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

Jul 30, 2014

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

I am Meghan Leahy.  Parent Coach, a Washington Post parenting columnist, mother, wife, and avid yoga-lover and book-reader.  I also love The Real Housewives (all of them except OC).

Find out more about me at www.positivelyparenting.com.

Thanks for being here.  :)

Hello all! Thanks for joining us on this lovely morning to talk about kids, parenting and all that goes with it. We have the wonderful Meghan Leahy with us again. Get used to reading her -- she will soon be writing a parenting advice column for us every other week and doing regular live chats, like this one. (Yay.) There are a lot of questions already lined up, so let's get started, shall we?

I have a three year old daughter (only child) who loves to play with her friends. But if the friend doesn't want to do exactly what my daughter wants to do, i.e. watch a particular show, play with a particular toy, my daughter screams and whines that her friend doesn't want to do x, y, or z with her. I'm not sure how to respond and discourage these emotional outbursts when she doesn't get her way. This is something I'd like to get a handle on long term because she tends to do this with me as well.

Hello!  Welp, she sounds normal!  (Sorry.)  3 yo's have one world view (theirs) and when someone else (friend, you, ANYONE) gets in the way of the world view, this leads to frustration.

She WILL keep growing and learn to share, etc...but this is time plus not making this worse.

I think adjusting your expectations will help here...

Firstly, the three year olds may need more supervision and input from you.

Secondly, I would try to keep them to a park or open space with more choices and less "turf wars."

Thirdly, I would keep the playdates shorter.  Be like Seinfeld and go out on top, rather than waiting for the problems to crop up.

Hope this helps!

I was sitting in my dentist's chair listening about her moody 8 year old son and was shocked to realize that my moody 8 year old son might actually be normal. If I call him on his tone of voice, he just has a tantrum. If I sent him to his room every time he was rude, I would never see him. Sometimes I ignore the behavior, sometimes I'm less mature about it, depending on how long I've been putting up with it. Should I chalk it up to pre-pubescent behavior, or has he just reverted back to being a 3 year old? More importantly, in case I'm in it for the long haul, how do I respond, and what on earth is he angry about all the time, and why am I (mom!) the target?

Yea....urg.  The moodiness.  Not easy.

This is a back and forth...and you will never get it perfectly "right," so this is something we endure.

While hormonal moodiness is absolutely normal and to be expected from all humans (some more than others), I would look into how your son is connecting with you. You either ignore it or are "less mature" about it, so there are some different messages here.

I think you need to try to get to know this new young man...he is changing, and clearly interacting with you.  How can you flip it so that you connect to him BEFORE the rudeness begins?

Just some thoughts...

I have four kids and my youngest, a five year old boy, is driving me crazy. He generally is a good kid with other people and is well liked by most people and other kids. When he is with his family, however, he cries and whines about everything! We have tried coddling and taking a hard line, but nothing seems to help. I don't recall my other children having such a hard time at age 5. Is this ever going to end?

The youngest of four...he is staking his claim, goshdarnit!

He wants to be heard, be significant, be important.

And he is doing that, by whining.

He needs one-on-one time with his parents, as well as small chunks if time where he deeply listened to.

Also, does he have any skills that can be used in the house?  How can he be useful?



My very good friend has a 10 year old that was recently diagnosed with ADHD. He is an only child who is adored by his 50 year old parents. They don’t have relatives in this country and only a few friends. Every time that I visit them (every 2-3 months), it’s really sad to see that this child does everything that he wish: eat only junk food, watch TV and play video games until late without supervision, don’t want to do his homework, all this while his mother very softly tells him “please do your homework” (father works 7 days a week). The boy is not involved in any afterschool program as he prefers to stay home and play video games. Apparently the therapist is mostly working with him and not with any of the parents. Besides that, the father is adamant of going to any supportive groups or even approves therapy! I don’t have kids so it’s “easy” to see and point out all the things that seems they are not handling very “well”. I have never say a thing except if the mom talks to me about specifics, but I think she doesn’t realize the things that they are doing (buying everyday junk food for the child, because otherwise he “will not eat”?). Once when she was talking about the boy and his nutrition I added that it’s a very important thing that not only influences our body but many other issues like our behavior and the way we feel, but she quickly discarded my comment. In another occasion she was also commenting about the boy and I mentioned her about parenting support group meetings but again it was discarded. The boy is not doing well in school and she seems clearly worry about this, the father I guess also worries but he is barely involved with all this. Both of them are professionals in very complex fields so it’s difficult to think they are acting out of ignorance. Is there’s a way I can possibly help them?

"Is there’s a way I can possibly help them?"

Well....no.  (I know, it is a wretched answer...)

Here are the details I see:

1) hubby working his tail off

2) little to no support of family

3) few friends

4) child with a new diagnosis

I see a mom doing the best she can in a difficult position.

The best way to help her is to listen listen listen.

Yes, the junk food is an obvious bad choice for ANY child, (but esp. ADHD), but nothing is going to change if you judge it.

