On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

May 22, 2019

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

Hello, wonderful On Parenting readers, and happy Wednesday. Amy is out, but Meghan is here as usual, and we have tons of great questions waiting for her. Check out her most recent column, on helping a 10-year-old girl navigate shifting friendships and alliances. 

Here is a link to the On Parenting pieces we've had recently, and a plug for our newsletter, which comes out  twice a week with our content. 

Without further ado, on to Meghan and the questions.

Hi Amy, Wow. I just read your piece on losing your mom after becoming a mom (a link was included in the On Parenting email). Thank you for writing this piece. You articulated so eloquently the words that I’ve tried to find to express how I feel about my mom. Thank you. P.S. I’m crying.

Thank you so much! Here's the piece you mention, which I wrote quite a while ago now, for anyone else who wants to cry. 

And want some more tears from my dear colleague who lost her mother just after her own daughter was born? Read this beautiful piece. But I warned you. 

(We miss our moms. Sorry to all of you who do.) 

Hi Meghan! I have an incredibly picky three-year-old - he flat out REFUSES to try new foods (unless its sweets; can't blame him!) and no amount of bribery/incentive/reward/cajoling/punishment phases him. He is just not interested, and would exist solely on fruit and bagels if we'd let him. His father and I are both good eaters; we regularly eat home-cooked meals with lots of variation and good ingredients and show him what we're eating, offer bites, his own plate, etc. Toddler wants nothing to do with it. The internet tells me that I need to be more forceful and not allow him to eat anything else, but honestly that approach just doesn't jive with our work/daycare schedule and not wanting every meal to be a battle. The internet also says eventually he will eat other foods. My question is, what's your advice about a picky eater - should I just leave him be, or should I keep trying to make him eat things he clearly doesn't want to? I hate anything negative as far as "you must eat this" goes so I don't want to force it but do want him to understand we aren't trying to give him anything bad! At this point, we just eat our delicious meals, he says "no thank you," and we are all happy... but am I creating a picky eater for life?

Oh man...long answer short? Serve your food, he eats what he wants, end the meal.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

I have yet to meet a parent who doesn't do "Please eat your peas," but stop incentivizing or punishing eating...it is too much attention on the wrong thing.

Instead, make the meal times about enjoying time together, laughing, telling stories, and then end it. (5-10 minutes, if you're lucky).

And ignore the internet. Your intuition id dead on.

It seems like all the moms I talk to of boys 3-7 struggle with unrealistic school environment expectations of making boys sit still for long periods of time. I know every day more research is coming out supporting that little boys(and girls) need way more active play time than they're getting and hopefully we'll start to see that research adopted in school settings. But.....what did generations before us do? Did kids not go to school at such an early age? Did little boys suffer and no one talked about it so it wasn't a thing? Why is this just now such a big deal? I'm really torn between wanting to give my son a 'perfect' environment to roam and the reality that someday if he wants to be a member of society he's going to have to learn how to sit still.

oh boy...

Well....much has changed, and I am going to give a REALLY brief tour of just some of the things that have changed for kids and schools over the years. Ready?

1) Movement and exercise. Children used to walk to school, not be driven as much, and have more free time when they weren't in school. Simply walking to school activates the brain!

2) School used to really begin at age 7 (first grade). That was (and is) considered the age of reason and since many families had a parent at home, someone could stay home with the child.

3) Schools are burdened with unrealistic academic standards, which require teachers to jam more material down kids throats, which demands that the kids sit more.

4) TECHNOLOGY. Children's brains are active, but their bodies are not. This is problematic.

4) Helicopter, snowplow, and lawnmower parents who hinder any and all risk taking in play and children.

There are so many more reasons...but here is a handful.


Your Post Points code for today: OP4225

Love the chats. HELP. My husband and I are going to babysit our 2 year old grandson a couple of days in June for full days. I've gotten various suggestions on activities from social media but how do we get through an entire day without collapsing. He naps at home but not here. He's adorable and easygoing but very very active - and we're both in our 70s (fortunately mobile, but still...)

Structure, routine, and predictability are your friends here.

