On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jun 10, 2020

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

Good morning everyone. How's everyone holding up? I guess 2020 will be a year we won't forget soon, right? It's been a pretty amazing time to be raising a child, for better and for worse. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter as we continue to cover as many corners of parenthood as we can.  

Check out what we've been up to at On Parenting right here. Meghan's column for today is about tweens and sneaking social media

You have thoughts about stories you'd like to see at On Parenting? Email us at onparenting@washpost.com. 

Let's chat. 

My two year old son has been biting, hair pulling and scratching all of us including his 4 year old sister. The majority of time it is completely unprovoked. She'll be playing quietly and he'll just walk over and pull her hair. We've tried 1 minute time outs, yelling, pretending to be very sad, asking him to be nice and gentle. Demonstrating gentleness, etc. To no avail. Any suggestions? He doesn't have a lot of words but he communicates very well with gestures and the words he has.

Good news: this is typical!

Bad news: It is annoying.

Good news: You have discovered what doesn't work.

Bad news: You have to stop doing what doesn't work.

Here's the deal: a two year old isn't going to listen to logic or try to be "nice and gentle" or think about what he's done in a time out.

It just isn't developmentally appropriate.

Here's the deal:

1) you have to keep him away from his sister (some of the time)

2) you have to catch him before he goes to attack with one swift, "NO. Let's go blow some bubbles"

3) and after he attacks, you remove him from the situation with another NO.

4) Pretty soon, and it it hasn't already happened, the four year old will attack back. PLEASE, don't lecture the four year old about it. I am not promoting violence, but the two year old will quickly learn the consequences of his hair-pulling, and while you still need to run interference, it is okay if the two year old cries. Don't lecture either child.

I wish I could tell you that there is a book or strategy the will work here, but it is a stage and it will pass.

What will make this stage WORSE is too much talking and the hope that the two year old will "get better" on his own.

You gotta watch him more, that's the deal.

Oh, and run him like a puppy so that he is exhausted.

Hang in there.

Like many, I have been working from home full time and caring for my 4 and newly 2 year old since daycare was closed in mid-March. My 4 year old is a highly emotional child that struggled with the schedule change, but has been doing better lately. Our daycare is planning to reopen next week (following CDC guidelines), but I am anxious about sending my kids back. Beyond the infection risks, I am due with our third child in 4 weeks and know that avoiding multiple life changes is generally good for kids. Quite frankly, I'm exhausted at this stage of pregnancy and would love to get back to some sort of normalcy before baby comes, but our daycare is being flexible about return date and theoretically we could continue on at home until after the baby arrives with some help from family. I talk with my 4 year old a lot about returning to daycare, and while she is not overly enthusiastic she has been more talkative about seeing her old friends and teachers lately. I know there is likely no 'right' answer here, but would love your thoughts on timing.

Listen to me carefully here:


You have many factors to consider here, so please speak with every doctor in your life to assess what is safest for you and the soon-to-be baby.

The kids WILL BE FINE. I mean that.

There will be tears and transition issues and all of that, but they will be fine.

You need rest and some level of security that you will not contract covid while you are pregnant.

Get the info and THEN decide.

What tips do you have for helping an older kid (almost 5) with getting rid of the diapers? He just screams and cries and absolutely panics when we ask him to simply try to use the potty. We’ve tried no diapers or clothes, we’ve tried potty watches, rewards and treats, charts, grabbing him and running to the bathroom to plop him on the toilet seat, almost anything you can think of and yet he just screams until he’s hoarse and cries. He has gone number one AND number two independently on his own before with no problem (one random day here or there), we just can’t get him to do it consistently. Pediatrician says don’t stress him out and they don’t really seem concerned with his lack of progress. Any advice?

You have received the advice, and I am going to back up your pediatrician here.




In my 16 years of working with families, I have yet to see pushing and coercion work well with potty-training.

Because you cannot control when and how a child toilets, the mental manipulation ends up working against you. The child correlates elimination to stress, anger, rewards, punishments, and most of all, your angry and pleading face. This correlation leads to the digestive system undergoing STRESS, which leads to irregular elimination, withholding, and accidents.

The mind and the body are one.

This is not your son willfully disobeying you.

So, in the interest of not trying his digestive system to stress, coercion, and parental disappointment...LAY OFF (said with love).

Now I have a mental image of the two year old in the yard chasing a chuck-it-ball. Thank you for my giggle of the day.

