On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Mar 14, 2018

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! Welcome to our discussion. Lots going on today. Here's Meghan's latest column to get you going: Why does our second grader hate school? 

Our 2-year-old granddaughter loves to toss her food down to the floor, and peer down at it from her high chair. Sometimes that means she's done eating. Most often, it doesn't, because if we pick up a piece and re-offer it to her, she'll eat it then and there. Drives us nuts!

Ah, she has trained you well! You are playing with her, you just didn't know it.

You and I both know (because you have raised children, right?) that a two year old is too young to *know* she is driving you nuts. She isn't trying to do this. It's just fun.

So either stop picking it up or just keep having fun.

Hi Meghan, Thanks for all your work; I am an avid reader of your columns and chats. I just got offered a probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at work to attend a two-week workshop in Japan, but I worry that two weeks is a very long time to be away from my 1.5 and 3.5 year olds. I'd love to go, but not if it meant potential undue suffering for them. What do you think? FWIW, my wonderful in-laws would be in town for an extended stay during this time, coincidentally, so my husband says he isn't worried about undue suffering for him! Thanks in advance...

First of all, CONGRATS on your opportunity.

I cannot tell you whether to go or not, but this is where exactly technology can really create a huge impact. Whereas people in the past have had to rely on memories, then snail mail, then phone calls, we now have FaceTime and zoom and everything else in between. You can literally see your babies EVERY DAY! And this is huge.

But do you know which sense is the most important for kids? Smell! Yup, smell. So, IF you go, sleep and sweat and get your smell ALL over your nightgowns or blankets and leave them with your children as pillow cases and lovies. While your children won't be able to tell you that they miss you and how much the smell means, it makes a difference.

You can also read their favorite books over FaceTime or into the recording app on your phone, and your hubs and in-laws could play it for them.

Will your children miss you and will you get the cold shoulder when you get home (for a bit)? Yes. Will you miss them in such a cellular way that you will physically feel it? Yup. But will they be okay. Yes. And will you be okay. YES. 

I am pleased by your attachment village stepping up...it's great for the kids.

SO, go or don't, but the kids WILL be okay. (psssst, go).

Meghan did this column about being away from kids for work a while ago. Hope it helps. 

My daughter is 4 and will NOT drink water (or pretty much anything) for me! This is incredibly nerve-wracking because she has struggled with severe constipation since she was very small, and her doctor says that she needs to start dramatically increasing her fluid intake. This is a medical issue and I am at my wit's end. If I don't get her drinking A LOT and FAST then she will literally need to have her feces surgically removed. I already have to hold her down and give her an enema every couple of days. I am terrified. I have tried a reward system, I have tried to let her think it's her choice to drink (instead of saying "Will you drink this juice/water please?" I say "which of these 10 SUPER AWESOME drinks do you want today?"), I have let it all go and started drinking a lot myself so that she would follow my example on her own, I have tried to explain in little kid terms that if she doesn't drink water she will need an enema (she knows what that is and HATES it), and I have tried punishment (as a last resort, I have taken away toys and games and movies and pretty much everything she likes). NONE of it works. You'd think I was trying to get her to drink poison. I do not know what to do and it's not like I can just pour it down her throat! She spits it out and has a breakdown. Please PLEASE help, I am completely on edge and need to find some solution. For her (and my) health!

Yikes, you have my full empathy here.

You have thrown everything at this...is there anyone else she WILL drink for? I am afraid that this power struggle has gone pretty deep for the both of you and we an outside influence...

I mean, might you have to take her to get IV's and liquids into her? Yes. They will have to strap her down and it will be HELL. 

But, you are mom and you gotta do what you have to here.

Try to find someone else to step in here...and otherswise, ready yourself for what feels inevitable. She WILL make it through this...I know I am asking a lot here, but keep your energy as calm as you can. If she needs to go to the hospital or hydration center, can someone else go with you? We need a break between the two of you, if only for a bit....

Goo luck with this...

For the child who doesn't like to drink ... meghan also wanted to add: watermelon and other very liquidy foods. Offer those. (Oranges, apple sauce, watermelon, etc.) I'm sure your pediatrician can or should be able to recommend others, too. Good luck. 

