On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Aug 15, 2018

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

Hi, all, and thanks for joining us. I'm filling in for Amy today. Meghan's most recent column is about helping a 3-year-old cope with fear and feel safe. We also have a lovely essay today from a mom whose child is medically fragile. When they took him home from the NICU, she was taught how to take care of his medical needs. But she needed to learn how to be his mother, too. And this great list of movies all parents should watch with their teens. OK, Meghan is here and there are questions galore waiting, so let's get to it!

Do you know of any parenting classes that could help me with disciplining my 3 1/2 year old? I live in Virginia.

I love the Parent Encouragement Program. They are based in MD, but run classes in VA and also have online classes.

I love The Neufeld Institute, too. 

Today's Post Points code: OP7796.

I have a 3-year-old daughter who has always been very attached to her mother, who breastfed her until she was almost 2. The only way for her to sleep at that time was to feed, and for some time after that finished we could only get her to sleep in the car. Eventually we were able to put her to sleep, in our bed, by reading stories to her, but to this date she will only sleep with her mother there. Even when I read to her, she won't relax with me, and she'll just jump out of bed and look for her mother. We've tried setting a routine, with the hopes that she will wind down and go to sleep (no luck!), but ultimately my wife has to lie down with her (in her own room now) and read to her and tell her stories, etc. This is basically the end of the day for us, as she often falls asleep before the child, so we have no time to ourselves ever in the evening. I have a good relationship with my daughter the rest of the time, and sometimes she's convinced that she wants me to put her down, until she suddenly decides she needs her mother, and then she screams until mommy appears. My wife especially is tired of this situation, but she's reluctant to try any conventional "sleep training" techniques, so we just go on like this. I've suggested her leaving us overnight to work it out, but that makes her anxious so we never actually do it. It's putting a real strain on our marriage. Strangely enough, she has no problem napping at daycare, where they have a mandated nap, but she won't nap at home ever, unless she's really exhausted, which rarely happens. I suppose it has to do with all the other kids napping, so she just goes with the flow, but I don't understand why she refuses to sleep alone, or even with me, at night at home.

So, in family therapy, there is this term called "enmeshment." It often means that there is an over-attachment between parent and child; a neediness.

When I started studying with The Neufeld Institute (where they specialize in the intersection of development and attachment), Dr. Neufeld describes this instead as an "insecure attachment." He posits that you cannot be too attached to another human, but you can be insecurely attached, resulting in neediness rather than relaxation.

All of this to say: You are all in are a little bit of a pickle (which you know).

There is no avoiding tears when it comes to this situation (from both your daughter and wife), nor will it fix itself quickly but you can get her to sleep on her own!

The first thing we have to understand is that it is normal for her to want to be physically near her mom. Even though she is working hard to possess her, your daughter is biologically programmed to want to be close to those to whom she is attached. So, repeat this: she is normal.

Secondly, we have to accept that the power dynamic is upside down in the relationship. She is charge of getting your attention and is commanding and demanding you. I am not suggesting that you start bossing her around, but I am suggesting that a three year old cannot be in charge of you. Taking back the power from a child who has held it forever will not be pretty, and it will not happen overnight.

Thirdly, everyone needs to accept that there will be messy, messy feelings here. The tantrums will be epic and there aren't "five easy ways" to take the power back here. I know the fear of the tears can be paralyzing, but you will have to find your courage, every single day.

Please do not just leave her for the night or lock her in a room or go to the other extreme (this is cruel and I don't think you would, but just in case). 

The plan is that you are going to chip away at her power by taking it back.

During the waking hours, your wife should take every opportunity to be the one in control, giving the directions, and leading the connection. Their attachment should be on her terms, not the child's. This is actually subtle, but hugely important. It begins to relax the child. She is no longer panicked to keep seeking the mom if the mom is right there, strongly in charge. 

There needs to be LOTS of eye contact, smiling, and cuddling.

At night, go ahead and have the mother put her in bed and then VISIT her until she is quiet. Do not wait until the little girl gets out of her bed and seeks you.

