On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Apr 29, 2020

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

Morning everyone. Are you dragging, like I am? Just sending you out a socially distant solidarity fist bump. Check out the project my colleagues did listing a ton of resources that might help break the boredom.

Here's Meghan's latest about a newly political teen. Great. But what about her thinking she knows everything?! Yeah. That. 

Speaking of Meghan, her book is coming out soon and I can't wait! 

Okay, lots of questions are piling up and Meghan's diligently reading through and thinking. Let's see what she's got for us today, shall we? 


My 4-year-old's ALL DAY whining/crying starts the minute he wakes up. If he gets up and sees I already took his 20-month sister out of her crib already, he's on the floor whining that I didn't wait for him and I have to put her back because he wants to go in first. From there, just everything is a must-have my way right now from him. [This was all going on before "stay at home" so it's not stemming from that.] I try ignoring it, but he just has a meltdown on the floor, and if we actually need to get ready and go somewhere (assuming schools will eventually reopen), I don't have 20 minutes for him to just be lying there. And then repeating it when i don't serve him breakfast right away or ask him to get dressed. What else?


Do not go down that road...you are only frustration to frustration for yourself...no need for that. You will handle the future when it comes.

This is rough for sure, though. There is always a dance between listening and fixing the problems when you can, and then letting him cry when you can. For sure, he is not the boss of the house, and cannot dictate who gets out of cribs and eats and who gets dressed, how and when. 


A four year old is known for needing some power and some significance, so what are some ways he can feel important?

Does he like to help prepare food for his sister? Can he be charge of picking out clothes? What WORK can he do? Google some chores and see what appeals to him and YOU!

Also, it is clear that there is a bit of jealousy of with the 20 month old, so double time on special time. I know, I know...I am always recommending it...but it is SO powerful. Because you child tends to be a little bossy, this is a time to allow him to choose what you both do and guide the play, but you decide how long it goes. When the timer goes off, the timer goes off, and that is that. He will cry for more time, beg, threaten, and tantrum...but as long as you stick to your guns and do it again the next day, he will begin to trust that you mean it.

Finally, do not try to get to "talky" during these meltdowns...it just keeps the power struggles going...just stay what I call "compassionately silent." You are not glaring or march off, nor are you yelling or trying to emotion coach him. You are just hanging out, waiting for the storm to pass.

This will get better. Just keep dancing with it.

I have two kids who are (relatively) willing home schoolers, and one who is not. I don't want to push the reluctant one too hard, but I also don't want to let him off the hook when his siblings are going along. One of the siblings is his twin, so it's not an age thing, just a personality thing. It's not that much work, I have lots of breaks scheduled during the day, and I want to keep us on track because the routine is the only thing that keeps my sanity somewhat in check.

Keep the routine, but have your twin who wants to check out do something else, like read or do art or anything else.

Also, keep in mind that your twin may need another routine. Don't change it midstream (like the middle of the day), but maybe this weekend you could sit down with them and figure out how to make their routine work for them AND you.

Get creative.

We are doing a pretty good job of limiting screen time during our stay at home orders, but our six year old has suddenly gotten hooked on podcasts to fill the void. He will happily listen to podcasts for five or six hours a day! Sometimes he will do other things while listening and sometimes he will just sit and listen. It keeps him out of our hair, but is this too much? Should we trim it back, especially if he wants to keep listening after stay at home restrictions are lifted? The last couple of days he has declined to play outside or go on walks around the neighborhood because he would rather sit and listen. I'm glad he has found something to occupy himself, but he seems hooked.

Ummm, this is an awesome problem to have.

Rather than cutting back or worrying about podcasts, stick to an "outside" routine. Even if you walk and listen to a podcast, that's good enough!

My 16 yo daughter has been in lockdown with her mom (me), her father, and her 13 yo brother. She gets out of the house for the occasional drive, but other than that she never steps outside the house! Not for one breath of fresh air or even a quick walk around the block. She loves hiking but all the public areas are closed. I’d try to get her out walking with me, but I’m still recovering from having covid and I walk pretty slowly. She used to walk to school everyday, about a mile each way. She’s a studious musician and has never been into any sports, but without her daily walks I worry that she’s likely to get into a depressive rut (she has issues with depression and talks to a therapist regularly). She’s also having trouble sleeping, and I know this would help. We’ve tried asking her if she wants to go on walks with her dad or solo and urging her to get out when the weather’s good - but she hasn’t done anything remotely physical in 44 days and counting. Any suggestions on how to motivate her?

Let's take the pressure off of the walking and try other things. Yoga? I love Yoga with Adriene. Bike riding?

Also, I know that public parks are closed, but there are still places to hike or go for long walks, so your husband can take her.

And I am not above a little bribe. Like, she goes on a hike with her dad and she gets a milkshake from a drivethru later. Or she tries some yoga and she gets some new music.

Try to have family meetings where the whole family makes a plan for being outside and it is less "MAKE THE 16 YEAR OLD GO SOMEWHERE." I also love the idea of her planning and driving there!

