On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Aug 19, 2020

Meghan Leahy, parenting coach and author, joined On Parenting editor Amy Joyce to talk about parenting children of all ages.

Morning to you all! We have a lot of questions awaiting Meghan, so she's looking through them now. Remember that if she doesn't answer yours, she may use it for a column, where she can answer more deeply. 

Here are Meghan's latest columns.

And have you heard? Her book, Parenting Outside the Lines, is out! 

Okay, here we go... 

There's so much bickering with my 4-and-a-half year old. Everything goes back and forth. I know I should just end the conversation, but saying "i'm done talking about it" just results in a retort of "well, I'M done talking about it" followed by a tantrum. The biggest one is how all of his toys/towers need to be in a specific spot (which is always in the way). If someone accidentally knocks down a tower (even if it's himself), it's "YOU have to fix it now, whoever knocked it over has to put it back, i'm not doing it". when I asked that the dining room have no toys at dinner time, it's "you have to help clean them up and then you have to put them back when we're done". We then go back and forth with all of these how if he wants it a certain way then he has to put it back, etc. which is always followed by additional retorts. How can it end?

Oh man.

Nothing like a four year old...

And I will confess to laughing when you wrote, "well, I'M done talking about it!"

Been there, my friend.

With all of my clients, we begin to practice working on two things at once (which is what is needed here). 

1. You must connect to your son in a positive, warm, and parent-led manner. Because he your son is jousting verbally, he is probably accustomed to getting lots of attention and back and forth for his negativity. So, we need to flip this where YOU create the scenario in which you are in charge of what the two of you are doing. You lay on the floor and do blocks or whatever he loves and dedicate your time to really enjoying your son. Laugh, make eye contact, and use lots of noticing language. "I am noticing that you are building this tower twice as high as last week!" This kind of attention will fill up his attachment cup in a positive way, and he will feel more connected to you. More connection = more cooperation.

2. You are going to stop the ridiculous back and forth. Period. A four year old is a bright, willful, capable little person, but they are also extremely immature (appropriately) and want what they want, when they want it. I would get a couple of baskets and regularly dump his toys into them. Period. You can then dump them into his larger bin, etc., but don't go back and forth anymore. I would also have two or three cleaning times and stick to them (always before dinner or always after lunch). You can also try to set up "toy zones," where all the toys sit in one zone and any that move out get put away, but this depends on your time and energy.

Whatever you decide, when it comes to rules: LESS IS MORE. Your son is too young to follow complex instructions, so use charts, pictures, arrows, signs anything to cue his brain (look to preschools for inspo).


And keep the connection going.

Last week, my 16 year-old son was pulled over for speeding - over 100 mph on a 55 mph highway. The officer called me to tell me about the incident and to say that he was putting 95 on the ticket so that my son didn't lose his license until age 18. I was so shocked and upset that I just thanked the officer and told him I'd talk with my son. Now I wish he'd lost his license. My husband and I don't know how to punish him appropriately to reflect the seriousness of his offense without alienating him. He is more focused on the cost of the ticket and insurance cost increase (which he will pay for) than on the potentially horrific consequences of his actions (an accident in which he could have killed someone, including himself). He is not a bad kid. He is kind, loving, does well in school, and has many friends. We've taken away the keys to the car as well as his phone. He's required to help each member of the household in a unique way to make our lives better. What else should we be doing to make sure that this never happens again?


Ummm, did you ever go 100 mph on a highway that was not in Germany?

I did.

And I did it in an '87 Toyota . I cannot believe that car could even maintain that speed for over ten seconds. Yikes.

16 year old's are amazing people...they are right on the brink of so much adulthood, but...

They also make lots of errors in judgment due to a million reasons: early childhood experiences, attachments to loving adults, peer group influence, cultural surroundings, and the list goes on and on. 

One of the reasons that a "good kid" makes mistakes like this is a basic neuroscience issue: the FEELING of going fast (SO FUN) outweighs the danger of the speed (IMMINENT DEATH AND DESTRUCTION).

Put this equation to drugs, drinking, sex (anything fun, feel-good, and potentially problematic) and you have a good teen who makes some bad calls.

And each teen is different, so there's that, too.

So, yes, you have chosen some consequences and you will stick to them. Good.

But don't think that this one moment of going fast erases all of his good.

In fact, it is so important to tell your son this. He is still worthy of love and laughter and your pride in him...he just made a mistake. If your letter was filled with his missteps, mistakes, impulsivity, I may say something different, but for now,try to not globalize one mistake. 


Our 3.5 year old has recently gotten into dressing herself, which is awesome, but she is also wanting to change clothes a lot. This morning, for instance, she had changed herself 3 times being awake only 90 min. In a given day she will change clothes at least 10 times and we try to put it back in the clean clothes pile, but she is put them in the dirty laundry occasionally. She also claims the underwear is dirty and she can't wear it again. The underwear is fine, but the extra laundry is the issue. Is this one of those phases? or could this be a sensory issue? She is extremely sensitive to smells, but has no other sensory issues that we can tell

Nothing is raising any flags for me. 

It is pretty common for a 3.5 year to feel drunk with power, and it is pretty powerful to put on and take off clothes.

I would just put away her "dirty" laundry back into drawers, and I would also ask for her help with the laundry! A three year old can be a great little folder.

