On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Aug 14, 2019

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

Hello, all, and welcome to another chat with our wonderful parenting advice columnist, Meghan Leahy. We are inching toward another school year here in the D.C. area, but I know lots of people are already back. It's always tough to say goodbye to the more relaxed scheduled that summer presents in our house.


Meghan's most recent column answered a question from the parent of a stubborn and difficult toddler. Read it here. Amy is out today, but Meghan is here and there are lots of questions waiting, so let's get down to business.

Why do people feel comfortable telling you that you need to have more than one child? My wife and I have a 4 year old who is amazing. However, we live far from any family, and given given the cost of child care, we are likely to only have her (we agree on this, though both of us wish we could have more than one). Yet from friends to coworkers to family we get guilt tripped into that fact that she will grow up "alone." In a perfect world we would likely try to have another child, but since most quality child care in the DC area is upwards of 20k a year we're scared off of it. I realize that might sound petty or ridiculous to someone of economic privilege or who lives in a cheaper area. But we're not wealthy and have jobs that really can't be transferred outside of DC area. Are we destroying our daughter's life by not having another?

This seems to be a common refrain, and in fact lots of parents are finding themselves in this position. Here is a link to a recent story by my colleague Caitlin Gibson about the rise of the only child (only-child families are the fastest-growing family unit in the United States at the moment).

Your reasons for not having another child are completely your own, and if they suit your life and family...your reasons are valid. Period. Full stop. Done and done.

As far as I can tell, people with siblings are as much of a mess as people without sibs, but if you want to send yourself on a head-trip, you can find all the data that supports whatever you want to believe. Want to prove that your four year old will be miserable and alone? There are studies for that. Want to prove that your only child will be a step ahead in life? There are studies that prove that, too.

If you want another child, you will do it (despite money and everything else). If you feel good about your family, you will do that.

Whenever people talk to you about they think you should do, they are talking about themselves; it has nothing to do with you. Remember that.


Last weekend our 3.5-year-old got mad at us and said, "I don't want to be part of this family! I want to be alone!" A couple of days later he spit at me and hit me when I was putting him down for a nap. All those people who say that parenting is magical are SO right! (eye roll emoji) #blessed!

And what is really funny?

One day, you will be out shopping alone and you will see a three year old being sassy with his mom and you will smile, remembering the perfection of your child. Parenting comes with some kind of amnesia.

The good news? Your little one is breaking you in for the bigger comments as he gets older...it all makes sense, in the larger scheme of things. He is also calling on you to find your loving and firm boundaries.

Ah, parenting, ain't it grand? 

OP2863 is your Post Points code for this week.

My daughter will be 2 in September and has some big changes coming up - including a little sibling arriving in January. She is showing signs of being ready to move from her crib to a bed - she asked for a pillow, wants to lay down in her crib instead of snuggling in her glider before bed. We have a bed ready to go at home, but we’ve been holding off until the end of summer because she sleeps in a pack n play at our lake house, which is currently the only safe option there. She also uses a pacifier for nighttime and naps, which I would like to wean her from. She is also showing interest in potty training. We have a potty chair for her and put her on it when she asks, but haven’t made a plan for actually potty training her. Is there a ‘right’ order to do this and how much space do we need to give to each transition? I’m leery of too many big changes too soon, but she seems ready for everything except losing the pacifier.

1. Don't take away her pacifier. It is soothing and she will need that as she transitions to a new sibling. Unless you really want to.

2. Don't put her in a bed unless you never want to sleep again. I would have two kids in two cribs. Unless you really want to put her in a bed.

3. Don't potty train her unless you want to launder clothes forever. Put out some little potties and see what happens. Unless you really want to try to potty train her.

As you can see, I am not a big fan of pushing or taking things away for abstract reasons or out of fear. 

My 6-year-old is NOT a morning person. She never has been. This is great on weekends! It’s not so great during the school week, when we have to get some place roughly on time. We’ve tried sticker charts and they’re just not motivating for her. Sleeping in school clothes sometimes helps. How do we get to school in a timely manner, without crying or yelling? Any hints or things to try are very welcome!

Awww man, from one non-morning person to another (your daughter), I feel her.

Ironically, what non-morning people (and kids) often need is a tiny bit more time in the morning. This can be impossible to imagine, but one of the issues with crabby morning people is that they have low-blood sugar and do not like being rushed. Creating more time in the morning enables your daughter to acclimate without feeling rushed or pushed along, and while it seems basic, eating with children is a total game-changer when it comes to moods in the morning. Why? Sustained attention, slowing down, smiling, and chatting helps children feel connected and relaxed, and every human transitions a little better when they are relaxed.

