On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jul 17, 2019

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! Thanks for joining us. Did you know you can get our On Parenting content delivered right to you? Here's our newsletter so you can sign up: https://wapo.st/getonparenting

Meghan's column today is about a 6-year-old who appears to be very anxious about school. Is this in the 'normal' realm of school anxiety? Or is there something deeper going on? 

Okay, lots of questions await, so let's get going, shall we?

For the past six months, our happy, healthy three-year-old son has decided he only wants to wear “girl’s clothes”—dresses, skirts, princess costumes, nail polish. We’re happy to let him dress however he wants to express himself, and encourage his creativity and individuality. But we’re concerned about exposing him to situations that he doesn’t understand and isn’t prepared to handle, like rude or unkind comments from surprisingly lunkheaded adults. So far, we’ve been managing things by allowing him to dress however he likes only at home, while also supporting nail polish, sparkly shoes and ponytails whenever and wherever he wants. How do we decide whether it’s better to protect him from thoughtlessness he doesn’t understand, or protect and encourage his sweet creativity and imaginative dressing?

I would like to blithely recommend that you allow your son to do as he pleases, where he pleases...but I recognize that that isn't a safe or prudent option for many parents in many parts of our country and world.

He is only three, so you can get away with allowing him to do as he pleases, and I empathize with the worry that comes with the outside shaming of the world versus shaming your son into "boy" clothes every time he leaves the house...

There isn't an easy answer here.

Take it day by day, see if you can just let him be truly himself as much as humanly possible, and have your statements ready for adults who question what they see. 


I just wanted to comment with respect to one of the last postings about what kind of daycare would take a pacifier away from a two-year old? All of them. At least all that I toured. It was an issue for me as well. Around the time my son turned two I was looking for daycare options and that was a big deal for me - he was still using it and although I knew we needed to take it away eventually/soon, "we" weren't ready (and his dentist had no problem with it either). The schools all cited two main reasons - hygiene/sanitation (it will inevitably get popped into other kiddos mouths), and general fairness (many of the other kids have already been weaned from a pacifier and they will want it again too). It makes sense. And, for all my worry, it was no problem at all - he was obsessed with it at home but could care less that it was gone at daycare (slept no problem for naps).

Huh! Thanks for writing in, the hygiene thing really makes sense...

4 years ago, my husband and I got a German Shepard puppy, Daisy, whom we love. She has always been sweet as can be - we've never once had a problem with her. Last year, I got pregnant by surprise, and we had our daughter 4 months ago. Before our daughter was born, we did research about how best to introduce baby to Daisy. We followed the advice and calmly introduced the baby, but then Daisy actually snapped at our daughter. She didn't make contact, thank god, but I was terrified. Since then, every time Daisy hears the baby make a noise, or sees the baby, she growls. My home is covered in baby gates and now I'm going crazy trying to make sure that they don't get within 20 feet of each other. my husband works and I stay at home, so it's mostly me doing all of this gatekeeping and I'm losing it. I feel like my baby is constantly in danger, and poor Daisy spends much more time alone in her crate or shut outside than I would like. Nobody here is winning. My question is about how I should proceed. Do I stick it out and hope that as my daughter gets older, Daisy will be better with her? Or should I rehome our dog, which will break my heart but also allow me to relax a bit more? Any advice is welcome for this very tired and worried mama.

You either spend the money and time to work with a dog trainer who is experienced in these issues or your rehome (and by the way, after spending thousands of dollars, you STILL may need to rehome the dog, but it could be worth it, it is your call).

You are right; this entire set up is unfair to the dog, the baby, and you. It is untenable and the baby will only become more active and in the dog's face.

Get support, stat.

Thanks for responding to my question. I'm thinking I didn't convey my concerns accurately, since I really don't think this is about me at all. Nothing happened to me to make me afraid of older boys. As a girl, my friends group was almost entirely boys; I have no problem with friends of the opposite gender whatsoever. Here is what I AM concerned about with my 6 year old girl trying desperately, painfully to insert herself into groups of 12 year old boys, based on what I've personally seen happen with her and what I've derived from what she's told me: none of them want her around; the nice boys tolerate her presence and interest for a short period of time but eventually ignore her because they just want to be with their actual friends; and the less-nice boys call her bad words, talk about topics (i.e. sex) inappropriate for her age in front of her (some of which she brings up to me for clarification but I'm certainly not hearing it all), and one has actually hit her before. Despite all of this, she wants so much to be their friend that she keeps coming back for more of the same, and that's what I am concerned about. I would love to hear how I can coach her through these situations that seem above her maturity level and understanding, and how to help her see that she can have healthier friendships with kids her own age. Thanks.

