On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

May 08, 2019

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

Morning, all. We're here with Meghan, whose most recent column (out today) is about a 5-year-old and transitions

Here are the On Parenting pieces we've had recently, and a plug for our newsletter, which lands in your inbox twice a week with our content. 

Lots of questions await, and Meghan's here choosing and thinking, so let's get started, shall we? 

Hi Meghan-I'm looking for reassurance that my recent break-up over issues about parenting was probably for the best (he ended the relationship). He is French, strict, and authoritarian. His marriage broke up over this and he went to therapy to help deal with his parenting issues. Imagine my surprise when he said he can no longer be with me because I don't have firm enough boundaries with my 4 year old and am not consistent enough. He claimed to love that I was "sweet" and "tender" and "loving." Apparently he didn't realize I would be that way with my daughter (and his kids) as well as with him! Admittedly, his overreactions to benign events with my daughter and his treatment of his own kids was starting to wear on me. Couple this with his attack on my parenting and his complete unwillingness to see the irony of a person who has had significant issues with parenting criticizing another's parenting. That being said, I'm heartbroken about the break up and keep wondering if there could have been a way to work it out. Could there have been any way for us to go forward and not be miserable with these facts? How do people with kids from previous relationship navigate these issues?

Here is your reassurance: you are taking care of yourself and your daughter.

I mean, if you were married and this was your daughter's father and you were a complete family unit, I would be promoting some couples therapy to try to find a middle way, but this is not the case. 

We have some facts in front of us, and as my husband says often: "The best predictor of future performance is past performance." We know that HIS MARRIAGE BROKE UP because he is rigid and that he ended the relationship. And look here? He has ended the relationship because you are not rigid enough. Huh. A patterns is emerging, mais non?

And you wonder how you could have gone forward, and work it out? 


By becoming like him?

By going against your nature?

By going against your parenting intuition?

By swallowing his "attacks on your parenting?"

Ca ne va pas.

Listen, I get you are heartbroken, and I am not going to take that away from you. You have every right to grieve the loss of this relationship. 

But please, don't use the grief as a way to backslide into a potentially abusive and unfair relationship.

The only good he has done here is break up with you...he has done you the favor of not wasting any more time.

Move on, parent lovingly, and find someone who matches your compassion and tenderness. 



Hello Meghan, I am an Early Childhood Educator who recently had a baby girl and we have a 2 year old son.  My husband used to travel for work and would be gone for 3-7 week stretches.  I have an amazing support system but there is nothing like my partner who is an OUTSTANDING FATHER. However for the first 18 months of my son's life my husband was not home consistently. I sleep trained my son and created his routine. He is an amazing sleeper, he is funny, he just loves living life and is curious. With that comes the big feelings. When I got pregnant with our daughter my husband stopped traveling for work.My husband started doing nighttime routine every night. I had a C section so that meant I couldn’t carry him for 6 weeks. Finally when I could pick him up, I was so excited. We had a great first week of bed and bath routine then but then I had to be with baby one night so my husband did it again. Since then my son does not want me around at this time. He actually hits, kicks, screams and I took it so personally. Then I realized it’s not about me, and I thought about him as a child and how frustrating it must be to have all this inconsistency. How do my husband and I get him back to be able to do nighttime routine with me? We tried to scaffold for a few nights where I came in with my husband. That backfired because he kept asking me to leave.  One night I did it and he screamed for my husband the whole time. I validated his feelings and let him cry and gave him some space. He started to hit and kick me and I said I am going to sit over there because I will not be hit or kicked so I am going to sit over by your crib. This mellowed him out but the next night I just didn’t have the energy. What do you suggest? [edited for length]

Here's a piece by a cognitive psychologist and mom who went through something similar. In fact, we all have.

My story: We were out to breakfast when my older one was 2.5 and younger was a newborn. The waitress said to my toddler: "Oh, you must be such a big help to your mommy now!" and he looked at her deadpan and said: "I.Like.Daddy." 

