On Parenting: Meghan Leahy and Amy Joyce took questions about parenting

Jun 11, 2014

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

Hi parents and friends of parents. Meghan Leahy, parenting coach, is here to take your questions. I may pop in from time to time, too. (Er, lucky you!) Lots already lined up, but keep them coming. We will post your comments, too. Bring it on!

Recently, our 4 1/2 yr-old son has started getting out of bed, resulting in being up as late as 10 pm. When I've tried to talk to him about what we could do to help him stay-in-bed/sleep, his only response is that he wants a "talking grown up" (ie, not a stuffed animal) to sleep with him. I would say he ends up in our bed with us 5 out of 7 nights. If I catch him, I will take him back to bed, but if he's out of bed more than three times in a night, I give up. He sleeps with a small light on, has favorite animals, etc. Would love any suggestions you have! Thanks!

This is tough.  And tiring for busy parents!

So, I would back this as a connection issue into the daylight hours.  What does that mean?  It means that you really start loving up on that boy BEFORE the bedtime. 

The easiest way to do this is make sure you are establishing STRONG eye contact, close proximity (many 4 yo's like lots of physicality), and good listening.

What we are trying to do is fill up his attachment cup so that when he goes to bed, he feels more relaxed. 


Will he still cry and get out of bed?  Probably.  And that is okay.  Connection can take some time...

My 7 year old daughter told me the other night that she wants to be skinny. I almost fell over. How do I respond to that kind of statement?

Ugggg....don't respond with the horror and dismay I am sure you felt..

I have been there; this is tough.

Okay...so we know that the body image stuff is filtering down younger and younger, and it is a real concern for little girls (AND BOYS).

First things first:  you gotta keep a body positive house.  This means: no diet talk from adults, no fat talk from adults, no magazines that promote skinniness (which is like, all of them).  You gotta clean house and instill some SERIOUS body love for ALL human forms.  Kids see and feel this....it seeps into them.

Secondly, don't disagree with her...don't tell her she's perfect in every way.  Have a listening ear.  Are kids talking about this in school?  Is this a one-off or a habit?  As you listen, give hugs and strong eye contact.  We want to keep the balance of listening but not making this into an "OHMYGOD, MY CHILD THINKS SHE'S FAT" issue.  Play it cool, but not too cool.

I say to kids, "everyone worries about their bodies time to time, that is normal.  Healthy movement, healthy food...it's what we are about...."

Hi Meghan: I've started following you on Facebook and you give such intuitive, "real" tips. While I agree with many things you've posted about regulating behavior in kids (mainly thinking about my 5-year-old), it's so hard to remember everything in the heat of the moment. Do you have any parent-calming tips to diffuse repeatedly difficult situations? I'm thinking specifically of bedtime. We have a routine that we religiously stick to (books, teeth, songs, bed), but he seems to meltdown at various points throughout. It's to the point where I just can't muster the patience.

Hmmm, great question.  And thanks for reading my posts.  ;)

So...religiously stick to is "sticking" out to me.  It implies some rigidity, which is awesome when the little ones are two...but it MAY be time to give your child some more bedtime freedoms.

When and where can you give him some wiggle room.

Mustering patience...yes.  I wish there was a pill for that.  The closest thing I have found is my breath.

When I am losing my patience, I am usually trying to control someone.  When I am trying to control someone, I stop breathing.  When you stop breathing, you get more stressed (cortisol to brain).  You see?


Focus on counting YOUR breaths, walk away form the child, and stop controlling.  Easy, right? lol.  It's a practice....all of parenting is a practice.

My seven year old daughter's best friend is moving two hours away this summer. Any advice on talking about this transition and communicating with her about this change?

Love this question.

You know, kids are DEEPLY feeling AND resilient. 

You don't need special language for this.

You need to tell her the truth, allow her to cry, and then start to create ideas of how to bridge the friends.

FaceTime, Skype, pics together before she leaves, planned visits in the fall, good old fashioned letter writing...