Ah, that's a big clarification. Here is last week's question for reference. (And last week's chat if anyone wants to catch up in general): My six year old daughter is only interested in playing with boys, mainly older boys, at summer camp and afterschool care and in the neighborhood. She’s always been like this, and while it was cute as a toddler, it worries me now. She’s a true tomboy and I see the appeal - she likes the things they do and the big-kid games they play - but I’m worried. I’m worried for the present (what if they harm her or take advantage of her immaturity and eagerness to be around them) and the future (as a teen, is she going to be chasing a faster lifestyle, or attracted to older men). She’s a sweet, happy kid, and we are a close family. I don’t know how to handle this with her. She’s too young to truly understand my concerns, and the only time I’ve brought it up, clearly I botched it because she took it as me trying to take her friends away. Ugh. Obviously I try to support and encourage her friendships with girls and boys her own age, and she has them as acquaintances, but she is like magnetically attracted to the older boys. I really want to keep the lines of communication open with her and not push her away over this. It’s just so foreign to me...I was scared of the big boys as a kid! Help?

Okay, i want you to read back the letter you wrote me and clearly articulate the stories you are telling yourself about your six year old.

I want you to identify to whom these stories these belong.

I want you to articulate what you are REALLY afraid of.. And it isn't just chasing a faster lifestyle...what does that really mean?

I want you to get as clear as you can on what you are afraid of so you don't pass your fears on to your child.

If you are completely stuck, get a couple of therapy sessions...it will help.

You are not going to coach her out of this much; you need to steer her life toward a more age-appropriate settings. This requires that you not allow her to go play with these boys (they don't want her around either) and creating situations that she enjoys and thrives with other children her same age (or just a tiny bit older).

For whatever reason, she may be attracted to the taboo (which is normal in children), so I would go for activities that involve lots of boys and maybe some controlled risk.

I wouldn't convince her that she shouldn't want to hang out with these boys, I am not sure it will land anywhere with her. I would say, "You are not hanging out with these boys. They are too old, they want to be together, and you are going to do this other thing instead." If she cries and throws a fit, so be it. This is your boundary.


Hi Meghan, I signed my 3 year old up for a soccer camp this week. It’s an hour & a half each morning. He loves to play with the soccer ball in our yard, so I thought he’d enjoy it. He doesn’t. It’s a little too long and way too hot. He made it through about the first 45 minutes each of the first 2 days before he just wanted to sit next to me. I made us both sit there and watch the rest of the sessions. Today, he told me he didn’t want to go, but I took him anyway. He played begrudgingly for the first 45 minutes. Now he’s happily swinging on the swings at the playground while the rest of the soccer session takes place on the nearby field. Do I force him to go to the next 2 days? Or just chalk this up to lessons learned - this isn’t his jam right now? And what do I do about another camp (half-day, indoor) that he’s signed up for in August for a week? I want him to be entertained some this summer while school is out, but maybe this is just too young for these every day camps? Thanks!

I think you know your answer: he has 45 minutes of this stuff and that is all he can give.

See how much money you can get back for the August camps.

My daughter gave birth a few weeks ago, a beautiful baby boy. But in describing the all-natural birth, (no meds at all) she said he came out blue and it took a bit to get him to start breathing on his own. He was on the large side, at 8 lbs 8 oz. Should I be concerned for him as he grows? I'm thinking developmental delays and possible learning difficulties? Concerned Grandmother

Unless your daughter tells you otherwise, you assume that the baby is developing as expected.

Try searching for trans youth groups in your area. Not saying your son is trans, but you're going to find parents that have dealt with the same issues. Speaking to others will help you figure out what is right for your family. PFLAG would be a good place to start.

