On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
May 27, 2020

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

Hi all. Lots of questions await -- many about our time at home right now, of course! But Meghan's diving in and will have some help for us all shortly. 

Here's her latest column, about having her fourth grade daughter quit distance learning before the school year ended. 

Since my family has been under quarantine, it has been quite a lot of family time with my husband and my just turned two year old daughter. My husband is fully remote working, and I am a high school teacher. I am doing probably 80% of the childcare and have scheduled my digital teaching sessions during her nap. Same with many, we are hanging on but it is tough. The problem is that my daughter always had a mild dad preference that has since switched strongly to me. I understand why, but we are all struggling with this. I desperately need a break by the end of the day, and my husband tries to take her out for a walk. But she doesn't want to leave my sight. On the weekends, I am getting resentful as my husband gets a "break" while I am now on duty 24/7 because my daughter insists I do everything. We live in a city, therefore I don't really have a space to escape to while he handles things. Do you have any suggestions? I'm at the point where my mental health is really suffering.

Okay, you aren't going to like this, but here it is: there are going to be tears here. Lots of tears. But you gotta get away from your kid. This is not a sustainable or kind thing to do to yourself, and you aren't doing your kid any favors, either.

So, you are going to sit with DH and you are going to outline your Saturday morning. Either you will leave or they will leave, but the plan needs to be set. If you have a car, that is also an ideal getaway, but I don't know. In any case, you and DH must prepare for her tears and KEEP GOING. Please know that her tears are normal and perfectly fine and will stop. All that is required is that your DH not make it worse by talking too much or punishment. As your daughter moves through her feelings, her brain is learning that yes, she doesn't like what is happening, but hey. Actually, this is okay. And hey, she even likes Daddy. And hey! It is okay mommy is gone for a bit.

 

Again, you have two choices: you leave or they leave. If you leave, you are going to have a bag packed with snacks and a podcast and water and books and a mask and hand disinfectant, and you are going to find a bench, a patch of grass, ANYWHERE to be alone. 

 

If they leave, it will be like they are crossing the Andes. Snacks, diapers, sunscreen, toys, water, you name it. Your husband will walk the city (masked) until his legs fall off (and find a place for the child to run), and then come home to you. I like this option, because it wears out two people (DH and child) while you have some alone time.

Please repeat this process often. This can happen weekly and every weekend.

Don't be afraid of her tears. Your resentment is far more dangerous for your marriage and family.

Hi Meghan and Amy - I hope you are staying safe and doing well. My otherwise happy, bubbly 2 yo (25mos) daughter consistently wakes crying - both naps and mornings. She always has and it's something I thought she would grow out of as she became a "better" sleeper. She sleeps around 11hrs/night plus a roughly two hour nap, waking on her own (no alarm clocks in quarantine!). It's more a sad wailing than physical pain or night terrors (she had a spell of those in the past). Do you have any suggestions for how to help her wake more peacefully? She gets lots of love and cuddles, both here and at her small daycare. I hate seeing her so sad!

No, I don't have any suggestions for how she can wake more peacefully, and this doesn't sound like a problem (bluntly put).

Here is what I think is happening:

A two year old slowly wakes up, feeling warm and safe and snuggle, and then her brain says, "heyyyyy, I am alone...." and then slow whining comes out.

We laugh, because in my house when I wake up, I call out to my husband in a kind of whiny-moan, and what it means is, "come be with me, I want a hug." I am an adult, so I know what I am doing (kind of), but this is purely unconscious for your daughter.

In short, don't sweat it.

She sounds happy and typical and well-loved.

My almost two-year-old loves listening to music and we have a playlist on our laptop comprised of a mix of Broadway, Disney, and upbeat songs. She wakes up in the morning and up from nap swinging her hips and asking for music. She has a few favorite songs that she dances to and can sing a few words of when they come on. We've been staying-at-home for about two months now doing this, after I remembered that her daycare often had music in the background. I have a couple of questions about listening to music all day- Is this okay? My mom made a comment that it was similar to having the TV on all day in the background. Is it an appropriate punishment to turn the music off for several minutes when she is misbehaving? A few times a week, we will turn the music off if she is throwing food at the end of the meal. Thanks for your advice!