But just don't try to fix or make her NOT SAD.  The tears are healthy and appropriate...support her through them.  :)

How do you approach your granddaughter and question her about her relationship with a friend ( a young lady ) who could very well be her girlfriend. I guess I do not want to hear that she is her girlfriend. I come from an old-fashioned upbringing and am not sure that I could handle the situation if it were to be true.

Good for you for thinking this through...you clearly love your granddaughter.  You need some support.

There are TONS of resources out there!  Look at this!  http://www.aarp.org/relationships/family/info-03-2011/support_gay_children.html  This is an article from the AARP for how to support!

Reach out to whomever YOU need so that you can work on your worries and fears.  When that is more settled, go ahead and reach out.  You granddaughter will be grateful for your love and support, and you will find that she is the SAME little girl you have always loved...

Good for you...

My daughter has been accepted to a prestigious 'semester' program for high school juniors in a different state. She wanted to apply and attend but now is hesitating, mostly because she's being influenced by her clinging, manipulating, self-serving boyfriend. How can I successfully intervene to get her to go?

I'm going to let Meghan tell you how to get her to go. Because it's so important (I think) that she does. I almost didn't go abroad for a semester in college for almost the same reason -- not to mention I was just happy and comfortable where I was. The day before the deadline, my dad called and asked if I'd regret it if I didn't go. Fact is, I sure would have. It was the best experience I could have had at that time, and though it was LONG ago now, it definitely shaped me. I'm so grateful to him for pushing me, in his own understated way. He's not pushy at all, so when he says something like that, it makes me think. I hope I can be the same way with my kids. And I hope that helps a little?

Hmmmm, successfully intervene? That's tough.  She's enough of a young woman that she will make her decision here, and one thing is for sure...if you push for one direction, she will go in the other.

So, try making a pro/con list with her, so she can really start seeing a big picture (not just the boy in front of her).  Have her start gathering some info from students who have made this trip.  Can she Skype with them and learn more (i.e. get excited?)

Clearly, you think the BF is the pits, but she loves/likes him...so emphasize the BENEFITS of going (and how he will still be here when she returns) and ease up on his loserness.

All of this is tempered with the fact she is safe...right?  Do you see stalking/controlling behaviors from BF?

My 2 1/2 yr-old son's favorite phrase is now "I want that" and when he doesn't get what he wants he starts to cry. This is new for us. He is normally calm and listens, but he is starting to become more demanding. How do we say no with fewer tears? We've been trying to distract him when he gets this way, but I want to figure out to help him better understand his emotions.

I love all of these questions.

Having a 2 yo is INTENSE.  I am concerned when there isn't crying.  (seriously).  I am concerned when they aren't demanding. 

A 2 yo's brain is 100% in the moment.  When they want the cookie, THEY WANT THE COOKIE.  And there is no reasoning, b/c the brain can only handle ONE emotion at a time (at this age).

This is exhausting for parents.

So, the first step is to not take any of this personally.  You just gotta hang in there.

Secondly, don't PUNISH this stuff.  It will make it worse.

Thirdly, get away from the child.  LOL.  Meaning, get some childcare, friends, family, etc. to give you the break you need and deserve.

Several weeks ago my 10 year old son asked me to watch a youtube video. It was a girl putting makeup on her brother. He asked "can we do that?" I put him off, but eventually agreed. He seemed disappointed in the result and I figured that would be that. Instead he asked if I had a wig or dress he could try as well. I said I didn't and he asked if we could buy some (with his money!). After he brought it up a few times, I tentatively agreed to shop with him this weekend. I thought when he sees how much girl's clothes cost he'll change his mind, but he's been looking up what he wants and making a budget. I'm torn. On one hand, if he wants to experiment with how he looks, I don't see that as a problem. On the other, I'm afraid of... something, but I don't know what. Do you think this is just a phase or experience he wants, or could it be a lot more? I will ask, but I want to see if maybe the reality will overcome the fantasy.

I hear you, loud and clear.

You are afraid your child may be transgendered?

Okay....so first of all, you rock for allowing this.  You didn't flip out, you didn't shame (this is huge), and you didn't ignore.  So, kudos.

