On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Mar 13, 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, and happy Wednesday. Amy is tied up with a story today, but Meghan is here and ready to answer your questions. Be sure to check out her most recent column, where she offers advice on how a friend/coworker can support a mom whose teen recently attempted suicide. 

And, of course, we have Amy's excellent story on the college admissions scandal, and what it says about how people are (over)parenting. For all that and more, visit the On Parenting page, or check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

OK, on to the questions now!

Dear Meghan and Amy, I wrote in about a month ago concerning my toddler and handling his grandmother’s (my mom) passing. I cannot thank you enough for your words of advice and those of other posters; they were a great comfort. Thanks!

Thank you for writing! Best wishes to you and your family in this grieving process.

My nephew is a challenging kid. I don’t know if it’s because of nature or nurture and, frankly, it’s none of my business. My problem is that after a family event, my kids inevitably will “try out” some of his bad behavior. We have been trying to address this by telling our kids that the behavior doesn’t fly in our family, but this seems both inadequate and dangerously close to vilifying my nephew. Plus, I’m afraid the scale of the misbehavior will increase as he gets older. Right now we are mainly talking about temper tantrums, willful acting out, disrupting meals with poopy language and such, harassing the animals, running away from care givers. Is there a better way to handle this?

I would love to know some ages here, but nonetheless, you can always address behaviors without bashing children. 

In your own mind, decide that it is normal for children to push boundaries and try out some new antics. It is very human. Children aren't robots, and are naturally drawn to the taboo...so whether it is your nephew or someone else, this is going to happen.

So far, you are doing what you need to do which is shut down the behavior when you see it without going totally ballistic. And while it stinks, when you are with nephew, step in when life and limb are in danger. So, poopy talk? Roll your eyes and laugh along (I am guessing the kids are 4,5,6, and 7), but chasing animals? Nope, you can put a stop to that as an adult. Temper tantrums? Not your kid, not your problem. Child running away into traffic? Nope, you have to grab him by whatever is the nearest.

Try to have some equanimity here...as long as your kids are being parented by YOU, they will know and (mostly) abide by YOUR rules. Just stick to them...

Hi Meghan, I've got a question about handling someone else's kids. I was at Costco last weekend and it was just after closing, so lots of cars were leaving the parking lot. A kid was pushing his empty cart back to the cart return area, and went into a full run, slamming the cart into the return at full speed, which caused a chain reaction to push the first cart out into traffic. The car coming toward it was luckily able to stop in time. As I watched this happening, I shouted at the kid (maybe 9-10 yrs) to not do that again, since he caused the other cart to roll out of the cart return. He turned and saw the other driver pushing that cart out of his path, and I think he figured out what he had done. I saw his dad coming toward us and I said to the boy that he wouldn't want a cart to hit his dad's car, right? The dad immediately got suspicious why I was talking to his son, and when I tried to explain what happened, he just yelled at me to mind my own business and told his son to come on. I realize dad was being unreasonable; I wasn't in any way threatening the boy and was standing 10-15 feet away from him. But should I have done something differently, or nothing at all? I totally get kids love to play with carts--I remember being that kid, but then again, most stores' cart returns have a barrier on the end, but not Costco's, so there's definitely a hazard risk.

Okay, so everyone was reacting out of (normal) fear here.

Kid was being a kid, and it is really satisfying to ram a cart into lines of other carts...and because he is a kid, he didn't see that there wasn't a boundary.

You saw it all play out, saw a potential accident, and your panic went up, hence yelling out to the kid. 

Father, not seeing what happened, only sees another adult yelling at his kid which, in turn, makes HIM afraid. He wants you to back off because he, as the kids say, "doesn't know you like that," and no one yells at his son.

Soooo....it looks like everyone was being unreasonable. The boy needed to look, you needed to speak more kindly, and the father needed to take a beat to asses the situation.


Done and done.

No real harm here...


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I'm trying to get an answer on this. Stay tuned!

