every direction (come to the table, get ready for your bath, brush your teeth, etc.) must be repeated 5 or 6 times. They refuse to pick up their toys or eat their dinner. We are currently living with my mother as we transition between houses and the children refuse to respect her need for quiet time by constantly yelling and running throughout the house despite numerous warnings. My husband and I are so exhausted and just feel like failures as parents because our children refuse to behave. What are we doing wrong?

I have no idea what is going on with these kids (emotionally, physically, psychologically), but I have a spidey sense that you have taught them to ignore you.

Whenever I read "repeating directions five or six times), I know that the children have tuned you out.

But, to be clear: five and three year old's are not keen to listen and follow complex directions (or even simple directions)...so the feeling like you are herding cats? You kind of are.

Pick up Rest Play Grow and Louise Bates Ames books to help you understand these kids more....and do your best to not REPEAT yourself. It is hard, you have my empathy.

First, THANK YOU! I wrote about the roller coaster and messing up. THANK YOU. Also, please expand on the-"carve out meaningful special time with her while ALSO finding a way to address the rudeness'? please.

Connection is the route toward cooperation, everything else will make it worse.

Hence, special time.

Addressing the rudeness could look like a plan together: when you sass me, "x" will happen. It is a collaborative plan that will take time, but feel less punitive.

Egads if you ever needed backup to ML’s answer... a ‘flight risk’ at a daycare?? Oh my word! Do they not have doors that lock? I know child care is so hard but as the mother of a ‘my, your child is VERY ACTIVE’ son who is now a delightful 12yo, I urge you to find a place that supports & cares for your child at his level. Shout out to Kids On Broadway in San Diego all these years later for their gentle guidance of my physically active ‘runner.’ It’s not your kid; it’s them. Good luck mama.

It is a shame when the centers make parents feel bad about the activity-level of their children.

I also understand how tiring it can be caring for kids who are always on the move.

But the center needs to know their client (THE KIDS!)

Time's up for this week, but thanks for joining us. As always, so many good questions. Please stay tuned for Meghan's next chat March 4. Her columns run every week (Wednesdays online, Thursdays in Local Living). You can find previous ones right here

And for more parenting coverage, sign up for our newsletter at wapo.st/onparenting. You'll get all of our content packaged up nicely sent right to your inbox. Until next time! 

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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