On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Mar 18, 2020

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

Hello everyone. Let me just say it: Phew. Wow. Oh my.

This is really something, isn't it? We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's chat, shall we? 

Here are a few of our recent coronavirus pieces for you to check out. The newest one is the issue of keeping our kids from their beloved grandparents. (May I add Caitlin Gibson reported and wrote this from home with a sick toddler?Hero.)

Tips for parenting during coronavirus

College kids coming home.

How single moms are facing this crisis.  

And more. 

we are trying to still keep a routine with our 4 year old (who is usually at preschool) by still getting dressed after breakfast, etc. but we are allowing some extra snuggletime in the morning, not super-rushing him,. are we setting ourselves up for disaster when we can no longer do that with him? he's already impossible to get ready in the morning.

Yes, let's accept that it is not going to be ideal and we are all going to have some heck to pay when it is time to rejoin the world...and we can only do our best right now.

You know he needs routine, you are giving him that. You know that children are more cooperative when when they feel connected to those they love, you are giving him snuggles.

Good and good.

To some extent, worrying about the disaster on the other side of this can ruin all the good you are doing, so try to drop that concern (hard, but doable).

In the meanwhile, you can "pretend school" to keep that routine school. Maybe two or three mornings a week, you can really stick to your routine, "leave" the house with a lunch, and coat, etc., and then walk back into the house for "school."

You can have little centers in the house, and do that for a while.

I am just looking at practicing LEAVING THE HOUSE, since that is a sticking point for so may parents of young kids.

How do we constructively manage our own anxiety without passing that on to our anxious kids considering everything that’s going on? There’s so much stress to be shared and I want to do what I can to protect them from it but I also kind of wanna cry...

Begin by having a good shower cry. Get it all out. If you cannot do a shower cry, watch some clips of Ellen surprising amazing people with scholarships and cars. That will make you cry, for sure. Get some tears out, because emotions were made to move, and the energy it takes to hold them in simply isn't worth it.

Next, STOP WATCHING THE NEWS. Definitely stop reading stuff on social media. You don't technically need to know what is happening in San Fran or Seattle to stay safe right here, and right now. Watching the news triggers and retrievers our cortisol and puts us into a panic...but there's nothing to do about it! Stay home, wash your hands, get fresh air, move your body, eat good food, repeat.

If you are prone to anxiety, you have to be extra vigilant to stop the panic.

While I am not one to constantly promote meditation (even though I practice Zen buddhism), I will recommend an app like Calm or Headspace, and find what works for you on there. There is stuff for the whole family.

Finally, nature heals. GET OUTSIDE. Even for short bits of time.

And find a person to share your worries with, out of the earshot of your children. It is good to vent, and then leave it there.

all of those articles you mentioned at the top assume you're children are mostly self-dependent. what about those of in the under 5 crowd?

Yes! We're on it. I don't think there's anything tougher right now. (If anyone wants to email us about how you're managing the true littles, please do at onparenting@washpost.com.) 

My almost-two year old daughter "Lucy" says about 10 words. She clearly understands many more. We did a developmental evaluation two months ago with a referral from our pediatrician. The results of that were that she has a three month speech delay, and is on level or several months ahead on other development such as fine and gross motor skills and socio-emotional skills. Long story short, we were recommended to just continue what we are already doing. At this point, Lucy only talks to my husband and I. She will only say hi or bye to her grandparents, whom she sees regularly. She has been in daycare since 4 months old, loves her teachers, and has been in with the same group of kids essentially from the beginning, and has yet to speak there. At what point should we be concerned that she only talks to us? How can we tell the difference between a speech delay that might warrant intervention (at this point the doctos said not yet) and apparent shyness that might warrant other actions?

Huh. I am not a pediatrician, nor I am a speech therapist, so...take this with whatever grain of salt you like, but I think you are reaching out to me because YOUR intuition is telling you that your daughter needs more services.

And if that is your intuition, I would follow it.

The plasticity of the brain is such that, the earlier the intervention, the better. So, get a second opinion or see what else is out there.

Keep reading to her and talking to her, and follow your gut.

Hi Meghan. You have kids. You're a parent coach. What does life look like at your house right now? What words of wisdom can you give us as we're all trying to get through?



We were supposed to wake up early, but we aren't early risers in our house anymore (16, almost 13, and 9), so we get up around 8 AM and walk around and growl at each other for a while.

I make everyone breakfast and we meet at the table to discuss the day. For instance, today is wild with my work so I have had to put the kids on puppy detail, dog walks, etc. I have also decided (in my mind) to give more latitude toward the tech today (NEEDS OF THE SITUATION). 

Everyone has two work blocks (45 min each) which I am poorly managing.

Lunch is served at 12 PM.

I work all afternoon, so it will be what it will be, with chores and dog walks getting done. I may pay them to reorganize my books.

My final goal is to find a trail for us and the dogs that isn't overrun with other people.

Tomorrow will be different.

The wisdom is to assess the needs of your family, that day. And KEEP IT SIMPLE.

That's it.

Hi. Our kids are ages 4-12, and there are three of them. All different personalities, but all completely bored, in tears, frustrated, hitting, screaming. How are we supposed to do weeks of this? Usually they activities or friends they can play with. My partner and I both are trying to work and let me tell you, that fancy schedule I see posted all over Facebook? Yeah, not working. Help.

Take the template of that schedule and sit down with  your family.

I know the schedule you are referring to, and yes, it is bananas and I don't know how anyone adheres to it.