I would not look for a "no-tears" situation here. I would simply welcome her upset and keep the ball rolling. "Yes, it is hard to leave." "Yes, I would prefer to stay in jammies all day, too." Saying these things WHILE you move her out the door side-steps the cheerleading and problem-solving parents tend to do (Which almost always make everything worse).

Finally, stay focused on her strengths and any growth. As the year progresses, take note of ANY morning that goes better and make mention of it.We want to show her that change is possible while respecting and accepting her temperament. Both are possible.

Hi Meghan, Even though I'm not a parent, I absolutely LOVE your columns and your understanding of children and advice. I'm working on a project I want to try out with a school that involves listening and empathizing with another person. My question: at what age can a child grasp the concept of empathy? I've read that it begins at months-old and by 5, they begin to grasp that another has feelings, but it isn't until 9 or 10 that they really "get it." I'd love your take on at what age a child could realistically begin to sit down in a 1-1 conversation and grasp this concept. Thank you! Barbara

Huh...thanks for the note and interesting question.

If we look at development as both building blocks and utterly spontaneous (it is both), empathy begins as soon as a child locks eyes with another human after birth. Those mirror neurons start to fire and they go wild for years as the child's brain grow. These safe and loving early attachments are so important that, in their absence, children won't become empathic (or not to their fullest potential). 

So, what's interesting is that, yes, around 4-5 they begin to show a true appreciation for another person perspective...but this is NOT guaranteed as part of the development process. And depending on the child's temperament, exposure to trauma, other environmental factors, and any other brain or physical issues...empathy can come sooner or later in a person's life.

Empathy CAN be learned (they never thought so) due to the neuroplasticity of the brain, but let's face it...it is much easier to grow it from the start than try to install it later! 

Where adults really get stuck is when they force children to SAY things and then expect that the scripts turn into empathy. It is true that giving children words can be immensely helpful, but just because you give a person crutches to walk doesn't mean his leg is healed...and yet forward progress it forward progress.

Anyway, I think the gentleman who has written the Dandelion and the Orchid has some interesting things to say on this subject and knows WAY more than I do!

I'm having a lot of anxiety over my child's teacher next year, a male at the school. The anxiety stems from reading about sexual abuse: it seems that at least once a year, if not more, there's a story about a male teacher or aide sexually abusing a child at school. School should be a protected place but it's not always the case. How can I 1) not project this anxiety on my child but 2) empower my kid about their body? We've done a lot of talking about who can touch their body but never about what to do in a situation. I don't want to scare them but I also am fearing the worst.

I get it.

We desperately need compassionate male teachers in a female-dominated field, but the 24-7 news cycle can keep you thinking that every man out there is a pedophile.

And while it is true that children are overwhelmingly abused by people they know, you are going to have to tap into your intuition here (over instinct...which is more fear-based). When you get scared, ask yourself is this is due to something you see in him or a story in your head? If you feel a deep unease in your belly, if your hair stands up, if you have a spidey-sense that something isn't right, then you do something. Otherwise:

1. Stop watching the news or taking in news that highlights these issues. You are simply feeding your anxiety.

2. The best way to keep a child safe is to be honest with them about their bodies and sex. Use real terms, and describe WHO is allowed to touch those parts (himself and a doctor with a parent in the room). There is no sure-fire way to protect our children, but people who hurt kids use their ignorance and fear to groom them.

3. Get to know the teacher! Volunteer, get in the room, be helpful. You need to combat your anxious stories with reality.

4. If your anxiety gets worse, seek help. Sexual abuse is REAL and it is awful and yet, as parents, we need to parent with strength, not from fear.

Every parent will swear to you that what they're doing is the "only right way" - my friend who had her children 5 years apart swears by that, my friend who kept her children out of school under 1st grade, my friend who didn't go back to work, my friend who DID go back to work. When they question my parenting decision I just say, "Interesting question." then move right into another topic, "So where are we going to lunch?" YOU are the only one who knows your situation. So you get to listen to all information/advice given then choose what works best for YOUR family. No justification necessary.

What is a good response to people who keep telling me that I will change my mind about not wanting children? I’ve never felt the mater al urge and have decided not to have kids but I keep hearing that I’ll change my mind. My mind hasn’t changed in 20 years and in my mind it would be far worse to bring an unwanted child into to this world.

MY mother has the best response when people say stupid things to her: She just says, "Oh."

Not in a way that invites more conversation, either.

She says it in a way where there is NO WHERE TO GO WITH IT.

She keeps saying OH until the person shuts up and walks away or get uncomfortable and changes the subject.

When people say dumb things to me, I smile and say, "Thank you for your opinion on my life."

It is hard for me to make friends, obvs.

That's all for this week. Thanks for joining us, and check back Aug. 28 for Meghan's next online chat. In the meantime, find more advice, essays and parenting news here.

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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