On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Apr 24, 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 chatters. Meghan's here and ready to answer your questions. Jump on in yourself with your own thoughts, as always. Sharing is caring. 

Here's Meghan's latest, where she explains why and how to trust your parenting instinct.

Okay then! Let's get started. 

A technical glitch, but Meghan will be with us again in a minute. Hang in there. 

OP3795 is your post points code for today. 

My little boys (7 and 9) like to play with toy water guns. I was fine with this, because I know they are just playing around. But my husband is unsure. He understands that the boys are just enjoying themselves and not displaying any violent tendencies, but he is worried about them playing with water guns, because he and our sons are black. As a white mom, I feel a little out of my comfort zone here. I know the stats on how many black americans are more likely to be shot by the police because of the color of their skin, but I have no idea how to approach this with my kids. Should I get rid of the toy guns? Or talk to my sons about racism and possibly getting hurt by the police? I don't want to scare them, and I don't want to create distrust of the police so early on, but I am trying to be realistic here. When is the right time to sit our kids down and let them know that they are less safe than their white neighbors?

Here's a piece, written by a dad who feels like your husband does. I hope it helps to shed some light... 

Let me begin by also saying that I am also a white mom, and so everything I am saying here is in that vein (which is to say that I really don't get it, I really don't get the fear). 

Here's the deal: you have to have frequent and honest conversations with your husband around this topic. Your white life allows you to see boys having fun with water guns. Your husband's black life and experiences lead him to see potential victims of racism and violence. Even death. 

Both outlooks are true, and both need to be discussed in a way that is loving and compassionate.

Whether or not your husband is "realistic" in his fear, his fear is real and valid. The violence, incarceration rate, and death rate of young black men in this country is a staggering embarrassment that no one wants to face, and being that your husband grew up black, he is also carrying all of his experiences (good, bad, and fearful). Add to this, the news shows us images almost every day of young black boys being handcuffed, thrown to the ground, arrested, and shot for doing little to nothing (sometimes sitting in coffee shops is too much).

Because you are have lived your life is relative safety (at least in the racial aspect), you cannot and do not see your sons as posing a threat to anyone nor do you see them as potential victims of racially motivated violence.

You and your husband have to talk. Frequently. Honestly.

And because you are "out of your comfort zone," you need to be the listener.

Of course, you don't want to instill a deep fear and paranoia in your boys; what parent does? But you also don't want to back away from this because you don't know what to do. That leaves you and black family members out in the cold.

I think  the conversations around safety and privilege and guns needs to begin now, and it should be a lifelong conversation. This conversation needs to be historical in context, casual, and also celebrational of the your son's backgrounds. Because many of us grew up "not seeing color," this ended up erasing ALL people of color, so let's go ahead and see color. Let's embrace the totality and complexity of your son's backgrounds, and rather than sending a message of, "YOU COULD GET SHOT FOR HOLDING A TOY GUN," we create a discussion around the inequities justice when it comes to race.

You think this is too big for kids? No way. Kids get justice! They are obsessed with it, so we both want to make your sons aware of the injustices while empowering them to become strong, intelligent, compassionate men.

You may decide that toy guns are not okay. You may decide that they are okay. I don't know. But the conversation needs to be with your spouse and I want you to stay uncomfortable. That's where the real change is!


On March 13 you posted my question about my daughter suddenly refusing to sleep through the night. One chatter suggested it was the 4 month sleep regression. I stuck with the mantra you and the chatter posted "it is normal, it will pass." Happy to report that after a few rough weeks, a move into her own crib/bedroom, a lot of patience, and a (heartbreaking) refusal to bring the baby into my bed, she slept through the night in her crib last night. Hopefully the first night of many. Thanks to you and the chatter for your support!

"This is normal, it will pass" is such a good mantra. So many things we go through seem insurmountable in the moment, a few months out it'll seem like "what was all the fuss?" *Not always, but many times.*

YES! And expect more regressions, more changes, and more peaks and valleys!

It is all part of development.


Hi Meghan, I’m looking for a sanity check. My just-turned-3 year old is having a hard time adjusting to his baby brother (10 months) being mobile and able to steal toys, knock down blocks, and otherwise just be in the same room. He’s started a lot of pushing, hair pulling, and slamming doors on the baby. He yells “NO” to his brother when the Little Guy so much as looks in his direction and melts into a screaming, whining mess of emotions. Occasionally, I’ll see 3 Year Old smiling, while watching his baby brother play with toys, until he snaps out of it and realizes he’s supposed to be yelling and mad. Other than being right there 100% of the time to run interference before the pushing, pulling, screaming and finger slamming starts, is there anything I can be doing to change this dynamic? I can’t think of any kind of natural consequence discipline for 3 Year Old that might be effective here. Implementing a Time Out policy feels more like a way to punish me, since there’s a 0% chance 3 Year Old will ever sit still. Any suggestions?

Put that baby in a playpen!

You think I am kidding, I am not.

Here's the deal: this is a rough stage. You have two VERY immature people under your roof. You are doing your best to police them, but when you cannot, you have GOT to put that baby somewhere that he can be safe from big brother and big brother doesn't feel the need to protect his stuff.

And of course, when you are with them both, you are role modeling your buns off, showing what sharing and caring sounds and looks like, but otherwise...if you are looking for constant ways to punish the 3 yo? Oy, your life will be REALLY HARD.


 No, you cannot allow him to hurt the baby, but we also cannot allow the baby to Godzilla your son's stuff.

