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

Aug 27, 2014

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

Lots of questions waiting here for Meghan, our new parenting advice columnist and parent coach.

A few notes. Like On Parenting on Facebook and you'll get our stories in your feed. Here are some of our latest posts on a tough mom's tough daughter, car seat heat detectors, mindful parenting, tragedy and grief, and a lot of back to school stuff. 

And here's Meghan's latest column about tots and tantrums.

Okay, bring it on!

I am happy to be here...bring on your questions, parents!

And come visit me at www.positivelyparenting.com

See you in the chat!

My 6 year old has colossal melt downs when she's tired and/or hungry. I do my best to catch them beforehand and be preventative, but can't always do this. They last for about 2-3 hours and every attempt to redirect is met with an escalation in emotion. I pride myself in staying calm and telling her I'm going to love her through it. My questions are as follows: How do I de-escalate her when she's in the throes of melting? How do I remain calm and not explode with frustration when, I too, am tired and/or hungry? When she is finally calm, she always apologizes for "being bad." This breaks my heart. I tell her that she was having feelings and feelings are not bad. It's not about bad/good; it's simply about just having a hard time and that I'll always be there to help her through such times. Is there anything else I can do to decrease her feelings of being "bad"? THANKS!!!

Okay...there is so much love and trying here.  So, let's give you a break, okay? Okay.

It sounds like the talking, while lovely sounding, is upping the struggle, right?

Parents really underestimate the power of being quiet.  Not "seething anger silence," but just calm quiet.

It seems as though the 6 yo is feeding off of the attention and language, and you may just need to be a calm presence.

The number thing to remember is that when we are tired/hungry/sick...no messages are truly communicated well, nor are they received (esp. by little ones).

Leave the discussions for AFTER the drama.


My children entered a new school this year. Do you have any thoughts on helping them make new friends? I don't know many of the parents well in the new school but I am trying to help my children feel more comfortable in their new surrounding.

Great questions.

You don't mention the ages, but I would work to connect them with their teachers, first.

The connection with the teachers will be the conduit for all of this...and will also help them feel safe.

Friendships and new community take time.  So, as a family, get involved in the school all together!  This allows you to meet some people, and the children can watch and wait...feeling safe near you while they decide who the like and who they don't.

If they seem relaxed and willing, a pizza playdate in a park (keep it short) is always a hit with kids!

Patience is your greatest resource here. 

I know next week is going to be a nightmare - no more minecraft 24/7, homework, etc. besides lots of patience, any great advice for getting through the week? Thanks!

Get ready to hold boundaries calmly.  What requirements do you need to be calm?


Good food?



Take care of YOUR own routine so that you can withstand the storms that the children will bring.

Good luck...you will make it!  ;)

I am going through a horrible divorce where there is substance abuse involved with my ex. My children know that something is going on and have questioned me repeatedly about it because of actions, lack of action, etc. of my ex but I haven't told them outright what they are experiencing is just that. They are smart kids and I would like to break the cycle of dishonesty and shame on my ex's side with all this substance abuse yet they are still young. Any thoughts?

Hmmmm, this is a really good question.

I need ages on the kids to help this one more...

For the earlier commenter about the 24/7 Minecraft to 7 hours of sitting and learning, we did a few pieces about how to make the transition. Hope some of it helps! What parents can do to help their kids transition; how to help a child with special needs transition back to school; and everything else.

My kindergartener loves clothes so I've given her free range in picking out her outfits. Sometimes she flips out five minutes before she needs to leave for school about what she's wearing and demands to change. We pick out the outfit the night before and I've started holding my ground by saying that once she's changed and is downstairs, she cannot change her outfit. Is this the right approach?


So, all this dilly-dallying around with the clothes....it could be the case that she has always been particular with her clothes...and now she is really more into it...

Or, she could be a little stressed with school and the mind-changing reflects some stress and worrying...

Or, this is a great way to get attention from Mom. (back and forth, back and forth).

Either way, everyone has to leave the house, right?

I would wake her a little earlier (leave some time for one more change), and then leave the house a little earlier (time for you to not freak out), and keep a strong boundary without a lot of talking about it.

The message is: "I don't care if you change 100,000 times, and we are leaving on time."

There will be tears, but that is life.

My 9 year old son has started playing with toys (Thomas Trains) he played with 2 or 3 years ago as well as sleeping with a lovey that he hasn't slept with for 2 years. He does suffer from some anxiety because of his tree nut allergy and an incident that occured last year at school. He feels like he can't tell his friends that he plays with Thomas trains for fear they will think it is babyish. He saw a counselor last year and has an appointment this week to assist with his anxiety and finger picking. Is the regression normal? Or part of his anxiety? He is otherwise a very social, outgoing and happy boy.

Yes.  Many, many, many people keep lovies nearby (me, included.  Seriously...I have my childhood blankie).