Ask open-ended questions about the mom feels.  How she is coping/dealing/etc.

There may come a time (after really great listening) that she accepts your advice...until then...keep all opinions to yourself.


Bedtime with my 4 and 1/2 yr-old son is increasingly filled with procrastination (on his part). I have talked with him about having a set amount of time (30-45) minutes set aside for everything. If he can bathe/brush/floss in 15 (I help with all of these), I will read for 30 minutes. If he can't get ready in the 30-45 minute allotment, no books. I am tired of nagging, and I think if there is the timer involved, I can say "you have this much time" and let him make the choice of how he uses the time. I have tried this on a few occasions, not consistently, and I don't necessarily see a big difference in him moving quickly to get ready for bed (I notice that I focus on not nagging and zenning-out, so I feel somewhat better). Do you think this is something I should pursue consistently to see if it will eventually help, or is this a mistake?

Great questions here.

This is a long bedtime process!  And you are clearly working your buns off...well done on how much you care and are trying.

4 yo's are known for their bedtime shenanigans (it has to do with some totally normal developmental stuff), and so I would totally flip this.  I would relax it and decide, in my head, "let's see what happens when I let the time go."

This means that you stop watching the clock and you focus on him.

You chat with him in the bath, make eye contact and smile and tickle him when he gets dressed, and really snuggle in with him in bed with the books.

Don't look at the clock or say a word to him about timing.

I am betting he will relax because he won't feel you pushing him away...and when we relax, we rest.


Ok I'll be honest, I'm a bit of a push over and can let the guilt of being a divorced mom of an only child who works full time and is currently spending 50% of my time with my ailing father out of state get the best of me. It's taken a while to see that giving in is not helping but I'm ready and trying to regain control. I know that's my first mistake there is no control. But how can I be a better parent and show my son that it's important to work hard for things and the actually make decisions not him. He's a great kid and 80% awesome but when he doesn't get what he wants usually when tired or hungry he's a totally different kid and I would love to smooth over some of the rough times so when we are together no matter what is going on we can enjoy each other.

Oh, momma.

You see problems, I see that you are have been working your buns off and doing a darn good job.  Divorced?  Ailing father out of state?  Works FT?  Kid is 80% awesome?

You don't need parenting advice, you need a vacation.

Seriously, though, you and your son are not going to enjoy each other all of the time...we are humans and we fight and get sick of each and we are stressed.

Make a list of the two places where you feel that he needs more boundaries.  Look at those two places and really think.  Do you really need it?  Is this the guilt talking?

Either way, use the KISS factor (keep it simple, sweetie.)

And when he melts down, if you can have the maturity to love him through it while holding boundaries...well, then...that is good enough.


My 4 1/2 year old daughter is generally pretty cooperative, but extremely stubborn when she makes her mind up about something. Early on, she decided that she DOES NOT LIKE TOOTHPASTE, and nothing we've tried -- explaining, different kinds and flavors, punishments, rewards -- has made any difference. Our dentist said there's still a benefit to brushing, even with water, and to just try to avoid sweets and juice, and so far she doesn't have cavities. Should we just let it go, and hope she comes around by the time she gets permanent teeth? Offer her toothpaste periodically/regularly the way you do with rejected foods? Any other ideas?


Well, get that toothbrush in her mouth (without toothpaste), no matter what...that is for sure.

I would let this go for a while.  It sounds like you have struggled long enough and any other ideas (right now), will only add to the drama.

As she matures, she may change her mind.

As an aside, I think it would be cool to find out how toothpaste is made and see if she cannot make her own special flavor. (but that is DOWN the road, if this persists).

For now, I think the struggle is trumping the toothpaste...

My newly-4 year old is has gone through a long easy phase, and we've been in a great place as parents for a while, though knowing that a more difficult time often follows. Well, it's here - he's into threatening us, and we haven't been able to come up with a good response. When we tell him no, or that something he wants isn't going to be available to him, he often responds with threats of physical violence - e.g. "then I'm going to smash your head," etc. I don't believe he actually has any intention of hitting or kicking, nor do I think he really comprehends what he's threatening, but I'd really like the language to stop. Any ideas?

Language is so deliciously powerful, isn't it?

And your 4 yo knows this now!  He gets to watch your eyes widen when he threatens to smash your head, etc...and this is exciting...and so intoxicating for a 4 year old.  (mine is telling me she hates me on the daily.)

So, pay it no real mind (it grows the drama).  Give him a hug or a smile, say "I know, it is frustrating when _____"  Go right over the violent threat.


btw: when my 4 year old says she hates me, I say, "I know, it is frustrating to be in this family...." and she says, "Yeah, and I do love you, mom.  I also just hate you."

And I totally get it.  I really do.