This is an excellent piece of advice. Finding other parents who are there or who have been there is a great comfort and can also offer very practical advice.

I'm not sure about that. I don't want to go all uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow, but isn't the current advice to let kids be exposed to germs to help develop their immune system? It's not like toddlers don't put every single thing they can into their mouths.


It is almost laughable to think that prohibiting the pacifiers are what keeps kids from getting sick! Think of the toys and blocks and basic surfaces everyone is sneezing and coughing on! And while some of it goes overboard, most of those viruses really build our immune systems...

That being said, trying to keep track of a hundred pacis and which child has which one in their mouth is enough to send someone very the edge...so I get it. The employees don't want all that...

first world problem . . . I have a very generous maternity leave. I had a c-section 2 weeks ago and I'm home with my newborn until mid-September. Here's the thing, I'm bored and I don't enjoy the new born stage. Once they can smile and interact I like babies and I adore my 3 yo. Right now my newborn is either a napping lump (which is like 20 hours of the day) or he cries and doesn't want any of my solutions - nursing, clean diaper, pacifier, etc. We're also stuck at home because of the heat and my inability to drive. I went through my e-mails this morning (which I'm not supposed to do on medical leave) and I felt better - more competent, less trapped. Any suggestions on how to get through the next 8 weeks when we can start daycare and I can get back to work?

Okay, so work emails lifted your spirits, good to know!

Are there books or something you can order (in your field of interest) that would keep your mind going? An online class? Many people will say REST and SLEEP, but if this is your mojo, GO with it~ I started my business three weeks after my third was born, c-section, and I had two others at home...

Get creative!

Hi, I was a blue infant too (also with breathing issues, and then having issues with breathing/feeding), and am 35 and mother of a rambunctious toddler. I gather it was scary going for my parents for the first few days, but I'm here and just fine.

I giggled when I read this because I will say, "X happened to me, and look...I am fine!" and my friends will say, "but are you?"

But in all seriousness, babies come out blue ALL OF THE TIME, they need to get all that gunk whacked and sucked out of them, and poof, off they go! Three cheers for modern medicine!

My family and I are on vacation at a place where we go for 2 weeks every year. It is the highlight of the year for my kids. Yesterday one of my 7 year old twins didn't want to do one of the main activities - after much cajoling he agreed to go, and had a good time. In the afternoon & evening he and his brothers were watched by their cousin, and when I came to get them everything seemed fine. But about 10 minutes later he lost it. He was curled up on the floor in a fetal position. I finally got him up to brush his teeth, and he seemed a little better, but then he knocked some plastic cups over and he lost it again. I said it wasn't a big deal, and I picked them up. He knocked them over again as he was gathering up his stuffed animals and again started to cry and shake. Again I reassured him that it was okay. I took him up and put him to bed, and as soon as I came downstairs he ran down and curled up in a ball on a chair. I took him back up and stayed with him for awhile and tried to calm him down (asking him to breath slowly and relax). After about 10 minutes he seemed better so I went downstairs again and within 2 minutes he was back down curled up in a ball. I took him up again and stayed with him until he fell asleep. He's been diagnosed with depression and is on medication, but last night really scared me. I've never seen him quite like this before.

1) When was he diagnosed?

2) When was he put on meds?

3) Which med, amount, timing?

4) What are the side-effects for this med on adults AND kids?



Your Post Points code: OP5992

Older child turns 6 tomorrow and we've been really struggling with boundary testing with a lot of mean words and yelling (she's generally pretty nice to her toddler sister at least!) and lying ("did you put conditioner in your hair yet? answer became obvious pretty quickly!) to insisting that she'd gone on a field trip at daycamp - to the point of naming who she sat with on the non-existent bus. With that last one, she told us that she was practicing fibbing. We're trying to focus on connection and making sure she's getting enough rest and food (I show up to camp pick-up with ice water and a snack every day even though she's just eaten) and that seems to help with the meanness, but we're sort of baffled in how to deal with the lying other than to call her on it (gently!) and move on. Is this some of what my dad calls "age-typical inappropriate behavior"? I'm struggling not to react to both the meanness and the lying. She tends to be sensitive and shuts down when she gets embarrassed, so we're trying to be gentle.

