On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Feb 28, 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! Welcome to the On Parenting chat with Meghan Leahy. Her column is up today and is about a 3-year-old who is suddenly disagreeable. (Oh, I remember those days.) 

We've had a few stories about the recent school shooting in Florida. Like what to do about children with special needs if an emergency arises, how theater kids are such a bright spot in all of this (and what we can learn from them), and horrifically, a eulogy a father wrote for his son who was killed. He wanted to share it to make sure no one forgets. 

In lighter news, there's a book out about how screens can be used for good, and at the same time, how parents need Silicon Valley companies to step up -- it is too difficult to put parental controls on devices, this author argues. 

Okay, let's discuss, shall we? 

My son will soon enter public school for 1st grade, coming from a small, private Montessori kindergarten. He’s bright, very verbal, asking to learn more math, loves learning, and loves school. His father and I enjoy reading to/with him, teaching him new skills and doing workbooks with him daily, which he asks for. Developmentally and emotionally, he’s on par with his peers. He’s not necessarily gifted as far as we can tell. Although we know he would probably do very well in school, we are starting to think we could do more and give him more flexibility to play, create and learn about what he’s interested in by investing in a good homeschool curriculum and keeping him home next year. We both feel we got an OK education but that it was a lot of busywork and learning how to “do school” more than anything else. It’s not feasible for him to continue private education, but I could do this. We just want him to continue to be excited about learning and know we could give him individualized attention he can’t get in a large class. Our two concerns about homeschooling are socialization and that he may prefer homeschool to public school once we begin (which would be ok for us as long as he’s interested in the homeschool option). He’s in Scouts, plays soccer and has a few close friends who will be attending his public school next year. Are we crazy for even considering something outside of the norm? How important is it for kids to have the “shared experience” of traditional schooling?

You are NOT crazy for considering homeschool and here in DC, it is not that outside of the norm anymore!

Between private, public, charter, and religious educations, homeschooling has found its piece of the pie among people who just want something different for their children. It used to be the domain of more conservative Christian groups, but now people homeschool for many reasons.

So, start researching and finding curriculums that match your academic and family values. You can even find consultants who will guide you through the process of selecting the right curriculum and "feel" for your family! It is a total industry.

And, depending on where you live, there are daytime classes in everything conceivable for homeschool children. From science labs (when they are older) to writing cohorts to field trips, you can find like-minded homeschoolers everywhere and join up with them.

Finally, on a personal note, I taught in an all-boys school that took in many homeschooled children in between 6th and 9th grades. Were these children odd and poorly socialized? Largely, no! Yes, they were definitely more conditioned to speaking to and with adults, and so that could set them apart from their peers, but I found that a couple of months into the school year, the homeschooled children were acclimating just fine.

As long as your family is busy in your community and trying new activities, the socialization will come! 

Finally, you can choose to make this decision year-to-year. Meaning, deciding to homeschool does not mean that that is the academic choice you are making forever. You can change your mind for 2nd grade. Or 3rd. Etc. You can take it year to year.

Do some investigation, listen to your gut, and good luck!

OP2339 is your Post Points code for today

I read with much interest your recent column about a 4 year old who does not want to end play dates. I have a related but different problem. My 4 year old misbehaves and acts rude when we visit with her grandparents, whom we see about once a month for a few hours. We have talked this to death with her both before and after visits and she has made it clear that she just does not really like her grandparents and finds it hard to play with them and talk with them. In her defense, they are not great with her; one grandparent basically ignores her and interrupts her when she is talking, the other's heart is in the right place but poses questions that she cannot answer easily and tries to get her to do activities and games that are uninteresting and too hard for her. (It's worth noting that the grandparents are on the older side, set in their ways, and are not going to change their approaches with her. We have tried. I think all we can do is work with our daughter on how to manage these visits, so that is the focus of my question.) When we visit, she does not say hi to them or respond to their questions, she will get up and leave if they try to sit with her and talk to her, she acts silly and awkward and makes rude sounds, and won't say bye. I know she dreads these visits, and I've all but given up on hoping she will have the kind of loving relationship I had with my grandparents, but they are her family and I feel strongly that she needs to at least be polite. Do I have her spend their whole visit by herself in her room (which frankly she would be happy with)? Do I prod her every minute of their visit to respond to their question, stop making that annoying sound, look at the book they brought her, say hi/bye, etc? Do I leave her to her own devices, model good manners myself, and just trust that she will turn into a polite person at some point in her life? Something else? I am out of ideas, in tears at the end of their visits, and the problem is just getting worse as she gets older. [edited for length]