Your Post Points code today: OP2687

A while back you had a question on someone who couldn't get their 18 month old to talk. We're kind of in the same boat, but ours is 20 months. She has words, but really just chooses not to talk most of the time. If we push she cries or tantrums. Let her cry? Give it up and just let her be? Enjoy the silence while we still have it? Can a 20 month old even be persuaded to talk? -Talkative Daddy

"Can a 20 month old even be persuaded to talk?"

No, not really. A 20 month old will only do what she wants to do, period.

If your spidey-sense is worried, please seek the counsel of a good developmental pediatrician...otherwise, keep your daughter is a language-rich environment. Have conversations with her, read to her, point things out, SING (music is the best), just...be yourself. 

And something to keep in mind when it comes to parenting...pushing rarely leads to anything good. It creates resistance and all sorts of mess...so stop pushing. :)

I would recommend high-water content foods as well, such as watermelons, grapes, etc. Also, I recommend checking to see if there a secondary dietary cause of the constipation, such as a food allergy/intolerance. And lastly, could this be anxiety related to a fear of bed wetting or soiling herself?

yes, yes, yes...great, thank you.

Also, has she been referred to occupational therapy or a speech therapist for evaluation of a swallowing disorder/dysphagia?

And YES to this...it feels like something has not been found, right? Thank you.

Todays walk out has me worried even more than normal - how do I (or should I even) talk to my four year old (twins) about what is going on in the world? They know about death as something that happens when you are very old. They call guns “blasters” because their closest experience with guns is Star Wars. Their biggest experience with unkindness is the occasional raised voice. How do I get them from this innocence to understanding that there are people out there who would hurt them without causing trauma?

You do NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT throw them into the deep end of this garbage pool. NO! 

You protect their innocence with everything you got. Why? Because they don't have the brain maturity to process this kind of horror (who does?)

Instead, bring them out into world. Expand your four walls to everyone. Read books with many different people doing many different things. Raise them to identify their feelings and say what they want and need. Raise them to see other's pain (this begins sibling to sibling and parent and friends, and then other people in out world).

ENJOY your children and live up this short time of innocence.

I think jumping to a diagnosis of ADHD and/or anxiety was just wrong. Too many boys are being wrongly diagnosed with ADHD and medicated to their eyeballs so they will sit still for teachers who strongly prefer kids who sit down and shut up with their hands in their laps. For 7 hours straight. My younger kid had a rough 2nd grade because of a teacher unable to manage the room (she was out of the school two years later), and my kid was bored senseless. And she was being bullied, which made things worse. (To her credit, the teacher was sympathetic to the bullying situation, but it wasn't happening in the classroom; our kid's frustration was spilling over into classroom behavior.) She'd read to escape the boredom, and we addressed the bullying with the administration. We somehow got through that year, requested & got a terrific 3rd grade teacher, who thought our kid was gifted and supported the application process. Said kid is now freshman in high school. They still do things on their own time (homework is always late!) but they maintain As and Bs, so can't complain about that. The first step really is to find out what is happening in that classroom. The fact the boy is learning material says to me this is a gifted kid in a poorly managed classroom. I'd start with a meeting with the teacher just to get her side of the story.

Here is the column:
"2. Is he gifted? What if he is bored and distracted and unfocused because he is not being challenged by the material? The research is clear that gifted children quickly fall between the cracks because their boredom is mistaken for misbehavior and they are disciplined rather than given the appropriate material.
3. Does he say he is bored because every time he does, you pay a lot of attention to it? Perhaps it’s his way of getting the attention that all children want from their parents.
I have not left you with any answers. I have definitely not answered how he can feel more positively about school, because to find the way out, you must look at what his behavior is telling you. Start with his teacher and the appropriate specialists in the school to help you piece this together, and in the meantime, listen. Ask your son questions about his day and pay attention to the clues and his thought patterns. Stay curious. Good luck."

Also, in the column, an issue that drives me crazy. I don't know how kids are expected to sit for so long every day: "Almost every American elementary-school-age child is not getting enough exercise. Schools are tasked with teaching and testing students so much that developmentally normal needs such as outside play are pushed to the fringes."

