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

Sep 10, 2014

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

Good morning, all. Back to school, we presume? We are and things sure are interesting, no? Lots of questions are already piled up, so let's get started, shall we?

How do I explain to my 12 year old daughter why school dress codes are aimed almost exclusively at girls, and how do I tell her the shorts she loves so much are too short to pass code, even though they completely cover everything, without giving her the message that her body is something to be ashamed of?

Errr, umm, well.


As long as women have walked the Earth, they have been asked (FORCED) to cover up.

Some cultures do this more obviously.


Our culture sends LOTS of confusing messages.  "Cover up, but stay sexy (yes, that is YOU, young girls)."

"Keep your individuality, but maybe only a little bit."

From keeping it demure to outright slut-shaming, America has done this FOREVER.

So, what is to be explained?  Women's history?  How far we HAVE come?  How far we have to go?

The best is to take care of your little patch of Earth.

Live (and through this, teach) "LACK OF SHAME" as a parent.

Clothes/no-clothes...no matter.  Your child's worth happened the moment she came into the world.  Lead with that and leave the shorts BS to someone else to hem and haw over.

There is an ad on the radio for a program that is designed to help parents better deal with behavior problems of their children. My problem with the ad is that the person who created the program basically says they created it because they couldn't deal with the problems of their own child. Why would I think that someone who couldn't deal with their own child can teach me how to deal with my child. Perfect parents don't know what it is like to deal with a problem child and parents who fail at dealing with a problem child don't seem like the kind of expert I can trust.

"Perfect parents don't know what it is like to deal with a problem child and parents who fail at dealing with a problem child don't seem like the kind of expert I can trust."


Yup.  Run, don't walk, from anyone who sells perfection.  In anything.  Parenting, though, is a huge red flag.

Keep on keepin' on.

My son is in elementary school. He does not want to participate in any extracurricular activities, sports, etcetera. I think he looks at them as work instead of potentially fun. It does not matter what I suggest or if I give him the choice to decide. He is not interested. He does very well academically and is generally very well behaved. Should I be concerned and push the matter or just drop it and accept that he's not a joiner of activities? Thank you .

Whoa....did you read my mind?  I just wrote a column for next week about this! Tune in for that!

The short answer?  As long as he isn't staring into a screen slack-jawed or making trouble or miserable....leave him alone.  As in, don't push.



What do I say to people who, while nominally accepting my son's ADHD/Aspergers diagnosis, say I use it as an "excuse" for his behavior? Of course I have to make allowances for him, he is incapable of behaving like neurotypical children. We don't let him run wild or anything (we let him read and then play video games when out to dinner, we are more flexible with his food choices and don't force him to do things that upset him that are related to these issues - i.e. things involving loud noises, etc.), and the professionals we work with generally think we are doing a great job, but I never know how to respond to this comment.

"What do I say to people who, while nominally accepting my son's ADHD/Aspergers diagnosis, say I use it as an "excuse" for his behavior?"  

What I want you to say is not fit for print.

What you can say is absolutely nothing.

Your job is take care of you, spouse, child.  That's it.

Everyone else can receive a smile and tilt of the head as if you were looking at a confused dog.

They will walk away when they become uncomfortable.

You were not a $%$# and they were not given time.


The older our son gets (he's now 8, in gr.3), he seems to be worrying more and more about things (maybe because he can verbalize them more easily?). I'm getting concerned that he is turning into a worrier -- a trait that he would come by honestly, as my husband worries about *everything*. It's not the "everyday" things that a typical 8yo would be worried (school, maybe friends, etc.) about that has me concerned, but rather, his concern about "what would happen if..." questions (...if our house caught fire...if his Dad got sick and had to go to the hospital...if both my husband and I passed away...). My husband is in his 60s, I"m in my early 50s, and our son is an only child, so I realize some of this may be due to concerns that are legit...but...the questions are happening enough lately that it's getting my attention. I try to handle each in a matter-of-fact way, to help alleviate his fears...which generally seems to work...but I have the feeling these things are still at some level on his radar. Any thoughts you have would be most appreciated.

This is like likely a hereditary trait and more likely a behavior he has been taking in from Day 1 from your hubby.

So, step one...see if your hubby can get some support for his anxiety.  We cannot ask of our children what we are not willing to do for ourselves.  This is pretty huge when you think about it.

Also, worries grow when:

1) we try to fix them

2) explain them away

3) refute them

4) and brush them aside

Give them space and assurance.

"Yes, it IS scary to think about Mommy and Daddy dying.  We are always here for you...and do you know what?  Love never dies.  I will love you forever."

Make sense?