You gotta walk the maze on this.  This means that, in essence, you don't know what this is...but home is going to be SAFE.

From a child who likes costumes to a child who may be transgendered...this is a huge spectrum and worrying and speculation will make you crazy.


Follow his lead, watch, learn, be empathic, and really SEE who he is.

This will guide your next steps. 

Talking to his pediatrician about specialists in this (not for therapy for him) for support for you, as well as info, is a good place to start.

Hello! Thanks for taking my question. My son is almost 2 years old and not talking. He knows a bit of sign language and he blabbers to himself, but not really WORDS. We read books and he can point out many objects when asked (Ball, cat, etc) but he has no interest in speaking himself. I'm worried that at his 2 year checkup the pediatrician will make me feel like a bad mom, she was concerned when he wasn't talking at his 18 month check up but didn't give me many ideas to encourage talking. Thanks!

If a pediatrician makes you feel like a "bad mom" for developmental milestones when you are a caring and concerned mom, I would look into a new pediatrician.

That said, you may start down the path of making sure his hearing is a-okay...and possibly speaking to pediatric experts..if nothing else it will rule it out.  Some good links are from The Post

Remember...you want to work in supportive partnership with the doctors, so SPEAK UP.  Ask your questions, make a list before you go, and take notes in the meeting!

Good luck!


Thanks for taking my question. I have a 2.5-year-old and 5.5-year-old, and they are making me crazy with their near-constant fighting. They can't be in a room together for five minutes without a battle royale taking place. The 2.5 yo is frequently the instigator, but the 5.5 yo responds with violent force that is outsize to the provocation and usually leaves the 2.5 yo flat on his back and screaming. I have tried intervening, ignoring the behavior, sending them to their (separate) rooms, making them apologize to one another, etc., but nothing seems to work. They get plenty of positive attention and interaction from my husband and me, so I'm not sure if it's a case of "bad attention is better than no attention." It just seems like we can't step away from them without a fistfight breaking out. Please help!

I am afraid you may not *love* this answer...but the children need to be monitored more closely.

I know, I know...we are in the age of chronic helicopter parenting and kids just need more freedom and parents interfere too much, I know....I know.

BUT.  What we have is a YOUNG child (2.5) who cannot be responsible for himself.  He simply cannot manage his own behavior.  And the 5 yo is fed up and becomes violent.  So, we need to steer that little one away from the older one, manage the play a little more, or have the 5 yo find his own space for uninterrupted play.

This will not last forever.  They WILL play together and the 2 yo will mature...but in the meanwhile let's help the older child not feel AS violent and have to act out on it.  It is unfair to both of them...does this make sense?

FYI this question has come around in the chats a couple of times already.

Yep, we realized that, but Meghan had a good answer for this person -- whether it's a real question or a plant. Don't want to leave someone hanging if they are struggling with this or anything else. And if it's a plant, well, I hope we made someone's day.

How can we help our typically developing daughter cope with having a sibling with special needs? From the fact that he gets more of our attention (just because he does) to other kids teasing him or saying things to her about him, to just general frustration with having to work around his very rigid idiosyncrasies, it's hard for her. On the up side, she does show a lot of compassion and understanding for people's different abilities.

Life is funny, isn't it?  The exact thing that helps your daughter have more empathy is (the special need) is also the thing that hurts her.

And, so she needs to have some sadness and frustration about that, and if she has an outburst, you have to absorb it.  Understand it.  Say, "yeah, you know what...I know this is hard...."  She is allowed to be angry and frustrated.  Make room for that.

Additionally, she needs her own special attention.  She needs time and space just for her.  It will never equal out, but go out of your way to find her passions and do them with her!

You sound like you are on the right path....keep going.

Good luck.

Thank you, Ms Leahy, for your answer. I should also say that I've been avoiding both judging him and making rules, although I did tell him I would prefer this is an indoor thing, for now. He's been refusing to get his haircut since bringing this up, and he's been asking if I know how to style his hair. I really don't mind if he wants to play dressup or "mix it up," like wear a boy's shirt and a skirt or who knows what he'll come up with. He hasn't asked for anything outrageous... nothing a daughter of that age would ask for, and I'm trying to treat his requests the same way. And I don't see more as curiousity than as an obsession. For instance, he hasn't been getting into my stuff to play.