My 7yr old son has a hard time in dealing with anger and upsetting emotions. Just yesterday, loosing a game against his cousin was too much for him and he ran up to him and kicked him on his tummy so hard. He wouldn't calm down so we had to leave the scene. Tried to talk about it at home but he would just put his hands on his ears and refused to listen. It gets a bit confusing to me as to how to be gentle and empathetic and put limits and consequences at the same time.

Okay.  This is a child who needs more guidance on how to channel his frustration and anger from you, his parents.

While you would like him to be 7 and able to handle losing, he cannot.

So, let's begin where we are!

I would slow down the playdates and situations where the frustration erupts as violence (it is making things worse).

I would start playing with him (card games, soccer whatever), and start modeling what frustration looks and sounds like.

It is okay if he kicks the ground?  Jumps up and down?  Punches a pillow?  What are the safe ways he can outlet frustration (it HAS to come out.)

Really support and smail when he handles his frustration in a safe way.  The goal is NOT "no frustration."  The goal is "safe outlet."

My 3 1/2 year old daughter is bossy - i know bossy is a "bad" word, and i don't call her that but i am having trouble getting her to tone it down. She tells me that her friends at school have a bad day because they were not listening to her. She tells her sister (20 mths) what to do constantly. I have tried to focus on her litsning and what it means to be a good friend, but my little girl is willful! I want to get a handle on this before it gets out of hand. help!

Oh boy.

Welp, she sounds super-normal.

3 yo's are notoriously in charge.  And if she is the eldest of the siblings, it may be double time.

You are not going to talk her out of this.  Or into anything else.

So, stop telling her to listen or how to be a good friend or anything else...her brain cannot compute.  Literally.  Her brain is too immature.

Instead, you become the listener.  When she talks about her friends, say "Huh, wow.  And then what?"

A 3 yo just wants to be heard (who doesn't?)

Monitor her relationship with the sis, but again, this is normal.

While they are getting a bit dated, I still like this series for what is normal.  They can give you peace of mind.

And you sound like you are doing everything pretty well, so relax and enjoy her! 

Hi. My 4 year old daughter has started a "fear of not being alone" ever since her pacifier was taken away (she had it for bedtime a little longer than she should've,lol) And since can't go to bed unless we stay until falls asleep and then wakes again at 10:30-11 and refuses to go back in her room, or if she does wants us to stay again. We have made every mistake in terms of letting her in our bed, and pretty much negotiating every scenario possible, but all just ends up the same. Either 2 hours of back and forth or ending up in our bed. She puts up a fight like I have never seen and does not give up. She could continue for hours I could go on but you get the idea. She is our third and is controlling in all aspects FYI my husband dosent do well with her bc he loses it too quickly but he thinks I am too soft and too calm w her. Help!

This little girl is in HIGH pursuit of your attachment and love.

Why do I say this?  " She is our third and is controlling in all aspects"

This says to me that she is pursuing you at night, in the day, and all times in-between.

The answer here is simple and hard to do.

You need to give her more attachment energy and attention than you think she needs.

Yes, this sounds like the opposite advice from the consequences mumbo-jumbo you will get otherwise, but this little girl is desperate for you and your husband and she is NOT GIVING UP (thank God).

So, love her up.  Don't wait for her to come to you...you get into bed with her (I know, I know...)

Increase hugs, eye-to-eye contact, and listening.

She cannot relax and sleep (or grow much at all) until you take the reins and take responsibility for filling her cup.

She needs you; fulfill the need!  You can do it.



My husband and I can't agree on how much parenting is the right amount. We're both engaged parents and, in my opinion, both tend to over-parent. But my husband seems to be an extreme to me. Any time a child (1 and 3) asks a question, whines, needs something, my husband stops what he's doing to respond, even if he's in the middle of a conversation with another adult. Our children aren't really learning to struggle because we're always right there to help them if they scrape a knee, if they're fussy, etc. What's your view on where to draw the line on how much engagement is needed, and how to address between two parents who don't share the same perception. We're both open to change, truly. Our instincts are just different. Thanks!

It sounds like your husband is "parenting on demand."

He is, undoubtedly, coming from the right place, but yes...he is creating an exhausting parenting life for himself.

The problem with "parenting on demand" is that the kids are totally in the driver's seat, and they are not meant to be.  Only the parent drives the family bus, as it were.  So, when the roles switch around, the children become more demanding, commanding, negotiating, and bossy.

That being said, the kids are young, and require A LOT of attention.

I would be interested in how your husband was parented.  Did he receive enough attention?  Too much? 

Your yourselves a glass of something and talk about your childhoods.  Be a listening spouse.  Listen for how he FELT about his own childhood...could give you a window of empathy and understanding.


I think I like the parenting-by-Seinfeld rule the best. But all great advice, as usual, Meghan. Thank you.

We've run out of time, but there are still some unanswered questions. Stay tuned, Meghan will answer some in future columns that will run, starting Aug. 7, every other week in Local Living and, of course, on On Parenting. (Don't forget to follow us on Facebook for On Parenting news.) Thanks. Have a lovely day, all.

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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