This may be a long process, I don't know. The goal is to keep her in her bed, have to stop popping up, and eventually transfer the power to you.

I would recommend a professional to help you, someone like me :) 

This work can be exhausting and demoralizing.

But it CAN get better.


My one year old son is getting ready to transition to a completely new daycare. I'm having trouble finding advice about how to make this transition as stress-free as possible for all of us. We're doing a new teacher & classmate meet and greet this month--but that's only for a few hours.

Ready? GO!

1) Get pictures of the daycare providers, print them out and laminate them. Show the picture to your son often with the names! Sounds like a pain in the tookus, but it works!

2) Have a rotating set of lovies that smell like you and home and keep them close to him at daycare. Smell is our most primitive sense and it will relax him.

3) Make a picture book of your fam and home and pet (etc.) and send it in to daycare.

4) When you are at daycare (EVERYTIME), make strong eye contact with providers while you hold your son. Hug the providers, laugh and touch them (if this is okay with them). Tis signals to the baby the providers are part of your tribe. This won't work perfectly, but overtime it makes a difference.

5) Be ready for a time of even more neediness and cuddles, etc. More book reading, snuggles, tickeling and giggling will be in order.


Good luck!


Hi, Meghan, thanks for taking my question. I have an 11 year old daughter and a 9 year old son. We were required by her school to purchase a laptop last year for my daughter. This really brought computer/technology use into the forefront of our home life because suddenly the kids could download and play games with their friends, when before they had not had that ability. Now access to the iPad and computer is the constant point of contention almost daily. We impose limits, they sneak on to the screens when we're not looking. When my son is told he can't be on his sister's laptop or on an old iPad (it has no games--he is literally able to do nothing on it besides browse the app store!), he sobs for several minutes, says we hate him, we'd be happier if he ran away, etc. To me, it seems like a classic example of an addict ("I just need to get my daily reward on Roblox!"), which is exactly what the designers want, but totally opposite of what I think is in their best interests. So what do we do? How do you propose handling access to technology for older kids?

I could give you a million ideas, but go take this class.

It will force you and your partner to get on the same page and give you a clear plan of attack for the year.

It is worth every dollar.

How should one handle intrusive questions/comments about having a more "free range" parenting style? My husband and I give our extremely mature 12 year old more freedom than many of the parents in our community (she stays home some days without a sitter and lets herself in after school until we get home). Every child is different and she is thriving and gaining confidence as she matures. I am not afraid of being blunt about it not being someone's business, but I would like a polite way to derail the conversation. It happens so often that I don't want to waste time debating it with someone else who disagrees. Everyone needs to do what is best for their own family. I do say this sometimes but it doesn't really stop the debate. Thoughts?

Methinks that you bring it up too much if it is a topic of conversation this much. OR you live in a bizarro neighborhood full of paranoid parents.

But I am left wondering: why do so many neighbors know your business?

In any case, all you need to say is, "This works for our family. Say, how was your summer? You went to Maine, right?"

People generally always want to talk about themselves, so this always works.

But there is only a debate if your participate. Stop offering information about your family.


I'm wondering what is the appropriate level and expectation of chores for a 6.5 year old (first grader)? My daughter lately has been getting up in the morning and changing her 18 month old brother's diaper. On the one hand, this is very helpful for those mornings that the baby wake up before me, but on the other hand, I don't know if it gives her a false maternal sense, and is "fun" so I should 't encourage her. Also this summer, I've been trying to get her to put away the silverware from the dishwasher and fold the cloth napkins. She has also started doing her own laundry (at her own request). I'm torn between wanting her to be a helpful family member and wondering if I expecting too much? Is there a difference between the chores I want her to do (silverware, putting away laundry, putting away her toys), and the ones that she wants to do (taking care of her brother, doing her own laundry)? I guess my priority is that she is consistent and can do chores unprompted, even when she doesn't feel like doing them. I don't want chores to just be me outsourcing household tasks, but rather a way of teaching her routine and responsibility. My husband says I am expecting too much at this age. I kind of think, if not now, when?


I am going to say this with love. A LOT OF LOVE.