Dear Meghan, I'm a first-time mom to a delightful nine month old son who is, by all accounts, doing well. My question is because we now know, retroactively, that everyone in my house had Covid-19. We were early cases before there was widespread testing, no one knew what it looked like in babies, and it wasn't until I became sick with a "classic" adult case that we were all diagnosed. The first person to get it was my son and he was SO sick - fever, diarrhea, lethargy - and I kept calling our pediatric practice who told me repeatedly that he just had a "regular daycare virus" and to keep him hydrated. Even though he seems to be okay now, in retrospect I think I'm having PTSD recognizing that things could have gone much worse for him and us, and wondering about possible long term effects. And, I'm kicking myself for ignoring my gut instinct. I *knew* in my bones that something was very unusually wrong with my son, but I just deferred to our providers who after all have much experience with babies and illness than I do. How do you learn to trust your parental instincts?

Oh man, I am so sorry. That really stinks. And I would like to say that you are the only one who had this experience, but I am afraid that so many people have had this issue.

And I cannot take away your retrospective fear, I will tell you that this is parenting. 

I once lost my middle child on the beach. She was two, and took off running down the beach in a blink of an eye. I didn't know she was running down the beach, and for about 30 long seconds, I thought was drowning in the water. I was hysterical, and when she found (safe and sound) by the lifeguards, I was beside myself. I berated myself for months, even years.

What kind of mother lets this happen?

But what I have come to realize that you can have ALL of your parenting intuition intact and still...like will happen to you and your family. Mistakes will be made, and accidents will happen.

In your case, your intuition WAS there...you didn't do anything wrong. You and your doctor were battling a virus no one knew anything about...we STILL don't have enough tests, now!

So, your instincts were strengthened out of this...know that!

And you will be tested again and again. Welcome to parenting, you are up for the job!

And I am so glad you are well...donate your plasma/blood/whatever they are doing!

I have an almost 2-year-old daughter and we have been spending, like everyone, all of our time together now. Is tickling inherently not good? I know there's the issue of consent and boundaries to consider. I've heard that the laughing during tickling is a frightened response and therefore tickling is not enjoyable. With my kid, she laughs a lot and once she relaxes, she will bring my hands back to her belly and say "mai!" (her gibberish for again). How can you tell if a toddler enjoys getting tickled?

Oh my, tickle away.

There are surely boundary issues when it comes to tickling and roughhousing, but those come when you see a child is miserable to fighting you or clearly unhappy, and you push your agenda anyway. 

That takes it quickly from fun to bullying...

But if your child loves it, it is a wonderful way to connect!

My 3.5-year-old seems unperturbed by the pandemic-wrought changes in our lives--not going to school, not going to playgrounds, talking to friends on Zoom, having parents home all the time but trying to work, people wearing masks. She occasionally mentions her friends or wanting to do something we used to do, like go to a playground or a restaurant, but only in passing. It seems like she just loves having more time at home with us. Is this developmentally appropriate self-centeredness? It certainly makes things easier that she's not freaking out, but the failure to register what's happening seems notable.

Yup, totally typical. In fact, it is a blessing that our young children are relatively unbothered by this. 

All they really care about is: Are my people here? Do I have my parents and siblings? Am I safe? Can I play and eat and sleep?

Yup? Then life is good.

Three year old's are king and queen of their universes, and those universes are very small. To learn more about this, pick up Rest Play Grow by D. MacNamara.

All the playgrounds, etc. in our area are (justifiably) closed. But our toddler is clearly needing the type of movement/sensation of climbing/swinging/etc. She's literally climbing over all the furniture, begging to be swung around by dad, and unsatisfied with the limitations of our porch swing. Short of dropping a lot of money for our own backyard play set, is there anyway I can get her this type of sensation/movement? I feel like she's missing out on this way more than any sort of social interaction. Our state is slowly reopening, but I don't know when playgrounds will reopen and frankly, when they do I'm not really sure I want to rush to the first crowded playground either.

I love everything on Hearthsong for awesome movement ideas and toys...and while I don't want you to drop a ton of money either...I do think that something that would bring years of enjoyment would be a good idea.

There are swings that can handle a ton of weight (for playdates later), ninja-warrior type activities, hammocks, etc.

I think the investment is worth it, and I would check on e-bay, FB marketplace, as well as neighborhood listservs for what people are selling or willing to trade or giving away.


Hi & thanks for chatting today. I'm submitting early because I can't make the live chat. My 2 year old has recently taken to saying that her various stuffed animals are sad. Sometimes she's sad, but mostly it's the stuffed animals. Is this normal? I'm guessing at her age she's becoming more aware of feelings...we are allowing her to watch "Daniel Tiger" 1-2x a week which is heavy on the feelings content. She's been handling the quarantine relatively well (I'm a SAHM so it's not as much of a shock as it is for others), but she used to do 2 mornings at daycare which is probably one of the bigger changes to her schedule. I guess I just want to know if I should be alarmed or if this is typical at this age. Thanks!

No need for alarm...this is great! 

She is expanding her language and understanding of feelings.

Play along and enjoy her maturing mind!

Thanks for joining us. That does it for today. Want more parenting pieces? Sign up for our newsletter here or check us out at washingtonpost.com/onparenting. We'll be back here in two weeks. In the meantime, high five from me to you. 

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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