I have an under 1-year-old, so this question isn't urgent but something I have been thinking about as she gets older. My husband and I both excelled academically growing up. He is now in a leadership role at his job and I am a high school teacher. I was a quintessential "teacher's pet" and he was a self-admitted "little s***" to his teachers. I went to a challenging, college prep all girls school with small class sizes and he went to a large high school that he was clearly bored in. As a teacher myself, I definitely think that our environments made a huge difference in addition to our personalities. My question is, we would like to raise children who are respectful and kind to others, especially their teachers, without mandating authority to adults who should be legitimately questioned. I would be horrified in the future to learn my kid was disrespectful to their teacher, as I deal with that all day, but my husband thinks his outspokenness (honed by years in high school debate and forensics) has led him to his career today. If our views were on a spectrum, neither is extreme, but there's enough of a gap that I want to see how we can together merge our views of respect and intellectual curiosity.


Okay, two super-different people married each other (thank God), and as parenting does, it brings up our past (the good, bad, and the ugly).

Without painting with too broad of a brush, you are the sum total of EVERYTHING that has happened to you, from sperm meeting egg (genetics) to home environment to sibling dynamics to school and social world. There are so many small and large issues at play, that to put everything into "we want our child to be respectful," is not a goal.

I am telling you to not sweat this. Being overly respectful in school, as well as being a pain in the a$$ are not goals. They are symptoms of the environment, both good and bad. What works for one child simply doesn't with another. You have temperament and leadership and so many things happening.

I can tell you this: your child will be whoever she is. Don't start to worry now, all you are doing is spoiling your present moment.

Keep the communication going with your spouse about what is important to you...not just when it comes to worrying about your child, but what is coming up for you from your past.

This is the way forward.

Can babies have gender preferences? My 8 month old daughter in general prefers men (outside of her daycare teachers and me- her mom). She lights up when she sees her grandpa and uncles and even when meeting people smiles more at men. She doesn't have any stranger anxiety yet. I know babies and toddlers often prefer one parent over the other and in the future will try to not take it personally. But my own mother, her grandma, is really sad about this. I'm just curious if a gender preference for babies is a thing.


A quick scoot around the inter webs showed this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4894871/

Give it a read. The long and the short of it...your daughter just like who she likes now and that will probably change.

The real deal is that your mom cannot be really sad about this. I mean, she can...it stinks to feel rejected by a granddaughter, especially when g-ma is probably desperate to love up on her.

BUT, she has to pull up her big girl drawers and know this isn't personal. IT IS A BABY. If g-ma sticks around and stays loving a fun, I can pretty much gaurantee baby will come around. The baby may always prefer grandpa (for reasons no one will ever know), but grandma has to be the adult here.


I'm wondering why it is a given that children can no longer go outside and play? Too many children *are* bored and aren't learning to spend time on their own, not to mention not getting tired enough, as you say. Supervised activities get them tired, for sure, but don't spark the imagination and need for independence at eight and beyond that you're describing.

There is no one to play with!

So, you send your kid outside and everyone else is in aftercare (legitimate because people work) or activities.

So, you put your kid in activities which means that...there are no kids outside.

It keeps going.

It's like, we need to decide as a whole culture that we are going to let them outside!

BUT, with BOTH parents working and single-parenting on the rise, it isn't how it used to be and we not going back.

We need to find a new way.

I am a single mom and have, thus far, been blessed to have an amazing easy baby. I am an exclusive pumper so I never had to deal with constant middle of the night feedings and she started sleeping through the night (7 hours!) when she was 2 months old. She is very tiny for her age but, according to her doctor, healthy and developmentally "advanced." i.e. rolling over at 1 month old. She is 4.5 months now, always happy and smiling, loving daycare, and starting on solid foods. But about a week ago she started waking up in the middle of the night, mostly, it seems, to play (make sounds, roll over, kick her feet, etc). This goes on for over an hour, until she gets frustrated that she cant climb out, and starts crying. With her sleeping in my room and not having another parent to share the load, I am not getting much sleep. I usually try and give her the pacifier back and eventually end up bringing her in bed to snuggle until she falls back to sleep. Not sure that is right. How should I handle this? Do I soothe her? try and feed her? Move her to her own room and let her go? Cuddle her?