You need to chill. Like, A LOT.

You are overthinking this 100,000% and it is not good for you.

If your daughter wants to change a diaper, great. Don't overthink it.

As for the rest of it, start a little chore chart (create it together) and have her choose. While I find some of these excessively fussy, the ideas are fun!

She sounds like a wonderful little self-starter, so keep shoveling her the independence here. Please, do not find problems where there are none. Keep this organic. 

Thank you for taking my question. I have a 7 year old girl, who is afraid to be alone. She has always been anxious, and we have been able to get her to sleep in her bed before (with a prize after a couple of successful nights), and it seemed like we were making progress. However recently she went back into sleeping into her twin brothers bed, as well as gotten worse where she won’t go upstairs to her own room by herself, she won’t go to the bathroom with the door closed, and she won’t do anything without someone else with her. When we talked to her about this, she said she was afraid of “murderers”. We have been trying to get to where she got this idea, and we are guessing that she is watching videos with friends and they went down a rabbit hole and heard some things that she can’t quite process or are misinterpreting. We have restricted the viewing of videos try to curb any future things from happening. But what do we do now? We don’t live in a big house and our mornings are quite chaotic with school, not having her be able to get dressed by herself is a real challenge for everyone involved. What can we do? Is there professional help we can get? Thanks.

Yes, it may be time for a good play therapist. 

They may have to give her a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis for insurance purposes, but don't fret. It is normal for children to have worries that spiral and she can be helped.

Whoever you pick, be sure:

They are a PLAY therapist. 

They work with YOU.

Your daughter LIKES the therapist.

And you keep normalizing this issue with your daughter.

This CAN get better!

Our rising freshman has decided that he doesn't want to take band, due to a new marching band requirement at the high school. We've tried persuasion and taking away electronics but he's not budging (and my husband's not budging on being in band)and refuses to practice his instrument and learn the music. The first practice is next week, and I don't know how to resolve this problem between 2 stubborn men. Help

I don't get it. Your kid doesn't want to be in band and your husband is refusing to allow him to quit?

If I am reading this right, your husband needs to stop the pushing, stat. Never, in the history of adolescence, has a teen been pushed into something like this and it has gone well.


Here's the deal: you may have spent thousands of dollars and hours on an instrument with your son. You may have a vision of him being first chair in a symphony. I don't know.

But, this is his life, not yours.

He gets to decide if he wants to quit the instrument.

YOUR role is sitting down with him and fully doing a "pro's and con's" list that TEACHES him how to think through a decision. 

You want to highlight that there is almost always a grey area, that there is a win and a loss to giving something up.

But, how do you know he doesn't want to pursue something else? Robotics club? Or a sport?

I mean, can we let the kid live? Or is he supposed to stay in band until he dies?

I know your hubs is disappointed, and that's okay. It's okay to feel that sting, but he has to move on. He had his high school experience, your son gets to have his.

can a child that has been diagnosed as on the spectrum after a couple of years no longer be on the spectrum

Sure, you can diagnose a child with just about anything at any time.

Time for a second opinion?

What are some suggestions for handling situations where grade school children refuse to help out around the house? (Not wanting to do their chores, pick up toys, etc)

It's either that you are not connected to your children (and they don't want to cooperate for you) or you are not organized (and just scream at them haphazardly) or both.

What do you think it is?

I am seven months pregnant and I am debating staying home after I have my first baby. I am lucky that this is something that we could afford to do, but I'm not sure how to make sure that this is the right decision for our family. Do you have any recommendations? Will I know after the baby comes? Most of my friends say I should keep working just in case.

Sit down with partner and do this:

1) work out the money: 3 years, 6 years, 12 years, 20 years. This means daycare and salary and the whole thing

2) ask your spouse what he or she thinks about YOU staying home

3) Check out your community for support 

4) Do you have any friends who are staying home? (it helps)

5) KNOW THIS: no decision is permanent. You can go back to work and then quit. You can quit and then go back (although that seems like the harder of the two). The point is: this is not a forever decision.

Good luck.

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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