I know I sound like a broken record on these chats, but this is a good time to get some help. SOMEONE, ANYONE to just sit with them as you get stuff done. They are simply interference and giving you a physical and emotional break from this hard work.

Other ideas are putting the three year old in a little program a couple of days a week (so he can fight with kids his own age).

Otherwise: PLAY PEN.

We take our 6-year-old son to help deliver groceries to low-income seniors once a month. Many are very excited to see kids, and often want to hug/kiss him. He will do this grudgingly, but has said to me afterward that he doesn’t like it. How would you suggest respecting his wishes on not being touched without being rude to people who are so delighted to have contact with kids?

Train your son to stick out his hand, right away.

This question breaks my heart, because I know that many of these seniors are desperate for a physical connection, and a hug from a child is the sweetest, but that doesn't mean that your son needs to give up his space.

As soon as you enter the room, he sticks out his hand, you cheerily and loudly announce, "MY SON IS A HAND-SHAKER!" and then YOU hug the stuffing out of these seniors. You will take the brunt of it.

If these seniors are still pushing boundaries, stand between your son and them and keep your message. Keep your eyes kind, keep a gentle smile.

And thank you for doing this work.

I am pregnant again after a traumatic stillbirth and a miscarriage, and I am already nearly certain that I will have postpartum anxiety- what should I do proactively to stay on top of this? I’m already a naturally anxious person (ie, going to the hospital to visit MIL after her back surgery yesterday led to me almost freaking out about superbugs and Chlorox-wiping All The Things). Also, we recently visited some friends and their 3-mo-old, and seeing the way the baby’s head slumped forward as the mother held her sleeping on her chest chatting with us made me feel an unexpectedly strong momentary surge of visceral panic- I can’t imagine how I will feel when it’s my baby and I’m responsible for keeping this one alive.

Oh my heavens, you have been through it.

Get yourself to a counselor who specializes in anxiety and stillbirth/miscarriage NOW.


There are tons of strategies and help that you can use NOW, and I want ALL EYES ON YOU AS YOU NAVIGATE YOUR POST-PARTUM LIFE. (yes, I am yelling at you, I am serious as heck here).

I want a therapist, I want a psychiatrist, I want it all for you.

And you know what? This baby may come and you may be fiiiiine. No depression, no blues, no anxiety. Great.

But in the case that you are suffering, I don't want you to think, NOT FOR A MINUTE, that you are alone, that there isn't help, and that there isn't medicine, therapy, and PEOPLE for you.


Need help? Write to me and we can help you find your peeps.





Hello! I have three kids in the Pre-K/K age range. This summer I want to introduce formal chores (they do sometimes help me but not on a schedule)- my plan is that they can't watch TV until beds are made and toys are straight. I feel like this gives them both incentive to do the chores and control over when to do them. Is this age appropriate? How should I introduce it? Also, I expect that one will go along easily, one will participate begrudgingly, and the third will dramatically fight this injustice. How do I keep the third from mooching off of his siblings, since they all play with the same toys and watch the same shows? Finally, I'm thinking of also introducing a small allowance that they can put towards vacation souvenirs, the ice cream man, etc. Is this a good age for that? Should it be tied to the chores in any way? My instinct says that they're too young to make a connection between Monday's chores and Friday's $2 but I'm curious about your thoughts.


You are right on track with the ages and the chores.

I want you to scale back your expectations and instead, see this as a long journey in training and work.

Let's be joyful, hopeful, flexible, and persistent with this...flexible being the most important.

1. Google a list of chores for the ages of your children.

2. Google "Ideas for getting kids to do chores" and see what speaks to you. Pinterest alone is a sea of charts, popsicle sticks, stickers, and ideas. Use what speaks to you right now. Please know that whatever system you use will change hundreds of times. That is a reflection of family and change, not of anything bing wrong.

3. Whenever possible, give the kids CHOICE and make the reward IMMEDIATE. The younger the child, the sooner the reward needs to come. Why? Their brains cannot hold on to intentions and long term hopes and plans as well as ours can. By rewarding the chores right away, you are building that chore = good neural pathway.

4. Treat allowance separately from the chores. I like this piggy bank, it is clear, it is fun, and you can easily sort out the spend money from other projects. Again, google allowance ideas and KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Whatever you do, keep it loose and know that some days will better than others. The important part is that you stay the course!

(Reposting this question from last chat): I think I'm mostly looking for reassurance that I'm doing this right. We are moving several states away from the only place my smart, sensitive, insightful, lovely (can you tell I dig her?) daughter has ever known. She's the perfect storm of her mom--smart, defends the underdog, gets her feelings hurt easily--and her dad--also super smart, deep thinker, internalizes feelings, has high anxiety. She cried on me for 2 hours yesterday about...everything. We always give her space for her big feelings, with hugs and love. We talk it out when she wants to. I know this is hard and don't lie about it. I emphasize the good things about the move while not denying the bad. She's talking to the school counselor. She's scared kids will be mean; that teachers will too. What else can we do to help her with this big transition?

how old is this girl?

Thank you all for joining us. Don't forget that Meghan writes a weekly column for us and often answers your questions there. (Attention: Parent who wrote in with the 9-year-old  moving.)

You can join us on Facebook, Twitter and always at washingtonpost.com/onparenting. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter and you'll get everything! I'm also on Twitter sharing all the parenting stuff

Have a great week, all. 

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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