On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Aug 01, 2018

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

Morning to you all! We're here and ready for Meghan to answer all your pressing parenting needs. Check out Meghan's latest and greatest... a parent wrote in and said s/he knows spanking isn't the right thing to do, but they don't know what else can be done. We also have a wrenching (but hopeful) piece about an 11-year-old who had an eating disorder. Okay, let's get going, shall we? 

My 16-month-old, who otherwise has a wonderful disposition, bites me and hits my face — he seems to do this when he’s frustrated or wants to do something I’m not permitting him to do. He doesn’t do this with his other parent or anyone else, just mom. I try to never react with anger, but sometimes it really hurts. How can I help him deal with his emotions and not take them out on me?

Really, there is not much to do here but wait it out and not make it worse.

Making it worse looks like putting him in time-out, putting him in his crib and closing the door, screaming at him, etc.

He is expressing his frustration, and he really cannot express it any other way.

A sharp "no," placing him not he ground when he bites and continuing on with your business will help, but don't ice him out and DO NOT LECTURE.


Keep going.

Do you know anything about EC? I'm expecting my first baby and am intrigued by the idea of having kids (mostly) toilet trained by a year old. I have joined a mom's group through my church and a bunch of my friends there swear by it, but I still worry about creating some sort of weird complex with toilet training. I know you tend to recommend waiting to potty train. So, what do you think about this? (Here's a website about it if you haven't heard of it http://godiaperfree.com/elimination-communication/ ). Maybe you could open this up to the chat and let other parents share their experiences?

I know about it and don't have many opinions on it.

I couldn't conceive of having time like this, but I also respect that parents feel strongly about it.

I would love to hear from parents who've made this work without losing their marbles!



My almost 5 year old daughter is extremely strong willed (as am I). I think she's neurotypical but is just not an easy child. She will refuse to let her dad put her to bed. Her already narrow range of foods has shrunk. She refuses to wear a swimsuit to camp on days she has swim lessons. We asked her teachers to have her sit beside the pool on lesson days, but she won't even wear the swimsuit for free swim. We are seeing a parent counselor soon, but in the meantime what battles are actually worth fighting?

I am wondering: are there underlying sensitivities that we are unaware of? Sometimes children who are viewed as "strong-willed" are experiencing in the world in a way that is highly threatening to their nervous systems...and this is not about will at all.

Please have a full work-up done by your doctor to ensure this is not the issue before going down other avenues.

How much time should my child actually spend reading? My son (almost 10) LOVES audiobooks. For the past couple weeks, he's been listening to all of the Rick Riordan books pretty much every moment that he hasn't been playing outside. And he's actively listening. He can repeat whole phrases to me later at the dinner table, and acts out his favorite parts when he's outside. I think this is great, he's very active so sitting down and staring at a book is not very enjoyable to him, but with an audiobook he can move around while still comprehending the story and improving his vocabulary. Is this enough "reading" for him to be doing right now, or does he actually have to stare at a page and read it? His teacher from last year told me that he reads far above his grade level, it's just that he really doesn't like to do it if he doesn't have to.

This is where technology is so awesome, right? I love audiobooks, too and I think it is great he loves to listen. And by the way, that's an amazing skill, too, right?

To get him to read paper books, I would start with 15 minutes a day, and I would do any kind of reading that he wants! Comic books, graphic novels, cartoons...they all count. Allow him the choice and move out from there. Also recommend reading a book together. You read to him, he reads to you...it's fun!

Keep it light and easy (let's not crush love of reading)...

And since his teacher did not express concern, I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just keep the love of reading going.



My husband and I have two boys---7 and 10. When they have free time, we encourage them to play outside, especially to roam the neighborhood on foot or by bike, or to at least go to the neighborhood park. They will not leave the house willingly without my husband or myself (unless it's to take a couple of dollars to the convenience store down the street to buy chips or something). How do we get them to go outside and play? We limit screens so it's not like that is keeping them indoors. I loved riding my bike everywhere as a kid.

I'll let Meghan get to this one.

But, yes, this is a hot topic. We have a few pieces that I find helpful about getting kids outside. Here's one about 10 ways to help kids fall in love with being outside;  the CEO of the National Wildlife Foundation wrote a piece for us about how kids don't get outside enough, and how to change that (see? You're not alone); and we just had a good one about backyard nature = empathy.  

I would go with what works for now.

Give them money and have them buy staples for the house (and maybe a little treat for themselves). Even better, enlist some other parents to have their kids go along! This way, the kids may find some play along the way.

You could also invite some other kids to meet up in a local park to play a sport or game and then go home when some show up. Keep it breezy, "gotta go check the rice, be back in an hour..." kind of thing. And then, yes, come back...but slowly, they may not notice you are gone.

The more you can enlist your neighborhood to encourage this play, the easier this will be!

Slow and steady...

Is there an age at which parental separation/divorce is more/less damaging? My wife and I are struggling and don't know that we will be able to make our marriage work. We have a 3 year old. The one thing we do agree on is that we want to be the best parents we can be to her, regardless of whether or not we are together. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Here's a column Meghan wrote about separating parents who had a 2-year-old. Hope it helps. Meghan? More advice? 

It's always hard, it doesn't matter when you do it. True, the tender years under 7 pose a special kind of threat to attachment, BUT...IF you can stay loving, warm, and supportive to each other as you separate and put your daughter FIRST, SHE WILL BE FINE.

Not only will she be fine, but if you are happier apart, SHE WILL BE HAPPIER.

Will you still have some separation issues? Yes. Will that be hard? YES. Will you be filled with fear, regret, anger, and worry? YES.

But still. She will absolutely fine as long as you are kind and loving to each other and her. 


Good luck, and you may want to seek out a good counselor to help you separate with compassion (if that is the way it will go).

Your Post Points code for today: OP6992

I have practiced attachment parenting, for the most part, with my son since he was born. He is now 2.5. Last week, my son had an accident and broke his arm, and I had to forcibly hold him down for an xray. I felt terrible and still do. Now I feel like our attachment has broken. He doesn't run to me anymore, he doesn't like our morning snuggles, and he has started hitting and scratching me very painfully. It actually really hurts and he has drawn blood. I don't know where to begin here. I feel like I ruined our attachment and traumatized him by having to hold him down like that. Will he ever trust me again?

When my daughter was 3 years old, she broke her collarbone and I had to pin her down for x-rays. It was THE WORST. It took me days to collect myself and a couple of weeks for her to look me the eye. I remember it like it was yesterday. Meanwhile, she's 14 now, and while parenting a teen is rough, our attachment is fine.

Nature is not so feeble that holding down a child for an x-ray will break an attachment. It just isn't. Was it traumatic? Yes. Is your son emotionally hurt? Probably.

But CONSISTENT warm behavior is what leads to good attachment, and you've been that, right? So, TRUST IN YOUR BOND.

And meanwhile, I want you to buckle up. This is only the first time you will cause pain to your child for the greater good. THIS IS PARENTING. This is the hard stuff we must do. I often think of my friend whose daughter has had cancer for the last 8 years. Do you know what this mother has had to do to help her child heal? But this is what life demanded, and their relationship is fine. 

Attachment is not just cuddles and sweetness. Attachment is doing the hard thing to ensure your child's safety and well-being. This lesson was delivered to you, take it in. You will be tested again (and I hope not seriously).

Good luck.

Hi, Meghan. This might seem like a weird question but I was hoping you could give me your thoughts. I found out when I was pregnant with my daughter that her due date was the anniversary of my grandfather's death (my mother's father). He died in a tragic accident when my mom was a young girl. At the time I didn't think much of it because so few babies are actually born on their exact due date, but as luck would have it, she came right on time. My mother was there for the birth. Since then, she has been making a lot of remarks about how much like her late father she is ("She has his exact ears, I swear!") These comments don't bother me at all, and I feel like this dynamic is pretty harmless. But I mentioned it to a friend and she seemed to think it was totally weird and that I needed to put a stop to it. When I asked why she felt that way, she said it was taking away my daughter's identity, that it could affect the way she sees herself when she gets older, and also that it was "just wrong" in general. I think my mother feels a special bond with my daughter through this link with her late father, and I don't want to sever it without reason. What do you think?



Do YOU think your daughter's identity is being stolen from her?That is really all that matters. 

And you do YOU trust yourself to say at some point, "Hey Mom, Adrienne does look like grandpa sometimes, AND she is still her own little girl, right?"

And do YOU trust that this will probably slow down as your baby gets older?

My spidey sense is telling me that your friend has something else going on in her (too many comparisons for her as a child and she is having a reaction to it) and that's her problem. Say, "thanks for that insight! We are okay!" and then stop telling her anything about your mom and your baby.

Am I saying that it's normal and fine to only compare our babies to dead people? No, it can become problematic. Just keep your eyes and ears open and trust yourself.

If you're OK with them roaming, try a photographic scavenger hunt. Give them a digital camera and a list of things to take pictures of: a squirrel, a red flower, five trees in the same shot, a sign with the letter H on it, etc. My kids are homebodies but they are typically up for this and come back with some good stories.

Love this idea. 

Hey all.

Potty training is a nightmare and there are about 400 questions about how to get your kid to poop in a potty.

Easy! You don't.


You cannot force another human to toilet, sleep, or eat. Not without social services getting into it.



1) seek out the good counsel of your pediatrician if you think something is afoot. There ARE bowel problems, etc. that contribute to BM issues.

2) Remember that bowels require that a human be RELAXED (which is why we constipate when we are traveling!). Little kids will often play with their favorite toy or game quietly and then poof, go behind the chair for some privacy. Totally normal.

3) The opposite of relaxation is getting in someone's face and constantly asking if they need to poop and please go sit on the potty. This actually makes humans paranoid. Paranoia = constipation

4) Recognize that many of the timelines we place on our children (pooping in the potty) are not in line with their development. We are adhering to the insurance needs of daycares, preschools, and camps (you need to pay more insurance to change diapers in a school setting, hence many schools don't want to pay and expect children to be potty-trained). THIS IS B.S. of the highest order (pun intended). Recognize that you are ruining the relationship with your child over money. MONEY. It's a head shaker and yet another example of how institutions do not respect the development of children, and instead expect you to buy books and hire experts to PUSH and RUSH your kids. It's complete insanity and it makes me see red. If you have a choice, MAKE ANOTHER ONE.

5) Your mantra must be: THIS CHILD WILL EVENTUALLY POOP IN THE POTTY. The worst of humanity poops in a potty and wipes himself. Practically everyone gets there. So, come on. Take your foot off the gas, go to Costco, buy the diapers (you didn't have kids to save money), pull your big-girl panties up, and stop worrying about this.

6) Keep a smiling and calm face with your child. The more your child sees you NOT freaking out, the more your child will relax and the more poop moves out on it's own.

7) Recognize you make things worse with too many plans, charts, strategies, and rewards. 

Good luck.

I never write in, always lurk, but that question prompted this response: my wife and I have both have blue eyes; hers are light, mine are darker, with some green and gold. When our son was born, the color of his eyes was (and remains) exactly like my grandmother's eyes, who passed away exactly one month before he was born. Coincidence? Possibly. But to me, whenever I look into his wonderful eyes, I see my grandmother, who I adored and miss horribly.

Yes....beautiful. And thank you for sharing.

I come from a large extended family with lots of very close resemblances (we're Irish-American) and I grew up with this sort of remark. We all seem to have healthy self-images. I can see where it'd get tiresome to some kids, but I find it hard to believe it's anything to worry about -- UNLESS the OP's mother starts treating subsequent grandchildren differently. In other words, watch for favoritism, not identity-stealing.

Me too (the irish american thing). I look so much like my mom, it's creepy. And everyone has told me that FOREVER.

Beyond eye-rolling, it hasn't hurt me and now, I love it (because I love my mom).

Watch for favoritism, not identity-stealing (WELL PUT).

To who ever it was that mentioned a wet brush in your previous chat...Thank you so so much! I have a energetic toddler. She does not enjoy her hair being brushed, especially after the bath. This brush has made quite a difference! Thank you again!


Thank you all for joining us today. Come again Aug. 15, and check out Meghan's weekly columns at washingtonpost.com/onparenting.  Sign up for our newsletter here, we're in Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. All the things. Have a great day and talk to you all soon. 

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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