Do you think she is hungry?

And by the way, it is normal for children to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to go back to sleep for a while...it is an exhausting part of motherhood, and this is when many parents bring baby into bed (which I am not judging either way....)

There isn't one answer (sorry).

My 4 yr old daughter is amazing -- bright, sweet, polite -- she has her moments as most 4 yo do but for the most part she's a delight. Her 2 yo brother is stubborn, prone to tantrums and generally pushing his sisters', mine, and his father's buttons 24/7. He's a wonderful kids, just in a difficult stage and sandwiched between his sisters. 4 yo gets praise, 1 yo generally in my arms, and 2 yo told to stop doing whatever semi-dangerous, 100% annoying thing he decided to do. I try to find moments to praise him but they are few. I tried to stop praising 4 yo in front of him but don't want her to miss out on the positive feedback and also want him to learn the behaviors that get positive feedback. I try my best to give each child individual time, especially 2 yo and I do think his behavior is better when he gets time with myself or my husband, but we both work full time and we're just so busy. It never feels like there's enough time. He's 2, so I know this is a phase that he'll grow out of but am I setting up an unhealthy dynamic?


1. You have a crew of kids, everyone is tired. These are EXHAUSTING AGES. Do you have help? Can someone start a little school program? Is there a sitter?

2. I am going to give you some simple homework: stop praising. Just stop. I am betting everyone is aware that the 4 yo is "star child" and so quitting the praise (for a bit), you can cut everyone (you!) a break from all the talking.

3. Prioritize special time with 2 year old. I like this link for a how-to, just please make the special time SHORT, TIMED, and make the play OPEN-ENDED. Set the four year old with something else and maybe while the 1 yo naps?

4. Keep the same boundaries for all the kids, even if they don't seem "fair." You are now in zone defense, and the best way to not play favorites is to put everyone in the same boat, no matter what. Easy? No. Better for the kids? YUP. It won't stay like this, but it will level the playing field for a bit.

5. Wear that 2 yo out! Get him moving and running and GOING. A tired child is an easier child to parent. 

Good luck.

The parents that bought their kid's way into college are doing them no favors in the long run. They are teaching their kids that cheating to get what you want is ok and that being rich and famous makes you entitled. If they had to have someone else take the SATs to get in, how good will their grades be once they have to do the schoolwork. This really should be a teaching moment for all parents. We may not be wealthy enough to buy Harvard but our actions shape our kid's values.

It is a tale as old as time, isn't it? 

Agreed, while most of us cannot afford 150K to get our kids into X school, we can all look in the mirror and have a come to Jesus about our priorities, and whether we walk our talk.

To be sure, we are having LOTS of discussions at our house about this...children have interesting opinions!

Sorry for the issue with the Post Points code. 

There was a problem with the date for the code, and our team is working to fix it on our end so it will work.  If you try the code this afternoon, we’ll have the back end fixed, and things should work.  If you encounter problems, log in to your PostPoints account.  We will post any updates there on the site under the "Earn Points" headline in the PostPoints Updates blue box.

My mom babysat a neighbor infant and the infant would cry hysterics when another neighbor would stop by (he had a beard). She didn't cry for any other men...

Oh! I read somewhere that infants can be very afraid of beards (if no one in their lives has them). Funny...

Four month sleep regression! It'll pass. We got through it by feeding my daughter when she woke up (couldn't tell if she was hungry, so we went with it), trying to rock her back to sleep (usually didn't work until it was an hour later, when she'd probably just have gone to bed anyway had we not tried to rock her), and just trusting everyone who said it would pass soon.

This is pretty much it.

Just don't allow the crying to go into the hysterics that make you fully sweat...make sense?


That's all for today, but thanks so much for joining us, and for all of the great questions. You can keep up with our latest stories online, and join us again for Meghan's next live chat, scheduled for March 27. Have a great week!

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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