Can you offer any resources for having continuing conversations with a 4 yr old about divorce? He understands his parents are separated but the break happened mid cross country move which he finds very confusing. This is all further compounded by his father deciding recently to move back (he and I live with his grandparents temporarily). I'm trying to balance giving him an appropriate amount of information without adding additional pain/stress to a very confusing time.

Errrr...ummm. I can offer you all the resources in the world, but this is pretty confusing for anyone and he is NOT going to get it.

If you are yo-yo'ing back and forth (dad in, dad out, dad in, dad out), your son is going to feel pretty yanked around and traumatized (strong word, but that's what people coming and going does to kids).

The antidote to this is routine and clarity.

If the hubs has to live there, so be it, but don't act married. And if he leaves, work out the custody and STICK TO IT. Like glue.

I know I sound a bit tough here, but kids CAN and DO make it through separation and divorce, but books are a small help. Routine, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, and most of all, RESPECT for each other as parents is what will make this work.

our kids are early elementary school. we don't generally watch live tv and the adults get most news content from electronic sources. we just subscribed to a print newspaper for sunday to see if at least the pictures help their mostly pre-literate minds understand, but wondering what else? We'd rather have them learn some current events with us around in the evening/weekend so we can discuss them together instead of having them learn about awful events on the playground :(

KidsPost, for one.  It's in print Monday through Thursday. And ask your school. They usually get something there, like through Scholastic... ? Anyone else have suggestions? 

My son, a H.S. freshman, wanted to go to the student walkout in DC today. I asked if he had a way downtown, or people to go with. His friends wavered, and I assumed it was off. Last night he asked if I could drive his friends to DC. Although I support the cause, this felt too last-minute. I also didn't want him to miss school (he is struggling in 2 classes.) He asked if he could take the bus to the metro from school today, and I didn't agree to give him a note. He is disappointed and sulky. What should I have done differently, if anything? If he had secured a way down with people I know, I might have said yes. It could have been a good experience for him. Or should I have told him from the beginning not to try because I didn't want him to miss school? And why do I feel like I did something wrong?

This has Meghan written all over it, but in the words of Wendy Mogel, who I interviewed for a story yesterday: "I realize you think this wasn't fair. Nevertheless, this is the decision we're making this time." Any chance you can go to the march together as a family? And actually have time to plan ahead? 


Well, you feel badly because you know you may have done something wrong.

Listen, I get your ambivalence. This is a scary time. Children and teens are leading US (the adults) and everything feels fast.

You just want to keep your kid safe. It's A LOT. It's a lot to take in.

Should you have let him go? Maybe. Did he need a better plan? Yes.

So, sit him down tonight and say, "Listen, I want to support you caring about our world and our American politics. I wish I had let you go, I felt a little blindsided. I also need a plan so I know where you are and who you're with. There's a big march on the 24th, let's make a plan."

You are human. Move forward. March with him. :)

Yes, GO. My spouse had to travel 2+ weeks at a time 3 times a year when my kids were little. It was part of his job. Yes, it was hard on all of us, but we got by. Megan covered good stuff (the recorded books was a real hit - we left a cd (yes this was more than a decade ago) with daycare so our kids could listen to Dad's voice whenever they wanted). But suggest to your spouse that they hire your regular babysitter or local teen to be a parent helper. Our babysitter would come whatever evenings she could to help wrangle the kids - play with one, etc., which I got one ready for bed, etc. She was a lifesaver - and it's well worth the money.

Love this idea (the babysitter), thank you.

For the mom thinking of going away for 2 weeks: I fully agree with Meghan's suggestions, just wanted to emphasize one point. When my kids were 1.5 and 3.5 I left them with their grandparents for about 5 days for a work event. Their dad was there in the mornings and evenings but was at work during the day. When I got home my littlest one only wanted grandma for the first day and gave me a "No!" whenever I held out my arms for a hug. I thought I would die, but once grandma left things returned to normal. The kids are now 9 and 7 and I am pretty sure they don't remember a minute of me being gone that week.