Ohhhh, I love her! She is practicing fibbing?! Yes! I see a fiction writer!

When my children practiced fibbing and told me (which is a great sign, btw), I would also practice telling a tall tale. And then we would go to the library and check out books on tall tales! And we would keep the stories going for weeks, with twists and turns.

Every once and a while, we would remind each other what was real and what wasn't, but I love the creative mind!

Yeah, mean words and a 6 yo go hand in hand. Ride it out with some loving boundaries (she may experience a consequence)...but keep the connection as your north star.

Non-sequitur, but the fact that 10 weeks of maternity leave is considered "generous" is an indictment of this country's poor parental leave policies /end rant

Ahem. Yep. 

PS: This piece from yesterday is nice... both parents got and took four months and it was great for everyone.  


I'd start by contacting a local rescue organization, the more breed-specific the better. They can likely give you advice on trainers and other resources in your area, and if you do have to re-home your dog, they will be able to help you find the best home. I had to re-home my Shepherd mix when my third baby was born - I was able to keep the dog and kids apart while my twins were babies, but once they were mobile and I was distracted by a newborn it was a ticking time bomb of a situation. It was hard but the dog is much happier now and my house is less stressful.

EXCELLENT advice, thank you!

1) Diagnosed in March 2) Put on meds in March 3) Fluoxitine - 1.5mls/day (20mgs/5mls) 4) not sure about side effects, but his twin brother is taking a lower dose for anxiety...

Call the doctor, stat. A panic attack, out of the blue (no history of panic attacks?) means that the meds need to be checked.

And I am NOT judging your children's needs for meds (I SWEAR), but I want to know what else is happening for your child's depression...play therapy? CBT? Equine therapy? What other pieces are in this puzzle?

My eight-year-old only daughter has always liked to tell people what to do to an unusual degree. Our responses have ranged from discussing the issue, role-playing, reprimands and taking away things. She's improving, but it remains an issue. Advice?

She's improving! That is GOOD.

So, bossy girls were squashed for time eternal, then recently celebrated as a fun and empowering trend, but in reality...bossy kids are tiring to parent.

You want to keep her voice and opinions while also helping her understand timing and tone. No small thing. But you are giving her a gift of a lifetime when you help her.

I like to call work like this "projects."

The project is that you love her voice and opinions, and that you are all working on speaking respectfully, kindly, and clearly. 

When she does this, CELEBRATE. Point out exactly how she communicated kindly and how well that worked for her.

When she is bossy, find a way to signal to her that she's being bossy without shaming her in front of others. Maybe a hand sign or a special wink. Give her a chance to restate.

But improvement is everything...keep going! Childhood is not a steady climb, it goes up and down!

Hi Meghan- Every time my family sees my kids, my family gets sick, even if the kids are completely healthy. It's the to the point where I text out before we come in town to stock up on Vitamin C. But it's also getting annoying. Am I taking it too personally? I know kids have germs that other people don't have, but I wouldn't bring my kids around people if they were throwing up, running a fever, upset stomach, etc. This last time I saw my family, a couple of members got super sick & none of my kids or I was sick, but we were all blamed. It dampens the whole visit for me. It is to the point where I am leery of going to visit. Am I overreacting? How do I even respond to the accusations every time I see them? Thank you!

So, my children spent over a year having strep throat. Even my husband and went through rounds and rounds of it. It got to the point where all of my children were on a baby dose of antibiotics, everyday, for months just to knock it out.


And, to make it even more intolerable, we couldn't really go anyway because someone was always about to get sick, was sick, or was just ending being sick. 

People got nervous to be around us, and I understood.

But your situation is a bit of a head-scratcher. You sound utterly reasonable, but your family sounds a bit mean. I know that it is easy to blame kids for illness (and they are usually the culprits), but accusing you and your family of every illness? 

Something is off here.

I would say, "listen, we want to see you, I cannot guarantee what viruses are in my kids...can you handle it if you get sick?" If they say no, make your next decision.

You can also decide to ignore the bellyaching and not take it personally...

This is your family, what feels right?


Thanks for joining us, everyone. That does it for today. We'll be back in two weeks. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to keep up with us.  https://wapo.st/getonparenting 

Have a good (hot!) week.

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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