Yes, it is okay to have music on all day.

It just depends on who can tolerate it and how.

For some people, it can become too much and very distracting.

For others, it is background noise.

Here's the deal: play the music and be happy. When you are tired of it, TURN IT OFF. You are the adult, you run the house.

So teens are known for their snark, I know...but I'm curious as to your thoughts on how much is too much/how much should one allow before making an issue of it? My 14yo son is a great kid, kind and thoughtful...but can be super sarcastic even when it's not warranted. I feel as if there is sarcasm about "life" and being snarky about people (my husband and I included) -- I am more lenient about the former vs. the latter. Any insights would be appreciated. (He is my only child, so I can only compare this phase to myself as a teen, and I know I was never sarcastic like this with my parents [at least to their faces]--but then again, I'm a bit older and life was a little different!). Thanks!

If your intuition is telling you he is crossing the line, then you are probably right.

Also, at the core, sarcasm is unkind. It is passive-aggressive, targeted, and often masks fear and vulnerability. In short: sarcasm is not a form of communication that you want to flourish in your house.

Am I suggesting that you nail him on it every time? No, but consider having a little family meeting about communication between ALL of you. Don't single him out too much, or he will double-down.

And if he hits with some sarcasm at home, use the glare. You know, THE GLARE. The look that every parent has that says, "PROCEED WITH CAUTION. AND ALSO, HECK NO."

A 14 yo needs to feel those boundaries, don't be afraid to say, "Please don't speak to me like that. Thank you."

My 17 y.o. is never easy to live with, but now she is a nightmare. Any interaction results in angry outbursts. Reminders cause deliberate non-compliance but if I don't reminder her about appointments or work, she does't do them. I am at a complete loss.

Are you suuuuuure she won't do them? Like, 100% in-stone positive she won't do them?

I don't know if she has executive functioning issues or if she is just sick of being babysat, but I would begin by stripping away the harassment and see what happens.

And even though you may panic, the choices are not life and death. It is....school work. Which I get it, I get it, it feels important, but....

What are you going to do? Follow her around in college? You have to get past this surface stuff and see what this is about. Is this quarantine stuff? All the time? ADHD? Poor sleep? Meds? Depression? Power struggles with you? All of it?

Zoom out to really connect with her. Get on her side, she isn't a project; she's a human and she needs another form of support.

:)

Hi Meghan and Amy, I have a really shy almost 9 year old daughter. She wants friendships but struggles to find topics to talk about with classmates and other kids we socialize with. How can I help her improve her social skills?. Thank you! Marsha

It is really hard during covid, but I suggest using tech. I like this idea from outschool and, as long as watch it a bit, there are other fun ways to connect over Roblox, etc.

As the restrictions loosen, consider having a distanced pizza and art hour at your house (we have been painting rocks over here). Just keep it short...greater chances for success.

Also, role model conversations with her. Have her practice asking questions like, "what have you been doing?" or "online learning has been so boring for me,,,,did you like it?"

Just keep it light and easy.

I grew up in a very physically abusive home and am not the best judge of what's normal. So I'm asking you: Is it possible to be able to raise a kid without grownups yelling and door slamming? My kiddo is 5. And sometimes my spouse's dismissive tone, the volume at which a correction is delivered or physicality seems unnecessary. I know everyone is under stress, but does it have to be this way? The dismissive tone bothers me most in a way--it happens at moments of not great stress so it seems more controllable.

Ah, okay. So, I am publishing a book in August (buy it now) and it is all about listening to your intuition and trusting that.

I love your question, because sometimes people assume that if you grew up in an abusive home, you don't have an inner compass...but that's not true (all of the time). The beauty here is that you know you aren't sure! That's powerful and good.

To suss out what works for your family (and the difference between healthy conflict and abuse), I would suggest finding a therapist (if you need the help) or a coach (for both parents) or both. Unpacking how and where you are triggered will be a powerful step for you, but you cannot ask your brain to take this on alone. You need some loving support.

Also, going back into abuse can be re-traumatizing, so please seek out a therapist who specializes in trauma.

 

Meghan's excellent book. (I got a sneak peek.)