It will look like:

Every morning swim and play or park and play or whatever and play.

Lunch. Rest time (and yes, in this case, some Sesame Street is perfect).

Afternoon is a visit to library or play zone (where maybe you can sit for a bit and watch).

Early dinner. Bath, books, bed (6:30 if no napping).

Trade off with your husband so that someone is getting a break, and listen, I am PERFECTLY fine with you bringing in a mother's helper for an hour or two. A 13 year old is the perfect person to sit on the floor and crawl and etc. while you ready dinner. ;)

My first grader son is typically a good boy -well behaved at school, friends houses, at his extra-circulars, etc. In the past few months however he has gotten a bit of an attitude - no name calling, just huffiness, yelling, general crankiness. I respond to him in a low voice asking him to please be nice, this helps half of the time. I've told him not to talk that way, told him he needs some time alone, threatened to take away toys, etc. It typically blows over in 15 minutes or so. I guess I just want affirmation that this is normal, it too shall pass and there is no magic button I can push to make it all go away!

I literally just sent a column to the editor about growth spurts in childcare and how testy and cranky the kids can get!

If this is growth spurt stuff, try not to go down the rabbit hole with him. You can choose to not respond to his huffiness...threatening him with removal of toys, demanding he repeat things nicely, etc. will end up backfiring. He may need a hug and some compassion right now...

Hi there. I am not a parent, but I babysit my niece fairly regularly. She's currently 8 years old, and has recently started to flat out lie to me about different things. (Example: She needs to take a shower, but doesn't want to...so tells me that she took one yesterday, which I know to be a lie.) How do I respond to these lies? Do I call her out on all of them? Sometimes, I'm not actually sure if it's a lie or not...But it's making me question everything she says, even when she's telling the truth, so then I feel bad. Just curious what the best response would be in these situations, and if it's just a phase.

Why call her out? To make her feel ashamed? To teach her a lesson?

If she NEEDS a shower and she says she already took one, say, "Okay, well we need another one!"

And you have to also decide to not care...if she doesn't want a shower, can she have that right?

Yeah, no need to go down the lie road.

Part of it is just the power of saying no- the more you push the more your child will feel the power of no. My daughter ate everything until she was 2 and discovered "no!" For example she loved avocados and then wouldn't eat them. Now as an adult she loves them again. Your son will grow out of it- especially when he sees his friends eating other things. He may continue to be somewhat picky but part of that is probably because he is a sensitive taster and doesn't like the taste.

Yes! And young children's tastebuds are intense! Sweet tastes sweeter, sour tastes more sour...hence the love of both sugar and bland pasta.

My parents were much older when I was born so all of my grandparents were dead by then. My aunts and uncles were older too so when I was born, they were becoming grandparents. They chose to build their familial bonds with their own children and grandchildren. My cousins are 20-30 years older than I am. None of these people could pick me out of a line up. It really grates on me that people who had loving relationships with grandparents think I'm somehow deficient or missed out on something. They feel sorry for me, especially when I got sent to the library for Grandparents Day, even though I didn't care. I made my own way without "doting adults" so I don't feel like I missed out on anything, and I can't miss what I never had. Even though no family member thought I was really special, I turned out fine and so will my kid. (My parents are alive, but they're so much older that their interactive grandparent days ended with my brother's kids. They've only met my kid three times, and they slept for most of the time he was around. They don't care either.) You are not the only person who makes this assumption that my life wasn't "improved" by not having "loving grandparents." Carolyn Hax is guilty of it too. I wish people who dole out advice didn't assume all the time that everyone has access to existing and loving family members.

I certainly don't assume it! I didn't have a grandfather when I was born...well, I did, but one was dead before I was born and was not available to me emotionally. I am not wounded by the loss, but watching my children with my dad? It is clear how they blossom with him.

Humans are a funny group. We can adapt and make due with a great deal of adversity, and one of our greatest adaptions is to make family out of anyone, blood or otherwise. Blood relatives seems to get the most credit (for good reason), but ANYONE can step in a grandmotherly way. 

The bottom line is that humans need, crave, and require unconditional love and connection. If you get that from someone...that's enough. So, in that grandparents often (not always) provide that kind of love, they improve lives.