What about coming up with an activity for them? Baking something simple? Coloring together? Something your daughter likes. I would guess her grandparents are just like her: At a loss about how to connect. So help them. At least with the grandparent who is trying, this might work. Meghan? 

Oh, I feel you. And it sounds like your heart is in the right place and you have done ALL THE THINGS.

Here's the thing: your daughter is FOUR. FOUR!!! I mean, that is little. It is NOT her job to care about the grandparents or how she can make them feel comfortable, etc.

And yet, the grandparents cannot seem to make the leap either...

So, my intuition is telling me to give this a rest.

When adults don't know better (how to play or talk to or NOT interrupt little kids) and the situation is getting so emotionally charged, I would have the child greet the grandparents and then go off on her own. Developmentally, asking her to stay engaged is not reasonable even if she enjoyed her grandparents. Four year old's are all over the place.

As Amy mentioned, if your daughter could show them a favorite toy or stuffed animal, that would be great. And then when that moment is over, it is time for your to step in as a parent and say, "okay, Julie, I am going to hang with grandma and grandpa now! You can go play!" And let her move along. If the grandparents get sour, you just smile and shrug, "you know four year old's!" It is your job to act as a buffer between your child and the grandparents...

Some other ideas: when the visit is ending, practice picking up your daughter, hugging the grandparents, kissing and NOT FORCING HER TO SAY OR DO ANYTHING.

By holding her, you are putting her in proximity to the goodbye process, but you are not pushing, forcing her to mimic, forces her talk, kiss, or hug. YOU do all that.

My final idea is that, even though these g-parents aren't great with the little kids, many four year old's LOVE to make things. You can have your child help create a tea (little cakes and sandwiches) or cookies or snacks. She can help serve in on good china, etc. You could also ask grandma and grandpa to bring their favorite cookie recipe and you could EXCHANGE recipes (kids love this).

Whatever happens here, try to be a bit more breezy about it all. I know it feels fraught, but you are caring too much. There is too much pressure to love and connect and have a deep relationship. Let it be a bit more organic. Will your daughter have a deep connection with them? Maybe, we don't know yet. But it certainly won't happen from pushing, THAT we know for sure.


Any advice for disciplining (ha!) a 2 yr old? Specifically for things like he wants to open the dishwasher and play with the knives. We’re saying no and physically removing him to a different part of the room & trying to distract, but then he runs right back to the dishwasher crying. Repeat, repeat. We’re now trying a “parent timeout” where we sit with him & hug him to keep him from running back to the forbidden item, all while trying to distract. Eventually works but it’s exausting. Any other ideas?

I DO have advice for disciplining a two year old...DON'T.

It doesn't work.

There is nothing more interesting than a dishwasher with knives in it, and your discipline isn't going to do the trick.

As soon as that dishwasher is done, you reach in there and take out anything that can hurt him or you don't want broken.

And then let him have at it.

I emptied a couple of drawers in my kitchen and my kids would put in and take out their plastic Ikea plates and cups a hundreds times a day.

If he LOVES the knives, get some plastic knives or maybe a butter knife and put them in there, too.

Whether or not you know it, this play is his WORK.

Your son is LEARNING here and we don't want to get in the way of that. That's why two year old's LOVE play kitchens and whatnot. Work is play, play is work.

This stage WILL end, and yes, this is exhausting, but go with the flow and stop the time-out's.

When it is time to leave the kitchen, pick him up and move him along. He will cry and you let him cry.