Here's the deal: He's now almost 12 and I told he and his brother that story recently and they thought it was the funniest thing ever. He loves me, he loves his dad. In fact, I might say he actually likes us both, too. Hang in there. Some day you'll be telling him about this and he'll think he was a real hoot. 

There are a million strategies I can give you, but honestly, just let your husband do this stuff. I mean, you have another baby for Pete's sake.

Go to bed.

If you are worried about your connection to your son (I am not, for the record), be sure to get your cuddles and fun and books and snuggles in during the day. Nighttime routine is but a blip in the day, so leave that blip to your spouse.

And I promise you (well, not promise, but almost promise) that this will resolve itself if you don't push or make it personal.


Hi Meghan, Thanks for all your insights! I have a sensitive daughter who turns 4 in July. If you scold her or even offer feedback with the slightest but of anger in it, she feels ashamed and bursts into tears and absconds herself in a corner to wail and sulk for a bit. We have a hard time handling her big emotions, especially when they were sparked by us pointing out she has legitimately dog something she didn't do. How can we respond effectively to a sensitive child's outburst and better yet provide her feedback in a way that didn't spark them? Of course we don't have an infinite well of patience, so never communicating with anger in our voice isn't really an option. Thanks for your thoughts!

Okay, so you have a sensitive three year old...this is good for you to know. 

Whenever possible, begin your statements as positively as you can, "Yes you CAN have a cookie...after dinner."  "Yes, you can hit...this pillow and not your brother."

When the no must be given and there is no side-stepping it, make it a practice to get on her level, make eye contact, TRY not to scowl, and quietly say, "No hitting." Then you scoop her up, and move it along. 

With sensitive kids, too much talking can heap shame upon shame, so keep it direct, keep it quiet, and keep it focused on the behavior. 

If you lose it (and you will), just apologize for the yelling and hug her. You still won't allow the misbehavior, but you can hold a boundary and comfort her when she cries!

Your code today, Post Points folks: OP7139

I have a 10 year old daughter who enjoys experimenting with fashion. For as long as she has been able to dress herself, we have given her the freedom to wear just about anything. Here and there we ask her to change because she's wearing something indecent: thin see-through PJs to school, leggings that show the pattern of her undergarments with a short top, a shirt with large arm holes meant to have something else worn under it that can gap and show off parts of her chest that should be covered. She responds to our requests to change by yelling that she doesn't care what other people can see. I get that this is about her wanting to express her independence. I want her to have body autonomy while also understanding that there are minimum requirements for covering ourselves when we leave the house. Any tips for having these conversations in a less combative manner? I know this particular issue will be around for many more years!

Whenever possible, I have my children google the clothing rules of the school or the legal definition of nudity. I try to let the rules dictate what's happening, rather than my "opinion" or "taste."

I would also take her shopping and say, "Hey, you have an awesome sense of style. Let's find pieces that keep you in the rules AND that you like. As your parent and the person buying the clothing, I also get some vetoes, and we can talk about those." 

You don't want to abuse your veto, but neither do you want to cower to your ten year old yelling at you (those will make for very long teen years). Make your rules, stick to them, and find some flexibility.


My husband and I seem to have imparted some of our worst quirks to our daughter who is 3 going on 4. She hates being messy, freaks out when she spills food on the table or herself, is fearful of insects, and now of heights as well. Is it too late to repair the damage we’ve done in passing our anxiety over these sorts of things on to her?


Okay, anxiety can definitely be inherited, but let's not paint a three year old with so broad a brush.

Not only is it not too late to "repair damage," there is so much we can do to stretch her frustration tolerance.

For instance, I want YOU two to get a little messy at dinner. Make some spills and then react with, "Oh well, spills happen!" and happily clean it up.

Get out some aluminum pans, pour some paint, and do some finger painting outside, getting nice and messy.