Ok I think we have tried everything with her. Routine: eating, playing, bath, reading book and sleep. She has her nightlight, animal bed sheets, new Elmo sleep with me, etc. Nothing works for us. This is what happens, First method: After reading the book we put her into her bed, leave and close the gate. She starts crying desperately, gets out of her bed and continues crying until either she vomits or almost has an asthma attack ( yes she is asthmatic). Second method: The same as first method but leaving the gate open. The same thing happens, but she also runs out of her room to our room. Third method: Put her in her bed and we stay in her room with her and don’t allow her to go out of her bed. Then the same thing. She starts crying desperately and cries until either she vomits or almost has an asthma attack. Fourth method and our partial solution: Either my husband or I stays with her in her bed until she falls asleep. Around 2 a.m. she wakes up and runs to our bed and stays with us for the rest of the night. Fifth method and solution: Let her sleep in our bed the whole night. We tried this method at least four nights in a row and she does not seem to accept it a bit. Please help, anything else we can do? We need to have our 8 hours of sleep again.

Wait, she doesn't want to sleep in your bed at all?  Where does she go?  Are you there with her?

Can you provide any tips for talking to children about September 11 (and any other mind-blowing disaster)? I'm thinking specifically for a 5-year-old, but advice for a range of ages might be nice. I know his Kindergarten/school will observe the moment of silence, I'm not sure how they'll preface it, and we've not yet broached the topic with him.

Here's the thing: 9/11 is still super relevant for us.  It literally feels like yesterday and many people are walking around, still traumatized.

For 5 year olds, this is history.

Another time.  Other people. 

I would take a watch and listen path.  Is he asks questions, answer them.

Developmentally, he might not even notice the day at all.

Five year olds are too busy playing, discovering the world, learning, running, laughing.

It's glorious.

So don't burden his young brain...he doesn't need it.

Hello! I am so torn over how to handle dinner for my 23 month old. I would like to instill in him the habit of eating what everyone else is having for dinner (within reason), but I also want him to eat enough (he's a very little guy, but not enough to concern his pediatrician). I always hear that if a toddler is hungry, he will eat. But he often doesn't want what I serve (this was less of a problem a year ago, so I don't blame my cooking!) and instead asks for yogurt, bananas, bagels, etc. Should I stick to my plan of only giving him what is on the dinner table, knowing he might go to bed without eating, or give in and give him the food he requests? Is he really hungry enough for yogurt but not chicken and rice?

Oh well.  Yeah. Listen, a hungry kid WILL eat, but you don't have to be super-strict here.

If the kid loves noodles, make your baked chicken and give him some noodles, too.

Give some peas and bananas.

Create a meal where you are smiling and not paying too much attention to the food.  That is the goal.

Let it be easy, as my teacher tells me.  Let it be easy.

My 5yo daughter has been very bossy lately - demanding things from us using language (and the accompanying tone) like, "you've going to give this to me this instant." We try to talk to her about how words and tone of voice matter, and when she's calmer we give examples but it doesn't seem to be sticking. Please tell me this is a phase, and I don't need to worry too much about it. ;)

I would love to tell you not to worry about it!

Don't worry about it.

Wait, the problem is still there.

So, worry isn't action, so go ahead and drop it.

Drop what also is not working (the examples, the chats about tones and how to use her words).

This IS a common thing for 5 year olds to do...so find a way to allow her voice to come through while you remain in charge.

In the interim, just can calmly and kindly ignore her bossiness and find positive ways to involve her...

Hi, my friend's Kindergartener is refusing to ride the school bus. He cries, the first day he threw up, yesterday he ran away to avoid having to get on the bus. I want to help my friend help her son adjust. Any suggestions? Thank you!!!

If she has asked for help, then awesome!  You rock.  Otherwise, be a loving listener.

Back to the child who won't get on the bus, this is tough.

There are a couple of thoughts here, but my heart is telling me that he may need more time.  He may need to be driven to school.  This may be too much for his young brain to do...the separation is terrifying. The forcing, the pushing...it could make for a bigger and bigger mess.

If that cannot happen, the parent needs to call the school and find a way to make this child feel safe.  Can his teacher or an aid or a friendly KNOWN face greet him on the bus?  Can you work with the bus driver?

The point is, the adults need to step up to help this young child and not expect him to "grow up" to suit their convenience.

Helllo! My son is barely 2 and still in diapers. What are your thoughts on Potty Training? My husband and I both take him with us to the bathroom and talk to him about what we are doing. He has potty books and a potty chair and he'll sit on it (sometimes) I have read some folks think pushing it is counterproductive, but diapers are expensive and his preschool wants him trained by 3. Thoughts? Thank you!