My 4 year old daughter attends a mixed-aged Montessori program. Her best friend is a 6 year old, Miriam, who always wears "pretty dresses" (my daughter's words, not mine) - Miriam is constantly commenting on my daughter's clothes. My daughter has become obsessed with wearing pretty dresses too and getting dressed for school in the morning has become a battle. She has a number of school appropriate dresses but I've kept her party dresses separate (for parties and more formal religious functions). I would rather she not wear them to school where she runs around on the playground and plays in mud, or paints, etc and will generally ruin them. Am I making a big deal out of nothing - should I just let her wear them? And, more broadly, how can I talk to her about not worrying about what Miriam thinks about her dresses (or is this another losing battle)? Thanks.


I would go to a second-hand shop or hit up some sales, but her in the big dressed and send her off. 

The best way for to move past this (or not) is by allowing her to experience how inconvenient it is to move about in frocks like this!

This is also a great time to show her how women used to HAVE to dress to do daily functions, like farm and ride horses! A dress for EVERYTHING!


Thank you for today's column! Where were you in 1984?! My parents didn't like the group of girls I had in elementary school because they weren't top of our class. So slowly my parents had me stop being friends with them and pushed me towards the girls who academically excelled. It didn't matter that the latter crowd were the queen bee bullies. Since these girls knew I had to hang out with them, I was frequently a target! All of it was very socially isolating. For some reason my parents, education experts!, believed that if I ran with the smart crowd that I would also get good grades. The whole thing never let me manage my own friendships all because my parents wanted me to be friends with the "right" kids. Either my parents were telling me what to do or the school counselor. The irony out of all of this is that no on adult ever addressed the ongoing bullying. I felt like a pingpong ball. So as hurtful as it is to see kids reject my son, I know I have to stand back and let it all unfold. I know that if I meddle, I'm robbing him of a learning opportunity. (P.S. what parent wants to LITERALLY pick their kid's friends? It sounds so exhausting.)

In 1984, I was out on the streets of Wilmington Delaware, getting into fights with the neighborhood kids generally living like a wild child (who was expected to sit at dinner every night).

Your childhood sounds extreme, but no more extreme than what parents are doing today. Consider it a good cautionary tale, and just keep your eye on your son. You will know what you need to do and when you need to do it...


More than 6 months into the year, about half the time, my 3 year old does not want me to be dropped off at daycare. I've been told that he's fine within minutes of my leaving. And he's playing and appears happy at pick up time. He's gone to daycare since he was a baby, but I truly believe that this kid would rather stay home. What else should I be assessing to try and figure out if we need to make wholesale changes?

I know this is annoying but...IT IS NORMAL.

A three year old is only become more and more aware of your comings and goings, and he wants to stay with you. It is that simple.

After you leave and he has a biota a cry, he is ready to join his daycare and see his friends and teachers. This is called adaption.

So, I am not worried about this...

Do YOU want to make wholesale changes?

This is a riff on the “picky eater” question. My 3yo is picky too- at home. At daycare, he supposedly eats the lunch in full every day- and they serve good, homecooked meals, not kid stuff like chicken nuggets. But if I serve something very similar to what I KNOW he ate at school (e.g., beans and rice), he’ll refuse to eat. It’s baffling! Is it just a control thing??

nooo, not really a control thing...not the way you may understand control.

In daycare, routine rules the day. EVERY child eats what is served. Done and done.

At home though? There may be choices he doesn't get at daycare...or maybe when he throws a fit, you change your mind....or maybe he gets a lot of attention from you on the food front, etc.

I would take a look at your dynamic.

AND....it is normal for a three year old to assert his opinion and his no. 

Just don't take it personally.

I so far have been using common sense media to decide what shows and movies to let my kids watch. Do you recommend this? CSM seems a bit conservative and I'm curious if you know anything about how they pick their age recommendations!

I like it.

Yes, I also find them a bit conservative...but that's okay, they are a nice jumping off point for discussion and consideration!

Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. Meghan will be back for another chat in two weeks, on June 5. in the meantime, 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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: