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

Aug 13, 2014

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

Welcome everyone. Meghan Leahy, our new parenting advice columnist, is here to answer all your pressing parenting questions. Imagine that... free advice! A bunch of questions are already lined up, but there's time for you, too, so ask away. Let's get started...

Our adorable 14 month old has recently morphed from a baby into a toddler and began asserting lots of opinions and independence. This is obviously an important developmental change and we're rolling with it, but one big challenge has been his recently developed habit of biting us (me and my husband). He doesn't seem to bite kids/teachers at daycare, so I know he can control himself, but at home he bites us regularly. It doesn't usually seem malicious (though sometimes it is during diaper change, which he has decided is odious), but it often just transitions from a big kiss into a bite. We are currently just saying "no bite" and lightly putting our hands on his mouth to give him a physical (but non-painful) cue, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Any other ideas? I'm pretty tired of being bitten 20 times a day.

Ahhhh mama! I love this baby!  This is all very very normal.

When you say he can control himself...weeeeell, no, not really.

He is biting his closest attachments...so this a little like, "my love spilleth over" kind of thing.

Let's look at what he has available to him to communicate...

- smiling

- eye contact

- hitting

- kicking

- saying no

- biting

- hugging

- throwing stuff

- pointing at stuff


Ummmm, what else?  There are not a whole lot of choices that are NOT physical.  Biting is another tool in the toolbox, and it IS an antecedent to language.

You are handling it beautifully!  Try to anticipate when he gets "bite-y" and just keep him away from your arms!  :)

In all serious, just hang in...this will most likely be a cute memory within months, maybe even weeks.

How do I help prepare my son, who will be 4.5 at the time, for a deployment. His father will be away in a dangerous place for at least 9 months. What can I do now, if anything, before he leaves, and then how do I protect his heart and mind after Daddy is gone to help him through it day by day until Dada is back?

First of all, your family gets a deep namaste bow from me.  Thank you for your family's service.

Ugggg, I know you must be dreading this.  I am dreading it for you.

Here is the thing with a 4.5 year old.  He is going to miss his father like crazy, and your only job is to facilitate the connection between the two of them, and keep your connection to your son air-tight.

You DON'T need to tell your son that his father is somewhere dangerous, this will panic his young brain unnecessarily.  Your key messages are:  "Daddy loves you so much.  He is in a busy place, working hard, and we will get to _________ (fill in how you will communicate with him).  No matter how far away Daddy is, he loves you and you love him."

When your son cries, do not distract or talk him out of his tears.  The sadness is appropriate and normal.  Go ahead and give those feelings wide berth...we all need them.

As the mom and wife, PLEASE get support from other parents who are in the same situation.  There is so much support out there, and if your son can meet other children who have a parent away, he will see that others feel like he does!

Good luck, God Speed to your husband, you can do this!

Hi Meghan, We have 3 children and are having some struggle with our middle child (and only boy) who is 7. He is very active and all boy. We constantly struggle with his behavior at home and in social settings (no big issues at school). At home, he is very antagonistic with his younger sister (she's 3 and not an innocent party). For example, he can't just walk by her...has to give her a little push or touch her in some way which then sets her off. He does things all the time to annoy both sisters on purpose (even after one of them asks nicely for him to stop). I feel like we are so negative with him, always saying no and stop....but I don't know how to get him to listen so we can have some more positive interaction! He is also sweet, caring, and sensitive and we make a big effort to praise the positive when we see it. With 3 kids (9, 7, and 3) it seems 2 play very well together and one is usually left out...and it's either him or the youngest. He has a very hard time when the other 2 are playing nicely and basically jumps in and wreaks havoc which again, causes us to intervene negatively towards him. I would love some tips on how to help be more positive with him and encourage sibling harmony with 3 kids as well. Thanks so much!

Ah, this sounds like a good case of "time to go back to school!"

No, but really...this son needs some loving attention stat.  The majority of attention paid to him is negative, and it sounds like everyone in the family is conditioned to him being the trouble-maker. 

He is 9..the beginning of the lovely tween years.

Parents of 9 year old's need to start to readjusting their expectations and find new ways to communicate with this older child.

I am also wondering...is he bored?  Does he need some work?  Make sure the connection is tight before giving jobs though...


My 5 1/2 year old daughter loves to play. She would rather play than watch tv, or color, or ride her bike or pretty much anything. She will play with ROCKS if she gets to make up a story and use her imagination. I love this about her! So, my question...she wants me to play with her. A. Lot. And I know some day she'll be 16 and won't want anything to do with me and I'll miss these days but right now...well, it gets old, let's be honest. But she's an only child so it's really only me. What is the right balance between playing with your child versus encouraging them to play by themselves? (Which just doesn't sound that fun for anyone.) Thanks!

Ahhh, the 'ol "my child will leave one day so I better stare at them and play with them endlessly" guilt trip.  This is one of my favorites for myself!

Seriously, yes...your child will leave you AND if you want to play with her, go ahead and do it. And when you don't want to/have something else to do/are sick of stacking rocks...then don't.

Sounds crazy, doesn't?  Just listening to your instincts like that?

There are no rules for this...

Just stop reacting to your guilt and see what happens.  You sound like a great parent and I bet that you will make the right decisions, 75% of the time.  (that is pretty good).

Meghan, I love you on Facebook and am so excited to ask you my question! Our biggest battles revolve around getting my 5yo daughter to clean up her play room, which is really a section of our open-plan kitchen/living room. So, I can't ignore it when the tornadoes have been through, and eventually the stuff overflows into the kitchen and underfoot. We have a lot of trouble getting her to tidy as she goes, even though she has gone to a Montessori school where putting things away is part of the curriculum since age 2. She's a model citizen at school. Every other Tuesday (the night before the cleaning crew comes) we usually have a battle royale. Daughter wants "help" cleaning her room, which I'm usually OK to give, except what she does is dawdle around and get me to do all the work. If I stop doing everything for her, she starts wailing "no one ever helps me." She's very willful so it's hard to get through to her. I don't yell because that clearly doesn't work either. We just get really frustrated and exhausted.

Okay, what is sticking out to me:

1)  open space for play (mess always in sight, making you crazy)

2)  same battle, every week.

3) tidy-up as she goes?

4)"model citizen at school"

5) Drags feet until you do it.

Okkkkay.  Let's look at this.

So, it is not developmentally normal for a 5 yo to clean up as she goes...so let's let that go.

I have a nutty idea.  Let's just STOP THIS.  Like, totally let it go (cue Idina, as usual).

Just assume these cleaning responsibilities.  (I can FEEL your eyes popping out.  Hang in there with me.)

Here's the thing, you are kind of doing it anyway, so let's cut the drama out.

Also, when you take of her needs (clean), she may start to relax.  When she relaxes, she becomes more amenable to actually cooperating.

I am not saying that this will go on forever...she will have to clean up some stuff...I am just saying, go ahead and take care of her...fully.  See what happens.

This past year there were several kids in his class that may have had impulse control issues, so he was exposed to these kids calling people (including the teachers) names and not keeping hands to themselves. My son started to call my husband and I names, ususally when he does not get his way or is being disciplined. Our first response was to ignore the name calling in hopes it would go away. When the behavior did not disappear we told him not to talk that way and then devised [occasional, probably not consistent enough ...] consequences like no dessert after dinner or no television. We pulled him out of pre-school a little early this summer in hopes that he would no longer be exposed to name calling, etc. and that his name calling would fizzle out. Our son continues to call us inappropriate names ("butt sandwich", "poopy diaper face", etc.) when he is mad at us, like when we are insisting he follow the rules. My husband tends to escalate it, "We told you not to say that, so no dessert tomorrow." "You are still calling me names? Then no stuffed animals tonight either..." "Still calling me names, just keep it up buddy and you will have nothing fun to do..." It like the two are having a contest.


Firstly, "Butt Sandwich" may be the best thing I have heard today.  I cannot stop giggling.  Butt Sandwich.

I am also guessing that some of the other parents think your son is the one with impulse control issues (since EVERY SINGLE CHILD THIS AGE HAS THEM), so let's take it easy with the pointing of fingers...they tend to come back to you.

He may have learned the words at school, but it is continuing at home.

I applaud you for take him out early, very leader of you, so let's bring that strong leadership a step forward.

Firstly, all this "taking away" isn't working, so STOP.  Immediately.

In fact, when he "Butt Sandwich-ing" you (giggle), that is when you hug him, and say, "time for dessert!"

You are going to love and guide him right through this mess.

Stop taking is so seriously.  They are words, he feels powerful...so what?  Really.  So what?  Are you and your hubby really offended by Butt Sandwich?  It is going to worse (probably, at different points in your life), so we gotta let this go.

And your son needs you to DEEPLY connect with him and completely SKIP the behavior.

Love him MORE when he is like this.

Stop growing the drama with the punishments (which we are calling consequences), and see where he shines.

Be the leader!


Hi Meghan. My 8-year-old son has suddenly become very sassy. It's not the eye rolling "you're-so-dumb" kind of sass that my daughter started at this age but more of a "smart ass" kind of attitude that we can tell he's using to also try to be funny and get attention. (Using curse words or off-color jokes.) So far, we've been ignoring him and walking away, or I'll say, "I don't do X for people who talk to me that way. Let me know when you can speak to me respectfully," but he's still doing it, and it makes him incredibly annoying to be around. Any suggestions? Thank you!

Easy.  Stop saying everything you are saying.


It puts him utterly in charge of the relationship.

Love him MORE when he is a little "smart-ass-y."

It sends the message of, "Hey, I am the adult here and I am not intimated by this.  I am in charge and I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT."

Use humor, be patient, find the good.  Repeat until your life on this Earth ends.  :)

Help! My 22 month old and I are in the middle of a power struggle and I don't know what to do. I am trying to teach him not to bang his forks and spoons on the (new) dining table so he doesn't put dings in it. But he keeps doing it. He will look me right in the eye and start banging after I've asked him to stop. I'll take the fork/spoon away and he has a total meltdown. Every night. Sometimes I give it back after a discussion about not banging...only for him to bang again. What should I do? Move him to a kid's table to bang to his heart's content?

Congrats, you have a healthy child!

Making this stop in a couple of easy steps:

1)  Place a cover over the table so he cannot hurt it

2)  Acknowledge that the "no" is so exciting to his brain, so the more you say, the more he will do it."

3)  Acknowledge that the strong eye contact means to him, "Oh wow, Mom is TOTALLY on board with this.  KEEP GOING."

4)  Acknowledge that discussions and two year old's are like the Peanuts teacher, "waaa waaa, wa waaa wa waaaa waaaaaa."  No meaning.

5)  Acknowledge this will stop.  Get a healthy sense of humor, get busy doing something else, and know there will be a day where you WISH this was your problem.  LOL.  No seriously.  You will.

And I LOVE your idea.  YES, absolutely move him to a table and let him bang away...that is him....GROWING.  Really!


As an aunt who is concerned but can't participate in the young man's daily life: how should we support him? His grades are good, but he's out of the house as much as he can. He's acting spiteful and angry to his mom. Not to us. He's much unhappier than his newly divorced mother realizes. She's ecstatic about dating the man she rekindled a college friendship with over the year preceding her quickie divorce. It's a long distance romance, so when the boy's dad has custody she travels out of town. When at home, she brings the boyfriend to stay with her and her son for 3-10 days at a stretch. We wince. I can't say why, except it all seems too soon. Ex-husband is still feeling betrayed and bitter 10 months later. Couple's adult children and step children live elsewhere but are unsettled. Grandparents, upset, perhaps because they did tons to help her and the older kids through the mother's previous divorce. (Her first ex left her single but wealthy when the kids were early teens.) The only cheerful person is the boy's mother, except when her family aren't sufficiently "happy for her" and seem reluctant to want to get to know her boyfriend. I admit she's right. If it matters, mother is 58. Older kids, 26-30. Boy 15. Please help us say and do the right things for the 15-yo and his older siblings for that matter.

Uggg, uggg, uggg.

Say the right things?  Well....hmmmm.  No.  There are right things to say here.

You care and you wince because you see all the levels of pain.  And there are LAYERS and LEVELS here.

The main problem is that the adults are not taking their adult roles very seriously.

The ONLY thing (and this is everything; life-changing, life-altering, life-saving), you can do is BE THERE for this boy.

What does that look like?

1)  Be a safe place for him to express to rage, sadness, and disgust.  Be the person who holds it for him...who will not leave or react.  That is safety.

2)  Be solid, on time, and loving.  Skype, phone calls, time away with you, ANYTHING will add up to being an adult he can count on.

3)  Offer loving support with STRONG boundaries to his mother and father.  This means that you want to be allies with them, while still advocating for the young man.  This is hard work, go easy.

4) Know and believe everyone can make it out of this.  Be the hope.  Be the life raft.  Be the light at the end of tunnel.

5)  Ice cream.  Be the aunt that takes him to ice cream.


Confused. By making a show of greater positive attentiveness wouldn't the parent be reinforcing this behavior? If your advice is to trivialize the impact wouldn't just ignoring it work better?

Ummmm, yes.

So, rather than focusing on what we ignore, reframe it as what we want to grow....and then water the heck out of that.

Does that make sense?

your answer about the middle child is good, but I think you read it wrong - he is 7, not 9; his older sister is 9.

Sorry!  Thank you.

My 20 month old son just won't stop throwing food. There is no rhyme or reason to it, either. Sometimes it's when he's finished, but more often he will keep eating if he's given more/replacement food. It can be something he loves or has never had before. It is the food, the sippy cup, his fork, his plate, anything and everything is a potential flying object. We've tried ending his meal after a throw, but I worry about him not eating enough. What can we do to curb this highly irritating habit?

This is tiring, annoying, and normal.

In most cases, a hungry child eats.  So, you can safely assume that he is finished when he throws it on the ground.

So, just keep your cool (HARD WORK) and take the food.

He will replace this behavior with something else annoying soon enough, so keep your sense of humor!


I am LOVING your style! I'm not the mom who asked, but I totally agree about not making a big deal out of "Butt Sandwich." I use the same approach...but, my big fear is when he starts calling OTHERS Butt Sandwich. Am I then the bad mom who doesn't discipline her kid?

LOL, I cannot stop giggling.  Seriously.  If my little one called someone a butt sandwich, I would act horrified, apologize to the offended, move the child along...and then laugh hysterically with my hubs later.

Butt Sandwich.

Don't deal in fears.  If something hasn't happened yet, let it go (once again, cue Idina).

OK, I'm willing to do the cleaning up, so long as I'm not doing it for her forever. But what age is developmentally appropriate to be responsible for one's own stuff and environment? Maybe I'm not a good measure, I was doing my own laundry for as long as I remember.

I don't know. Look at the Earth, so far we suck pretty bad at taking care of our stuff and environment.

Rather than the age dictate the learning...see this as:  How can I create an environment where my daughter WANTS to help.

TOTALLY different perspective, right? 

But, so much more liberating.

How can I get my sister, who frequently passes gas in front of my 2 sons ages 11 and 13, to stop? I have asked her numerous times to show restraint, but she simply laughs it off. Thank you.

Sneak Beano into coffee?

Hi Meghan, thanks so much. Just to clarify, our middle son is 7- not quite entering the tween years. Also any tips for dealing with the 3's a crowd scenario?

Prepare for an unpopular comment here:

You may need to monitor the kids more, not less.

I know, I know. 

I can not wait to share Butt Sandwich with my 3 kids tonight - they are 4, 4 and 6 so I will regret it later. But tonight will be hilarious!! Thanks for this chat!

Have a great remainder of the week, all!

You can "like" us on Facebook at On Parenting to read the latest. Right now, we're all abuzz with a piece about the lack of maternity leave and an insightful essay from a mom with depression and anxiety.

Thanks for the guidance, Meghan!

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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