Hold the phone.  Did you say barely 2?  Yo.  That's like, really, young.

My thoughts on potty-training?

Here goes: The more you push it, the longer it takes. (I just synthesized a lot of research right there).

So, as the great Idina Menzel says, "LET IT GO...."

Seriously, let it go.  Eat more frugally and choose another preschool that understands children.

She is super happy sleeping with us in our bed. We think we have tried everything for her to sleep in her room, but nothing seems to work. And what it is interesting is that actually in the daycare she falls asleep alone, no problem. Any advice?

Ah, good.

She is filling up her connection cup with you.  She wants desperately to be with you, physically.  This is her WAY.  She's so little. Your smell, your taste, your breathing...this is her home.  This is her happy place. 

When you put up the gate, when you place her in her bed and walk away, her young brain panics.  She has already been without you ALL DAY, she simply cannot handle it.

Sleep with her.

Thanks so much for taking my question. I'm afraid (I say this with a smile) that you were going to say your first sentence...that yes, I'm afraid this *is* a trait he has from his Dad (plenty of good ones, this one, not so much...). Getting Dad to address his anxiety is...sigh...not so easy and not sure that will be able to be done...previous attempts have failed...but I have talked to our son in the ways you suggest, thanks...I'll continue to work on first suggestion!

I also like Tamar Chansky's work.

Science is not too strong on "traits of anxiety."  This is more learned than born with, and we don't want him to think, "Oh well, I am just going to worry for the rest of my life."

He can absolutely be very sensitive, able to see the grey of life.  This is an asset. His curious mind may give him trouble...but be weary of throwing it into the "like father/like son" pot. 

Generations of people are hurt by this faulty thinking..

Just yesterday, a coworker mentioned that his high school yearbook listed each student's activities. Under his picture, it said, "attended." That's it. Didn't bother him then or now, and he's a happy, successful person today. We all walk our own paths.

Hahahah, right?  That is great.

Hi Meghan, I have a 9 1/2 year old daughter in 4th grade. Recently she has become so emotional and moody (I know it's normal), particularly about her appearance. She picks out her clothes the night before but we've already had a few days of meltdowns where she wakes up and doesn't want to wear what she's chosen. I say, fine, pick something else, but basically she gets hysterical ("nothing to wear" in a dresser full of great clothes she's worn plenty before). Today she almost missed the bus and went to the bus stop in tears because she wasn't happy with what she ended up wearing. What can I do to help her when she gets so upset about this kind of stuff? I want to be helpful and empathetic but also, we need to make it to the bus stop on time. Help!

Oh, this is a hard time.  My sympathies are with you.

My thoughts:

1)  Build more time into the morning

2) At another time, really connect with this girl.  Snuggle, shoot hoops, go to a bookstore, chat, smile, have fun.

3) Find good friends who can help you keep your sense of humor

4) Take very good care of yourself so that you can stay as calm and positive as you can.

My normally out-going, fearless girl has been reduced to tears every morning before school. Not usually shy, she cries for a different reason each morning (friends won't play with her, she has no friends, she misses seeing her sister, etc.). I'm at a loss as she doesn't usually react this way. I want my happy, fearless girl back.


I feel you.

I really do.

But I am going to say something here.

Fearless and Happy does not equal healthy human.

Healthy human?  Missing her sister (how great is that?) Worrying about friendships. 

This is normal and GOOD.  Yes, good.

Fearless = Not facing life's wounds.  Fearless = actually scared into the danger zone.

She needs some strong lovin'.  Hugs, empathy, strong listening. Words of encouragement.



How do I explain to my six year old that Daddy sometimes gets angry and 1) we need to leave him alone for a couple of days until it blows over and 2) he shouldn't imitate this behavior? I feel like I'm fighting an impossible uphill battle.

Is this physical or emotional abuse or both?

Any parent who needs to be stepped around for a couple of days and the child is imitating and THAT is unacceptable??

Emotional abuse?  Read this.

Physical abuse? Read this.

If you are scared, you need to support.  Immediately.  http://www.thehotline.org/

Write to me at meghan@positivelyparenting.com if you need to, I will point you in the right direction.


Really? What if parents don't want to do that?

Then they don't have to.

And she will throw up, panic, and scream, literally changing her brain chemistry.

So, there's that.


That does it for today. If Meghan didn't get to your question (there were a ton today!), keep your eyes peeled. She may answer it in her column that runs in Local Living and also appears at On Parenting. As always, give us a like on Facebook to keep updated on our latest On Parenting essays and news. Until next time...

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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