Take note that many of the puppy toys and the two year old toys ARE THE SAME. LOL

Your needs matter. Your health matters. Only you can decide (with input from trusted doctors who know your situation) whether daycare will add more worry or reduce it, but please don't discount your needs. We know stress is bad for pregnant moms, but more than that, you are a person. There is a saying in my house: If momma ain't happy, nobody's happy. My sanity is the bedrock on which this whole house of cards rests, and it is not selfish to recognize it.


My 16-year old son is a fantastic kid - great friend, gets good grades, likable and outgoing - BUT, he seems to have difficulty really applying himself or making any sort of effort to obtain something that would require some hard work. For example, he'd love to be on a sports team, but doesn't want to try out. He wants a leadership position in a club at school but doesn't move on it because he doesn't want to actually do the work required to apply. He wants to get a high score on the SAT/ACT but doesn't want to put in the effort required to greatly improve his chances of actually achieving that result. He wants to shoot great photos but doesn't prioritize actually getting out of the house to take those photos. This is not new with the pandemic. He often says he wants to improve his time management to make time to do these things, but when I offer to help I get rebuffed, and we continue to live in this Groundhog Day. I am a big believer in not hovering and not pestering and allowing my kids to manage their time as best fits their personalities. At the same time, I see that he regrets not trying out, not putting in the effort, etc, but that regret does not turn into action the next time a similar situation presents itself. Do you have any suggestions for how I can help him to change this dynamic? Or suggestions for anything he or I could read that's useful? Thanks so much.


It is easier to have big dreams and allow them to stay there then it is to try and fail.

Failure feels scary and big and bad...so, the dream stays a dream.

Are we sure there isn't another issue, such as a learning disability or an executive functioning thing happening? These issues often masquerade as "laziness" or "giving up."

Finally, depending on how you understand your child, you need to maybe throw him into the deep end.

Like, both of you sign up for photography classes and take a weekend, go away, and begin to take pictures. Let him watch you fumble and try. 

Or, go ahead and hire a tutor and REWARD him for going. Nothing wild, but definitely provide a carrot for the effort of showing up until his brain gets over the panic of trying something new.

It is a dance, this throwing him in the deep end as well as not not pushing.

But we know that if you don't push a little, he doesn't move forward.

So, try something else.


Some camps (day camp and one week of ballet) are opening up for modified schedules, and I know my 6 year old would enjoy going. But, as a parent, I'm scared. I don't know what to do. Do I keep limiting my kid's exposure to others? Do I let her do these things, knowing that when school comes, she'll be around others? I'm having a hard time figuring this out.

I don't know...I keep referring to this as a guide, but here's the deal: outside = better.

All of this depends on: what are the outbreaks near you? Is it on the rise? Are you at-risk? Do you live with at-risk people?

Talk to your doctor, check out the protocol of the camp, and do the best you can.

Our kids are 5 and 1. Generally our 5 year old is a fun animated kid when he is by himself or with peers. However whenever he is around our 1 year old he is out of control. He grabs his brother or gives him a “hug” which usually leaves the baby crying. He can’t keep his fingers out of the baby’s mouth and has successfully bitten the baby. We’ve tried encouraging gentle touches or just asking him to give the baby space but a few seconds later he has stopped listening. This was problematic preCOVID but now we’re all home together and it’s constant. I think he is partly acting out to get our attention even if it’s negative so we’ve tried giving him lots of one on one time which is lovely until the baby’s nap end. When they are both in the same room together our older son can’t focus on anything other then his brother. This has only gotten worse as the baby gets more mobile and grabby himself. Is there a way we can encourage a more peaceful coexistence?


This is a typical interaction, and it sounds like you just need to run interference between the two kids. I also suggest role-modeling, through play, the difference between rough and gentle. And when he is gentle, REWARD AND PRAISE THAT.

I like to use these kinds of charts to help children understand their interior states, as well as find other ways to outlet big emotions.

Do we think there are some regulation issues afoot? Talk to your ped.

We've never done testing or anything to rule out a learning disability or executive functioning issue, so I can't be certain. Teachers have never flagged anything with us and because he manages to do very well overall, I hadn't considered it a likely possibility. Do you think testing might be worthwhile?

Hmmm, I don't know.

Testing is expensive...

Try to get him into a new environment and see what happens.

Get curious with him around the resistance...

For instance, I have a 16 yo who has some inertia around getting her license, so I literally handed her my phone as it called the driver's ed place to have them talk to her.

She was so pissed.

She got her questions answered, she signed up, and now she is happily bragging to her friends.

But that's my kid.

Just get your child somewhere away from the house and see what happens.

Changing locations is GOOD for the body and the soul.

Thank you for joining us. We'll be back the week after next here, but of course parenting every day otherwise

(This is our most recent post that just went online while we chatted 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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