Keep your eye on the sensory stuff...

We instituted a form of allowance a week or so ago, and right out of the gate, our two sons (ages 6 and almost 9) took to doing a lot more chores. They earned enough to get themselves a couple of nice toys fairly quickly. Since then, they've cooled to doing more chores to earn more points/money. Any ideas for how to incentivize this? We don't intend to make them use allowance for every gift/toy, but we'd like to start getting them in the habit of earning/saving/spending/contributing more at home.

Yeah, this is the double-edged sword of paying kids for chores.

It is awesome, and then it wears off.

So, I think there should be chores that everyone does, unpaid. This is a baseline.

As for extras, I would have a weekly or twice-monthly meeting about their money...where it is going, what their goals are, etc. 

You can also introduce them to saving and donating. Use can decide on percentages, etc....

Keep it simple.

You can a google a million different ideas for this, so just pick a method that works for YOUR family.

We used this forever, and it worked like a dream!

My two kids (aged 4 and 2) definitely have a tendency to wind each other up and get very loud and silly. However it has become a real problem at dinnertime making our evening meals stressful and unpleasant as my husband and I are constantly trying to tamp down silly outbursts and refocus them on eating. How can we end this pattern so we can eat dinner in (relative) peace?

Pardon my french, but dinner with these ages can really SUCK.

The kiddos are tired.

They have front-loaded their calories in the day (thus: not wanting dinner), 

And they easily go from tired to wired.

Bump the dinner time to 5 pm (is possible), give another small snack before dinner (half a banana), and then put them to bed.

I would shift your "Dinner is the important meal" thinking to another meal, such as BREAKFAST.

Let's make BREAKFAST the new dinner!

Sound good?

My daughter is not in preschool and we won't have her in school until Kindergarten starts in 2021. We considered preschool for this upcoming year but due to COVID we aren't going to risk it, plus the preschools in our area are expensive. Yet, my daughters friends (2 neighbor boys - who are 3 and 6 months younger than her) are back in daycare/preschool and very intelligent. They are counting numbers up to 100+, know their alphabet so well that they're recognizing 2-3 letter words, etc. I am freaking out that my daughter will never catch up. I don't have it in me to be a teacher and I have not spent much time on school type learning (we read all the time, but nothing dedicated to rote learning). Yet, I've been really proud of my girl for recognizing all the letters in the alphabet without us really teaching her anything. I can't help but wonder, is she going to be behind? Are we doing her a disservice? Why do kids need to be able to read anything before entering Kindergarten? All I remember about Kindergarten is my mom said I should be able to recite my ABCs and know how to spell my name...This all feels like too much pressure at a young age but I don't want my daughter to fall behind because we're complacent.

The children in danger of falling behind are in homes where no one is reading to them, no one is talking to them, and no one is playing with them.

Okay, I am simplifying the data a little there, but if you read, play, and talk with your child...she will be okay.


If you have some concerns, find some little reading, writing, and math games for her age and just PLAY them with her.

As for you, watch your comparing mind. Covid is bringing out all kinds of insecurities in us (naturally), so watch what triggers you into comparing ("chatting" with neighbors, social media, etc). If you are prone to anxiety, comparison will make you go down a hole...and may make you push your daughter when you don't need to.

Hi Megan: I know the best approach in a step-parent situation is to let the other parent take the lead in discipline. But due to the pandemic, I am home alone with the kids (young elementary age) several days a week, and I'd love your thoughts on how to handle discipline when I'm the only adult present. They are fantastic kids, and we generally have a happy, loving relationship. But we have problems with hitting and not listening. Any advice on how to handle this? Time outs, lectures, taking away whatever object they're using to hit each other -- none of these seem to have a lasting impact. Any ideas? Thanks!


You've listed the three most ineffective forms of discipline ("time-out's, lectures, and taking things away, although if they are hitting each other, I support it).

I would call a meeting with your spouse and talk this out. You need support from them and stat.

Then, I would call a meeting with the kids and, with them, create a set of rules (the fewer, the better) and the consequences of breaking those rules. Again, let simplicity rule here.

Have daily meeting (five minutes) about how things are going, how the rules feels, etc. 

Above all, CELEBRATE when things are going well and try to find something to celebrate something every day. Children love specific feedback as to what they are doing well...and they are more likely to repeat it if they know it is working.

Keep smiling and kind eyes, lots of movement, and lots of laughing! You will need your sense of humor...some days will be good, and some won't.

One of my parents has a terminal illness and is declining significantly. We live across the country, so we don't see this grandparent often to begin with. My almost 8 year old is incredibly sensitive (think actual anxiety about dying from Covid, asking regularly if they are healthy and ok, etc). How do I begin to prepare them for visiting, probably for the last time, this grandparent?

Honestly, compassionately, and let him know that while you know he will worry, you also know he can handle it.

Anxiety causes us to turn away from what we are afraid of, but the anxiety grows as a result.

When we face what we are afraid of and our brains learn that we made it through, the anxiety holds less power.

You know your child best, so search the website Hey Sigmund for more ideas. 

Above all, your child will take their cues from you. 

And that does it, folks. Thanks for joining us. Did you know On Parenting has a newsletter? Sign up and get it all delivered right to you so you don't miss a thing. 

Good luck, we know this isn't easy! 

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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