So, whether it is lovies, thumb-sucking, finger-picking, twirling hair or shirts, the body has physical reactions to anxiety.

Just like a new baby calms down with sucking, your son will take on "childlike" things to relax his body and brain. 

Don't connect a bit of shame to it.  As long as he is participating in his life, I view this as a healthy coping mechanism. 

The finger-picking is tough, would be hold a stress-ball or another object?  Something for his pocket?


I was on the beach this past weekend when a fellow beach-goer's two year old son decided to park himself much closer to me than to his family. As he lifted a dirty cup of sandy ocean water to his lips, because his mother was not watching him, I quickly said "no, icky, yucky, don't drink that, no, no..." The child flung himself backwards into the sand and began a tantrum. His mother hurried over and told me her son does not like the word, "no." I told her that the word is quite important when parenting a 2-yr old, if for nothing else, certainly for safety...like when a child is about to drink sandy ocean water out of a dirty cup!!! What the heck??!! He had no siblings.

Well, everything unfolded here as it should.

He was going to drink something nasty.

You stopped it.

He had a tantrum because a 2 yo brain wants what it wants.

The mother knows he doesn't like that word.

-----End scene.

The only two thing that needed to occur was a sincere thank you from her, and shrug from you.

Hi Meghan and Amy! Thanks for taking my question. My seven year old is exhibiting a pattern of dishonesty. It's not that we're necessarily catching her in lies; what happens is that she'll tell us something--usually about an affront with a classmate or friend--and then when we start talking about it she begins to recant everything she said and tells us it's not true. We *suspect* that the version of the truth is somewhere in the middle, but we're at a loss about what to do. We've explained that we need to be able to believe everything she says in order to keep her safe, etc, but this is still happening. Ideas? Thanks!

It's that "version" of the truth that's so hard to figure out. I also always know there's something true in that tale I hear from my kiddo the same age, I just can't always figure out what it is. Sometimes, it's a matter of HIS perception versus what I would think if I saw that same thing. Meghan, help. How do we get the truth out of our kids?

Okay.  So as the parents, you know that the "truth" is a version of the story that you will never truly know.  Even in a larger, philosophical sense, we are all living in our own realities...our own "lies."

But the child.  Yes.

So, she is ON TRACK, developmentally, to be trying on these dramatic stories, complete with plot twists, changes to the ends, and script revisions.

Don't worry about it.

Take a listening stance.  Like, "uh huh, hmmm, huh."

Your listening is more important than the emphasis on truth.


We just started our 2 year old son in halfday preschool. He was great the first week, but then started getting upset at drop off the second week. Now we are on week 3 and it's a real battle to leave him (sobbing, grabbing my legs) The teachers say he's fine after a few mins, and I stick to the routine of hug and "See you after lunch" then leave, but it tears my heart out to hear him screaming as I walk away. Any tips?

Ugggg, so tough.  The crying, the leg-grabbing, the wailing. 

I am not sure how close to 3 he is, but this totally normal.

That first was like, "Yeah, cool, this is neat."

Now it is, "WAIT, you are LEAVING?!?!  You are my MAIN PERSON IN LIFE."

Something that helps are little objects for the pocket (a very special stone that you put ALLLLL of your love into), a lovie that smells like Mama, a picture of the two of you together, whatever you want!

Really hug him up when you leave and say, "I will be back. I will always pick you up."

Then go.

Bring a tissue for you.  Sigh.


An article yesterday about giving children freedom and not being fearful drew many comments, mostly in favor of letting kids roam without worrying. An article today concerned a 12-year-old who drowned in a flash flood because his mother allowed him to play in the rain. As a mother, and now a grandmother, who remembers Adam Walsh and Etan Patz, I tend to err on the side of caution and raised my three daughters to become strong, independent women without taking chances with their lives. What do you think?

Oh dear.

The parent coach in me knows the data: we are safer now than we have ever been.

Children are really not kidnapped by strangers.

Children are not hurt by strangers.

Our brains (intellectually) know that the horrible tragedy happened in CA, for instance, but our reptilian and mammalian brain is sounding the alarm: "NOT SAFE! NOT SAFE!"

And, the mother in me wants to lock my kids in the house.

What we need is courage.  REAL COURAGE.

The reality is that bad stuff is going to happen to good kids. Period. The end. My kids, your kids, our friend's kids. This is the pain of life.

But the greater pain we can inflict is scaring our children into believing that the world is inherently bad (it isn't) and people are bad (they aren't), and the answer is to play it safe and do nothing.

Why live?

So, we need courage and we need to allow our kids to play. 