Well, that you know of....(trying on your clothes...chances are good he may be hiding that.  Or not...we really don't know.  You could gently ask....without judgment!)

Meaning, we really don't know what is at play here, so I would schedule an appointment with his ped and ask some questions.  Get pointed to an expert local to you...just to have the name if you need it.  :)

I'm sorry. I meant to mention that I had asked this weeks ago in Ms Kelly's column and there was a technical problem: she posted it but her response (and some others) came in blank.

That's right! Thank you for reposting.

My stubborn 4-year-old daughter is finally potty-trained and is doing really well except for at school. Namely, she refuses to use the bathroom at school. She holds in her pee as long as she can and so has a couple of accidents each day. She will sit on the toilet willingly but just doesn't go. She claims there is nothing wrong with the bathroom she just "doesn't want to." It's a one-person bathroom and they leave the door open in case kids need help. She goes with the door open at home or closed in public and has not expressed a perference either way. She can be alone or one of her friends can go in with her if she wants. Her teachers are being incredibly patient with this. I am out of ideas. My husband wants to start taking privleges away from her until she starts peeing at school. I am not fond of punishments around potty-training because I think it causes future issues but I am out of ideas here. Any thoughts?

Oh my heavens....no punishments.  You are instincts are DEAD-ON. 

Punishments *always* (and I RARELY use that word) make potty-training worse.

So, it is perfectly normal for 4 yo's to have potty issues, whether it is holding it or having accidents.

Both issues have to do with immature systems.  Meaning, the brain and the body are YOUNG!  Remembering you have to go or that you should try to go and trying to focus on that, and not on your friend or your snack and your shoe feels funny and I don't like he is looking at me and oh my knee is itchy....

Do you see?  The 4 yo brain is ALL over the place...and often they have to RELAX to pee.  She isn't relaxed at school.

She is at home.

Keep having the teachers be low key and no worries about it.

You do the same at home.

Don't talk about it too much and as long as she is getting enough water and GOING to the bathroom...don't worry.  :)

We went through the same thing with one of our kiddos. He refused to go at preschool. It look SO much patience and time on both our parts and that of the teachers. Finally, someone recommended we get him a keychain with a picture of all of us together to take with him into the bathroom. We did that and a few days later, he handed it to his teacher and said he didn't need it anymore and all was fine from then on. It'll happen -- it stressed me out to no end at the time, but all of a sudden, something clicked. Keychain or no, she'll find her peace with it and you'll look back on this as a blip. Good luck and hang in there.

Amy here. Meghan, you gave the mom who is worried about her child's speech delay a good answer -- to remember that the pediatrician is a partner in this. Do you have advice for parents who feel judged or like they are a bad mom? It struck me that some parents might really feel like failures and try to make things seem dandy when they go to the pediatrician. Why is that and do you have tips for changing that feeling so they can actually get what they need from the doc?

All parents love their kids and they want the doctor to know this.  We show this love by showing the doctor how *good* we are as parents...the right food, the right stuff, the right music classes, etc.

But developmental milestones work on their own timeline.

Music classes and all that are nice, but the child will talk when he is ready to talk...and that includes with speech and hearing problems.

The issue is that parents personalize and internalize ALL of this.

This is evidence of success or failure...when NEITHER are true.

Any parent can read some good child development books to find the clear science on this....but what is really needed is the courage to face the fear.  The courage to ask questions.  The courage to not know.

This is tough....but parenthood will call on you to be courageous, over and over.

I loved these questions!

Thanks to The Washington Post...and of course, the excellent parents here.

Come see me here and at www.positivelyparenting.com

Thank you all for joining us, and for reading. And thanks, Meghan, for the thoughtful advice again.

Don't forget to read On Parenting and sign up for our newsletter, so you can get our pieces delivered right to your inbox weekly.

Chat with you all next week!

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach.
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 OnParenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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