First, sit with your spouse and figure out the needs of the situation. The REAL needs of the situation. Who needs to work when and how. Get an idea of what the week looks like. Which parent can take which kid, and when? That four year old cannot self-manage for long...so who is going to help him? 

Next, call a family meeting and write down the routine. There will be times that you need to work...and what are the choices for the kids? Give them two different options.

Have an activity block: I am a big fan of freeze tag, hide and seek, obstacle courses, etc. Literally running around the block can work. Yoga...anything! Get the whole family to do it.

Finally, try your best to shut down the tech earlier in the evening. I know it is hard, but the screens keep your children's brains active which prolongs bedtime which...you know...

The boredom that our kids are experiencing is rough for them...we don't allowed them to be bored in our culture anymore...this is new territory and it is going to take a minute.

Be gentle with yourselves and with them.

Above all, HAVE SOME FUN.


Now that my 4-year-old and 18-month-old are going to see me all day every day for a while, how do I still prepare them that I will go back to work and they won't see me all the time?

Ummm, you cannot really rationally explain to these ages that you are here now and later, you won't be. Their concept of time is just not there...and if you talk too much about it, you will just panic the four year old.

So, keep your language direct like, "we are on a break now, like a vacation. Mommy will go back to work, but right now, we are together." 

Some mornings, you can pretend to all go "to work" so that the kids can remember the feeling of getting ready and leaving...

But here's the deal: daycares and preschools and work? It is all going to be rough for the littles and the parents when this ends. But we are ALL up for the challenge...the children will be OKAY as long as you are delivering the kids into loving and welcoming arms. We can do tears!

I don't want to criticize your parenting, but don't the kids make their own breakfasts?

You aren't criticizing my parenting when you ask that, it is a great question.

My children can physically make and do virtually everything an adult can do, but making food for them during this time is a loving act that I can take on. It also cuts down on fighting in the kitchen, choices, etc. Making and serving the food brings a sense of calm to the house that they need, so that's what I am doing.

Someone posted on Carolyn Hax that she saw a young child dressed up in a St. Pat's Day tutu... Made me think maybe one thing to do with kids who are home from school is have them dress up in their Halloween costumes (or make new ones)... have fantasy time?


And I love how creative this can get...I am for it.

Love the chats and have learned so much. A few recent incidents with my 7 year old son have me concerned. Simply put - he seems compelled to touch everything. His teacher just sent a note home about needing to work on keeping his hands to himself (grabbing, pushing and pulling on friends). At a recent medical appointment he would not stop touching the equipment despite being told in increasingly stern terms by both me and the doctor to stop. I get that he's young and learning self control, and goodness knows even some adults can't seem to keep their hands to themselves, but I'm getting fed up. Any advice?

Has it always been like this? Is it new?

Have there been any dramatic changes to his life?

I need more info...but there is a distractibility going on that certainly needs to be looked at.

It could be related to anything from sugar or another food or executive functioning stuff or anxiety...

My husband is 78 and I'm 71. We're healthy and live near grandkids (ages 3 and 7). I feel terrible not helping out during this crisis, with school cancelled. And yet it seems like we are really and truly supposed to self isolate, so we have. Please tell me this it the right thing to do. At the moment our grands' parents are still gainfully employed, and have good benefits, some flexibility for working at home, generous leave policies (and probably some ability to patch together paid and unpaid leave)... and yet, depending on how long this goes on, we probably could be hands-on helpful (although not if we end up sick too). We're in California where we have more stringent "shelter in- place" rules than some other places. THanks.

YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT THNG! Stay put. Your grandkids want you around for a long time. 

I second Amy. You stay put. We need to healthy.

For now, do a story time with the kids on FaceTime or Zoom.

Get the kids cozy in their beds and then find a story on your computer, and read it to them over the phone, complete with sounds and voices.

Write the kids letters and ask for some back (depending on the mail situation where you are). Send the children e-mails with coloring sheets you found online and ask them to color them in for you.

Just get through this and make lists of all the fun you will have with them when it is over! Spend this time finding fun activities.

Stay safe.

I've seen a lot of keep-the-routine advice and the above-mentioned schedule floating around, which don't work for us at all, but one thing that has worked is still packing lunches. It's so, so easy to just snack all day and with a preschooler and pre-K-er, their favorite is the snack-graze meal. So, having lunchboxes packed that we pull out at lunchtime and that is it, has really helped. They recognize the structure from daycare/preschool; it's the same lunch they would get were we sending them and it is one less battle.

(Perhaps I should do that for myself. I just ate a sleeve of Ritz and half a chunk of Manchego... )


How do I keep my three and six year old girls entertained while being stuck at the house? We try to avoid screen time and they are getting tired of each other.

1. We will accept that FIGHTS WILL HAPPEN. We are all shoved in together, and this will be the result.

2. A strong routine and schedule is needed, with extra TV thrown in.

3. Have "cool down" spots they can retreat to when it gets heated. For instance, can the six year old retreat to a spot that is filled with some favorite things while you distract the three year old? 

4. When in doubt, move the bodies. Any movement will help tire their bodies and minds, and it is badly needed with these ages together.


"so we get up around 8 AM and walk around and growl at each other for a while". Thank you for writing this! I was beginning to feel terrible that my kids aren't doing 4 hours a day of homework!!

Oh, heck no.

Two hours a day, max.

I try to throw in some more reading...but my gosh. No.

Okay! We have to run, but thanks for joining us. I feel better, how 'bout you? I hope you get outside today for some air and some space. Take care, everyone. 

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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