I have twins, age 6, boy/girl. They turn everything into a competition! My son seems to especially feel he is always getting less or the fuzzy end of the lollipop in most all situations. He is more extroverted and tends to act out more needing redirection or consequences. Lately we have to ask/tell him things multiple times, he has started ignoring us when we ask questions that need a response and he is having complete meltdowns into screaming fits when things don't go his way. What are some options to help me still discipline him when it is needed but avoid the drama, fits and frustration? We have tried time outs, earlier bedtimes, loss of a beloved item, more limited or no screen time but after the fit it doesn't phase him or change future behaviors. I am frustrated beyond words. Please help!

If your son feels like "he is always getting less or the fuzzy end of the lollipop in most all situations," he is probably feeling pretty frustrated and angry...a lot.

This is spilling into tantrums (a release in frustration and big feelings).

More discipline is going to make this worse.

He needs a safe place to express his feelings, as well as his parents stepping in on the competition.

You will never stop all of the competitions (that is siblings), but you CAN shut it down when it is your face.  Literally.  Shut it down.  This is the job of the parent to say, "No, this is NOT a race. Stop."

As for the other point, express back to him what you see and hear, "It sounds like you are really sad when...."  Or, "You have some screaming in you!  Let's scream right now!"  And then SCREAM your heads off.  It is just screaming; it doesn't hurt anyone.

Align yourself with him, rather than against him!

My beautiful daughter entered puberty far earlier than her friends (around age 9). She weathered it beautifully and has until now had pretty good self esteem. Now, at age 13, she has developed to the point that she wears a 34 DD bra. She is thin, so her large chest is all the more obvious. As a solid A cup I am having a hard time helping her embrace her size and the attention (from kids her own age, as well as from grown men) that come along with it. I would appreciate any advice you could provide.

As a woman who developed early as a girl, I can tell you this...it ain't easy.

Being 13 essentially means you want to be like everyone else (whatever that means), and "everyone else" is really ONE girl (that also dislikes herself...sigh).

There is advice for this except to offer your listening and non-judging ear whenever you can.

She is looking at a lifetime of people noticing her, ummm, physical assets first...so surround her with body-positive people, sports, activities, and whenever possible...have her volunteer. 

Volunteering has a way of helping young people gain perspective, and for a short while, forget about their own self-consciousness.

Celebrate her beautiful shape, celebrate health, celebrate life...and show her how to force people to look at your eyes. 

(I used to snap my fingers near my eyes and say, "Yo, up here.")


I know, it's a minor thing, but it's bugging me -- maybe due to my own idiosyncrasies, I'm sure. Anyway, my two and a half year old daughter has favorite songs. No issue there. However, my husband will humor her and play those favorite songs over and over again on the CD instead of just letting a CD play through in the car or at home. Me? I think you just play the CD and she can get to like ALL the songs and get some extra joy when her favorites come on. Is this going to lend to more of a short attention span, ADD, etc.? Maybe it's just from me growing up on tapes (where you couldn't easily play the same two or three songs over and over) but it just seems to be ... not good, I guess.

I think the greatest danger here is that you may want to run away from home if you hear "Baby Beluga" one more time.

The kid is totally fine.

I would take up two rules: If you are in the house, I would walk a dog or garden.

If you are driving, you control the music...and the whole CD gets heard.

My 2 year old is ALWAYS testing her boundaries. I know that's what 2 year olds do, but I find myself losing patience with her more and more often. I have an infant as well, and getting them both out of the house in the morning on time is a delicate balance. I hate that I'm so easily frustrated and feel like I'm always yelling no, stop, don't touch that, leave it, etc. Any advice for keeping calm and under control? I am afraid I'm going to lose it and spank her.

If you feel that you are near your breaking point, you need some support.

I would look into getting some help (friends, childcare, babysitter, spouse, ANYONE) to help you and give you a break.

You are doing physically and emotionally draining work here.


In the meanwhile, start dropping your expectations of how you think the morning will go, as well as giving yourself a half hour time buffer.

Whenever we come up against, "I am running out of time..." cortisol starts flooding our brain and we can no longer be rational...hence feeling out of control and like "spanking."

What combats cortisol?  BREATHING and creating more time.

Be kind to yourself...you are working hard...

We've got a new two year old, and we need some behavior management techniques. What do you think of 123 Magic? He's not a crazy child (yet), but we need some strategies to encourage him to follow directions - such as stop jumping on the couch, come downstairs - and some results when he is violent. Thanks!

Ummm.  Hmmmm.

I am going to be as diplomatic as a I can here.

Strategies and techniques work only when you fully understand why the child is doing what they are doing, how you can create different conditions first, and are non-punitive.

Two year old's are tough, and there is no magic solution for that.  ;)

Wow, busy day here. Lots of questions remain, but hold out hope: Meghan may use one she didn't answer for an upcoming column. And join us again Sept. 10, same time, same place. Don't forget to like us on Facebook for On Parenting news and updates. (We keep writing... !)

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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