YES!!! Your children will shy away (the way attachment energy works) from the parent who has left, but if you don't push, the child WILL warm up.

Been there. First, it's awful and not your fault. Others have gone through this. you and she will be OK. Some thoughts" 1. the "watery" food suggestions. Make sure you talk to you ped before you do this. This was expressly not permitted/helpful for my kid because of pectin and other "binders" in fruit. 2. Get weird cups, swirly straws, etc. This make it better for my kid. 3. Let her watch stupid TV or similar (ipad) time. Mindless drinking is your friend here. 30 minute show often equaled a full glass for us. 4. If OK with ped, really let her choose her drink. We went through a lot of blue God knows what and lemonade. Don't fuss about the chemicals/sugar. 5. Ice cream chasers for quick results. 5. Agree with other suggestions re allergies (esp. milk/lactose) and physical problems.

thank you! How did this end for you?

My 4 1/2 yr old son starts off sleeping in his own bed at night but in the middle of the night (or wee hours in the morning!), he sneaks into my husband and my bed for the remainder of his sleep. Sometimes we don't even hear/feel him crawl into our bed or are just too darn tired to care. Are we creating a monster? Or will this "phase" eventually peter out?

To be totally honest, I have never met a mature adult who still sleeps with his parents. If he starts in his bed, that's good enough for me.

Do you FEEL like this is a problem or do you THINK it should be a problem?

Decide that and move forward.


Hi Ms. Leahy, I have a question for you regarding obsessive gaming. My 9-year-old plays Roblox obsessively, and when I throw him off the computer, he turns on the TV (Amazon streaming) and watches Roblox YouTube videos on there. It seems to be his only interest, and I am completely exasperated by it! I can enforce "no screen time" but then I find I have to be actively involved in this other activity (whether its helping him create an obstacle course, building a fort, having a dart gun battle etc...). While I enjoy spending that time with him, I do actually have to make dinner/get his little brother in the bath etc.. Inevitably, he ends up back on the computer/video game/TV and we start all over again! I find it maddening and depressing that he shows no initiative or creative interest in any non-screen related activity. While I am not wild about all of the video game content (occasional violence) it is mostly benign (he mostly likes it because all of his friends are on it). The amount of time is what most concerns me. It is a constant battle, and one I fear I am losing. Is this just a phase, or should I be concerned?

I am literally sending Amy Joyce a column about gaming and a 8 yo as we speak. Stay tuned!

My niece had similar issues into adulthood when she was finally diagnosed as suffering from Hemochromatosis (excess iron). It wouldn't hurt to check for that too.

Throwing this out there... 

For background, both my husband and I have struggled (in varying degrees and at various stages in life) with depression and anxiety; so have members of our immediate and extended families. We recognize that our children have hit the genetic jackpot </sarcasm> but we hope to remain proactive about recognizing and addressing signs in our children. Recently, our 6yo daughter has started making really self-deprecating remarks like "I'm dumb" and "I wish I was someone else." A few times she has said "I wish I was dead." This isn't normal behavior, right? Or are we being overly sensitive given our heightened sense of awareness? How do we know when we need to bring in a mental health professional? Thanks!

Okay, so first check in with yourselves frequently and honestly. You are not alone in these struggles, and you MUST take care of yourself to take care of your kids.

Your background also makes your prime for an overreaction to your children. 

Your best bet is to dig into NORMAL development of kids and have some trusted people in your life to turn to get some gut checks.

To clarify the father has not moved back in with us - just back to the area from cross country and plans on regular scheduled visitation (at his home)

AHHHH! Sorry. Good. Then ANY good book in the library will do. Read, listen to his feelings, reflect them back, don't promise anything, and stay consistent.

Above all, do whatever you can to stay positive in co-parenting with your ex. 

Thank you all. Make sure to check out On Parenting at washingtonpost.com/onparenting and on Facebook. We also have a working parent discussion page (open to anyone who works, is trying to work, thinking about working again, etc.). Come join us! Meghan's web site is here, as well. Columns are right here. Now. Have yourself a gentle evening, enjoy your kids, and we'll be back here to talk soon. 

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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