Done and done.

This letter was so moving, I cried at my work desk. Thank you for posting it. Now I want a hug from my dad and an Alex Smoothie!

Tears seem appropriate. I'm sure Alex's dad would be happy to hear you want an Alex smoothie. Here's the eulogy

There is no way I am reading it now!

I have to coach all day, I cannot start crying now!!!

I’ve spent years teaching my children conflict resolution skills, yet the minute my back is turned they start bickering. I know how to put a stop to it when I’m rested and have my A game. My problem is when I come home from teaching all day I’m too exhausted to sort everything out and end up raising my voice and losing my patience. How can I get them to respect my need for peace at the end of the day, without playing the diplomat.

I hear you. Between 4 and 7, my ability to be calm and empathic goes down significantly and I can do real damage to my kids if I am not aware.

1) I don't know how old your kids are, but you need some routine to take over for you. I would either call a meeting with them or with yourself and begin to sort out what is needed. Does going outside need to be mandatory? When can TV come into play? What about homework and dinner? 

2) Let some stuff go. Let them know you will no longer be sorting out fights in the afternoon. Everyone will go to a different floor or room (not "sending" one child to his room) and that is what it will be. You will not ask or solve or blame. Everyone gets sent somewhere.

3) Look for deeper stuff here. Is hunger an issue? (put out a HUGE plate of healthy snacks) Is one child the problem and needs more direction/positive attention? 

4) How can you reset from your day? If you are exhausted and spent, what is something small and simple you can do to help you face your kids? For me, I eat something delicious and healthy (it makes me happy, it level my blood sugar, and it is a moment). I listen to music or watch videos that make me laugh. I make a quick list of something positive I want to say or do with my kids.

5) Finally, no matter how much coaching or conflict resolution sills you have worked on, your children WILL FIGHT. It is inevitable because living with people is HARD. Expect it. Don't fight it. See it is as normal and let the kids know that disagreements and being sick of each other is normal and okay.

Good luck.

Today’s column made me want to share a recent clean up story. I have three preschoolers, and recently gave them a bag of balls and asked them to keep them in their tent. Of course they didn’t, and were delighted with the mess. I tried some reverse psychology and said “I LOVE that these balls are everywhere and I hope you never clean them up!” When I came back a few minutes later, the balls were still everywhere and now a bookcase had been emptied onto the floor. I asked my four year old “Why did you DO this?!” He answered “Because you said you loved messes!”

You have three preschoolers?! Well, you can start writing the column! lolol.


Seriously though, children love messes and having all of their stuff out. It WILL get better....

Thank you for the laugh!

My eldest (10) often asks why I love my youngest (8) more or says I favor him. Any advice on how to show the kids my heart is big enough for them both? Thanks!

I would take a hard look at what you think your ten your old is seeing.

Go on a mom/child special day and when the time feels right, ask your child about the favoritism. Ask your son what he sees and you? JUST SHUT UP AND LISTEN. You will learn about your son' viewpoint, if he's right, or if he is having sour grapes about something that cannot be changed.

By listening, you are showing that you care, that you are a safe person to talk to, and that how he feels matters.

Children don't need us to fix everything, they need us to compassionately listen to them.

Maybe you CAN fix some things and maybe you just need to let your ten your old feel bad and support him through that. Either way, start with listening...not with convincing him your heart is big enough. ;)



I was not close to my grandparents. They seemed so old and frugal. My sisters and I only saw them a couple of times a year. I’m 45 now and my memories are of the nice times and how sweet my grandma was and my grandpa’s strength. I wish I’d enjoyed them more when they were alive. But I know that it is what it is.

It IS what it is, and you reminded me that the mom telling stories about the grandparents is also a way of connecting generations! 

Humans are messy!

Thank you all for joining us. If your question wasn't answered, keep an eye on Meghan's column -- she may be turning it into a piece she can really expand upon. Make sure to check her out on Facebook. Our parenting pieces are right here. You can also sign up for our newsletter. Thanks everyone. Have a good week. 

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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