Visit the natural history museum or zoo near you and see the bugs. Learn about bugs in your area and the different purposes they serve. Start with the pretty (butterflies) and move down to the less pretty (roaches).

If this requires YOU to be brave, all the better. ROLE MODEL what courage and curiosity looks like.

Kiddo will grow out of it. It can be a very rigid age where once a routine is set, they don't want change. Our kiddo played favorites for awhile. It would swing back and forth. One thing to add is that I think it is important to be very matter of fact in telling him no. "No, dad isn't doing the routine tonight." and then total silence. No discussion or explaining. I have a particular tone that my daughter has come to understand means 'nope, not gonna happen'. Didn't get there overnight, but totally paid off in the long run. And the run will be long...

Advice from a reader and fellow not-favorite-at-the-moment parent. (I've been there, too, folks.)

We are older (40s) parents of an only child (4.5). We recently got a dog — who will grow to be quite large. He’s in the nippy puppy stage and our little guy is very fearful... We are fine keeping them separate and prioritizing keeping our son safe/feeling safe (we don’t force them to play with one another). But this is having a definite impact on his life — he can’t play, eat, run in the yard quite the same way he could before. Any tips for helping with this transition, which has been quite tough for him. I wish we had realized how hard this would be...

On the contrary, this is great! I am a BIG BIG BIG fan of animals, and while this is a messy and tiring time, the benefits FAR outweighs the bad.

Sure, your son doesn't have free reign of everything (which is also good), but find a way for them to share the yard and have your son be more helpful.

And when your son gets frustrated with the dog (as everyone will), just help him process his feelings and validate them while also recognizing that this sacrifice for your only son is GOOD. It is not his world...he needs to share it!

And please know that this will go fast. Bring your son in on the training, give him work, and don't make it all about his comfort. Trust me, this is really good. :) (as long as everyone is safe).

Hello Meghan, what do you think are the proper timing and steps for a new boyfriend/relationship. I have 2 boys ages 5 and 6 and I've never been with anyone else but their dad for the last 8 years. Thanks, Julie

Oh man, I don't know. I am a little more conservative than others when it comes to having children meet a boyfriend because I have seen considerable emotional damage done to children who become attached to significant others to have that person up and go. (if this is what you are asking about)

This isn't to say you can guarantee every relationship to be perfect and easy, it is just that the more sure YOU feel, the better off the boys will be.

Also, the younger the children, the longer the wait for the introduction.

As for you dating? Have at it! As long as you are emotionally and physically showing up for your children and yourself, I am a big fan of having fun and meeting new people. Only you can know how you feel about all this...so take it slow, do frequent check-in's with your intuition, and see what you learn about yourself.

Good luck

Hi Meghan, I was wondering what your view is on how to deal with kids who are "picky" eaters (I hate the word!). My 11 year old likes a decent number of foods and we eat healthy with lots of lean protein and fruit and veggies, but he can be very resistant to trying anything new. He has about 4 things that he would prefer to eat for dinner every night. When we tell him what we are having for dinner his usual response is "oh, can I have spaghetti?". We do not make a separate dinner but tell him he has to try whatever we are having and then either be done or make his own dinner. He is a healthy-though thin-weight, and has never really been a big eater. I can't force him to eat, but I worry about him eating enough (because I'm a mom) and I would prefer not to have one member of our house determined to live on hot dogs and pasta.

"My 11 year old likes a decent number of foods and we eat healthy with lots of lean protein and fruit and veggies, but he can be very resistant to trying anything new." 

When I read that, I decided to tell you this: don't sweat it.

Make your food, serve it, expect to try it, celebrate that, move on.

Have faith that he will grow into a man that eats food other than spaghetti.