Our just-turned-8 son is going through a tough time. This past school year he has had an increasingly doom & gloom outlook. COVID has made things even more difficult for him. His confidence in his own abilities has waned, his motivation to do schoolwork is near 0, he often looks at the glass half-empty and he thinks many things in life are unfair. -Ugh, this bag is too heavy for me to lift. I can't do it. -It took me 10 minutes to do one question. I have 8 more to do! We are trying to accept his good+bad feelings ("It's okay to be angry, it's a difficult time right now"), instill confidence ("I know you can do this and you will figure it out a solution") and agree that things are hard ("Yes, it's hard to wait.") We try to focus on positives and notice when things are going well. And we have fun and laugh too! Once we are out of the house he loves playing in the grass; once he is done with homework he shares big smiles and pride at being done. When we try and remind him of these things, he restarts the spiral of negativity, so we are doing less "cheerleading" lately. But the long-term and incessant negativity makes us both frustrated and worried, so we run out of patience sometimes. Another hard part is that his 5-year-old sister is extremely positive, can-do and self-driven, so it can feel like a stark contrast. I can't tell how much of his behavior/words is trying to show "No, things are not always easy and sunny!". I just read Duct Tape Parenting this weekend, and we are slowly approaching trying to implement the plan to empower them to do more around the house for themselves to instill confidence. When they asked me what I was reading...sister volunteered and started to do the dishes; brother had mopey face and "Oh, come on!" type statements. When do we know what is normal and what needs outside intervention? Any other advice? Maybe we just stop engaging with any negativity and only focus on positives? But I don't understand how we can stop watering the weeds. Thank you!!! [edited slightly for length]

Whoa, you are parenting your tush off. Just reading that made me super-tired.

Okay, it's time to get a coach. 

You need to slowly back out of this and realign your family values and reassess what you are doing.

You have so many good instincts and feel everyone's feelings...of course you feel yanked around...but that creates emotional chaos and a whack-a-mole parenting feel.

I LOOOOVE Duct Tape Parenting, if for no other reason than just getting you out of reaction mode. Just do it for a while. Literally, put a bandaid over your mouth and keep your yapper shut and see what happens.

Instead of fixing him or her or anymore, take a posture of CURIOSITY.

Let me know what happens.

If there's one thing I've learned about spending extra time with my 2.5 year old during quarantine, it's that she has an amazing imagination. She will frequently play with non-toys and pretend they're something else or use her toys to pretend they're something else. I think this is great, and I want to encourage it. Is there anything I can do, or just get out of her way? I'm not sure if there are objects/toys I should make sure to have around that she can use or just let her do what she's doing.

Let her do what she's doing.

And get toys.

Do it all!

I also love Tinkergartgen for creative ideas for the littles!

How do we encourage our 20 month old to play independently and what should we expect from him at this age? During the pandemic, he's been home from daycare and my husband watches him in the morning while I take the afternoon shift. My husband has got me thinking about this bc he seems to have trained my son to play by himself for an hour at a time while he does work on the computer (unfortunately there's also a lot of TV going on at this time, but I've learned to accept this as a temporary necessity). When I watch him in the afternoon, I'd love to be able to be in the same room as him, but have him able to do a puzzle, read, or play with cars for a bit while I relax on the couch. It's heartwarming that he sees me and wants me to read a book with him, but I'd like to not have to physically separate from him to get him to play by himself. We've started telling him "we'll read this story once, then you read it by yourself." This usually ends in tears, but is somewhat effective. FWIW #2 is due at the end of July so all the more reason I want to get #1 comfortable with giving me some space. Thanks!

It is not a reasonable expectation to have a 20 month old independently play by themselves for any stretch of time that would be helpful for you.

Nor can you teach it.

Depressed yet?

Here's the deal: you need to accept this reality and move forward, otherwise you will create a cycle of push and pull, whining and chasing, punishment and separation that will cause you real problems.

See this to readjust your expectations and know this: as connect and love your son, he will mature and (seemingly overnight) will become more independent. No stage lasts forever. If you push him toward independence, it will take him longer to play on his own and you will be miserable.

 

Thank you all for joining us. A shout out to you all... I know how much you're doing right now! Want more parenting advice and content? Head on over to washingtonpost.com/onparenting and/or subscribe to our newsletter here

Take care, all of 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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