My 12 year old daughter has been asking to get her ears pierced for a long time. I’ve been holding off because she is such a beautiful girl she already gets a lot of comments and I hate for there to be any more attention on her appearance. She’s not vain and though I can tell she cares how she looks she doesn’t spend a lot of time on it. I just want her to keep a level head on her shoulders and enjoy being a kid. I had a lot of attention as a kid and it made me really insecure — I felt like that was the thing that was best about me, not anything I had control over. I’m trying to avoid that for her without pushing my experience as her experience. Any advice?

Errrrr, uhhhh, ummmmm....

Do you want my REAL advice, because it ain't about pierced ears, friend.

Get yourself to a therapist.

You are on the brink (maybe over) and putting all of your stories SQUARELY on the shoulders of your daughter, and that isn't fair.

For whatever reason, your big takeaway from childhood was that LOOKS mattered (what adults said and did? how you perceived it?), and of course, it feels super-crappy to be valued for something only skin deep (pun intended), but that is your story.

It only belongs in your head.

Your daughter is beautiful. Great.

She is also probably bright or funny or athletic or creative or silly or thoughtful or spontaneous or compassionate or all of it.

Whatever you focus on, you grow.


Earrings have NOTHING to do with her beauty or lack thereof.

The comments people are making to you are triggering your stories BIG TIME and this is gift. You are getting some clear messages and signs that it is time to go back into the closet, drag out these stories, and create some new message for your girlhood self.

Find a good therapist and do this now, before you waste any more of your life and your time with your daughter focusing on looks or appearance.

Oh, and go get her ears pierced and celebrate her whole being.

We are having some challenges with our 3 year old daughter. She is throwing bigger fits and tantrums than ever before. It's like someone turns on the rage switch and she is swept up in emotion. As a parent who was once 'prescribed' kickboxing by a therapist, I totally get the physical aspects of rage/frustration. We try to get her out and physically active as much as we can, but I can't exactly tell her to go punch something! What do we do to work through this? What is an appropriate outlet or dialogue to have with her?

In terms of what to punch, we have pillows we like to punch, we have an actual punching bag in my house, I allow my kids to hot my hands (I hold them up like a trainer), and I am a big fan of roughhousing as well as trampolines.

What else can you do to move the rage along?

I'm starting to plan how to spend the summer days and would like your input! Both my kids (10 and 8) are doing great in school so I don't have any concerns about keeping up their learning in the summer. But, I would like to make sure that independent reading happens regularly. Should I structure this (i.e. you have to read for 30 minutes each day before we do xyz) or just get the kids a library card and bring them periodically? My kids do love reading but tend to binge on a book and then not read for a while, and I'd like to avoid that happening again. Also, do you see value in more unstructured time (i.e. going with the flow, letting the kids decide fun activities on a whim for the most part) or coming up with a set routine (monday is pool day, tuesday is library and park, etc)? In the past, the kids have had to go to their grandma's house during the week where they didn't do much more than sit inside with her or play in the yard. But this year I am able to take the summer off work so I want to make the most of this time! Any ideas you have a welcome!

Oh man....I don't know!!!!!

Listen, let it ride a little.

If they binge and rest, cool.

If you want to set up some little goals and then celebrate those with a prize or something small, also great.

And structured vs unstructured depends on money, time, and what YOU and your kids can handle positively.

Some parents LOVE vast stretches of time, some sweat at the thought of it.

Some kids can roll with hours and hours and not get on tech, some kids have about 15 minutes and begin to whine.

Go for something in the middle!

Good morning! I would appreciate any recommendations you might have for getting through the tween years (with boys). I need some strategies on talking to and communicating with this mostly awesome sometimes infuriating (not so) little creature at my kitchen table. Thanks!

I love the book Raising Cain. And the new one, How to Raise a Boy, by Michael Reichert, is very good. Check out this piece about the power of listening to our boys, which he wrote for On Parenting. 


Mom of two tween boys. 

Thank you all for joining us today. Check out On Parenting right here, sign up for our newsletter, come chat with us on Facebook. And, you can find Meghan's columns right here

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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