On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Sep 11, 2019

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

Morning all. Happy Wednesday. Here's Meghan's latest, about navigating a relationship with a teen son. Want more parenting content? Check us out at washingtonpost.com/onparenting

(There are a ton of questions today, so please be patient as  Meghan works hard to answer as well and as many as she can... If your question isn't answered here, always keep an eye out for her weekly column, where she tackles some of your questions in a deeper way than she can here.)

Okay, let's get to it! 

My anxious first-grader is having trouble branching out beyond his one friend from kindergarten. But his friend is branching out with no trouble at all. Instead of considering playing with new people, my son is stuck. When the old friend doesn't play with him, he just sits and feels left out. I've casually asked about other kids, but my son is pretty rigid in his thinking and has written off a lot of kids because he's seen them do what he thinks of as mean stuff (pushing someone on the playground or playing too rough in general). Frankly, I'm a sensitive person too and wouldn't have wanted to play with those kids either when I was his age. But surely there's someone else out there who might be an OK friend. How long do I sit back and wait until he finds someone? What are some helpful things I can so or do in the meantime?

He needs a loving adult.

Is there someone in the school he could hang with until he warms up to one or two classmates?


My 3.5 yr old son is a curious, friendly, creative, kind kid - but also very introspective and serious. He has a tendency to mope. His meltdowns and tantrums seem shorter than his peers (but he’s my oldest so I don’t have a lot of day-to-day data to compare it to). But. When he is sad, he seems to LIKE to stay sad. He mopes. He cries. It’s over things like seeing a seed on his pizza crust, to a friend pushing him a preschool (so a range of things). I’m a teacher and pretty experienced at attention seeking behavior, and this doesn’t seem entirely it. He resists ideas for how to feel better, even hours after, when he’s calm, and redirection leads him to say “I don’t want to look at clouds right now, I told you I’m sad.” I’ve tried every strategy I know, so I guess my question is: Do I let this go? Is this something he’ll grow out of? If not, I will keep asking for strategies, but I think my next strategy would be to have a zero tolerance policy on moping (ex saying he’s still sad and bringing up the thing that’s bothering him). I want to make room for feelings, but it’s starting to feel absurd.

Whoa whoa whoa.

Okay. Whenever you say the words, "ZERO TOLERANCE" I want you to immediately think: "I CANNOT WAIT TO START FIGHTING WITH MY CHILDREN."

We aren't talking about MURDER, we are talking about a THREE YEAR OLD'S MOOD. (Sorry to scream in all-caps).

So, here's the deal: When someone (a three year old) is having an emotion, it is a BIG emotion. Three year old's don't have maturity to be halfway. A seed on pizza is the same as losing a toy; its all tragedy.

As they mature, perspective begins to come into play and they are able to modulate some of these big feelings. BUT!

NO human, but especially NOT a three year old wants to be pushed, shoved, distracted or told not to feel a certain way. In fact, we humans hate this so much that we will dig into the feeling even more. As soon as someone tells me to "cheer up!" I become dedicated to my sour mood; you cannot pry my bad mood out of dead hands. And I am 43. Your son is DOUBLE ME.

So, what if you just chill and NOT REACT. He cries about a seed, let him cry about a seed. He cries about his friend pushing him, let him cry. Seriously, why does this affect you? Don't get me wrong, it is exhausting to drag around a mopey child, and I am personally triggered by whining like no one's business, but I had to train myself to allow these feelings to FLOW.

Write this on a sticky and hang it everywhere your eyes may land: What I pay attention to, grows. So, if you cheerlead him to perk up, you will get moping. If you maintain a zero policy, you are trying to raise a robot and the moping will come out sideways (anger and violence).

Just roll with this. Hug him, agree that the seed/friend/life is not optimal and move it along. 

My 8 year old has always been a lover of performing — magic, acting, puppetry, ventriloquism, you name it. I think he would LOVE to do an acting class, and there is an afterschool class being offered at his school, but he is shy and doesn’t want to do any activities if his friends aren’t involved. He initially wanted to do it but then changed his mind when he found out the babysitter would be picking him up and not me. Should I nudge him to do it because I think he would enjoy it once it stars or let him decide?

Sure? I don't know. Is he the kind of kid that will get comfy after a couple of sessions or will he get needier and panickier?

And by the way, this is 100% normal for this age..they always want to be with their friends.


Will you be okay if you quit the activity?

Can you find a way to connect to him after the sitter gets him?  FaceTime?

Can you okay with him taking his time to warm to it?


My son turned 3 this past summer. He still uses a pacifier. We’ve tried everything to get him to want to give it up on his own, but nothing seems to work. I go back and forth on whether it’s a big deal but I just don’t want his teeth too messed up from it and he’s getting to the age where most dentists want it gone. We got it down to sleeping only, mostly. He naps fine at daycare without it.  Very rarely, when he has a bad meltdown, we walk upstairs to the bedroom, I let him have the pacifier and we hug for about 2 minutes, he calms himself down, we put it away and go back about our business. Well, we had a couple weeks where our routine was really off so there were a lot of meltdowns and he started using/begging for it more often. Setback. Meanwhile, there was a big (expensive) toy he saw that he wanted and, after much thought, I said he could have it if he would give up baba (what he calls his paci).  I thought it might be good incentive. We talked about it here and there, he was excited and on board. He started back at school. The toy arrived and when he came home from school we went around and found any babas in the house (except one I hid in case of emergency) and he happily threw them in the garbage. As it turned out, the toy needs to charge for 24 hours before it will fully work; so I told him he could look at it and touch it, but it was magic and would not work to ride until he had made it through one night without baba – again, totally on board. It did not go well. He was hysterical at bedtime for hours, could not sleep AT ALL, to the point he was just out of control and hyperventilating.  About 1am, I got the emergency one. I am not sure what to do here.  Will it always be like this (I imagine it will – just knowing him and his emotions/personality for 3 years, lol)? If so, we should just ride it out, right? He’s so upset though. Maybe at some point he will be mature enough to not get so worked into “states.” I can handle and hug through tears, even wailing, for hours if need be for days on end; but I can’t deal with the out of control hysteria. It doesn’t seem healthy/safe. But he cant have baba forever. Plus there is this whole toy thing. For now, I told him he does not have to return it, but that it won’t actually work until he gets through a night without baba, but that we won’t worry too much about it for now, we’ll just keep trying and some day it will work. I am just not sure what to do. The damn toy was too expensive for him to just have for no reason – plus then my words mean nothing. Thoughts? Advice?? [edited for length]

Long question with a short answer:

Either take all paci's and let him cry it out or give it to him at night and be cool with it.

DO NOT tie rewards to letting it go, he is too young to hold on that kind of intention, and because sucking is such a powerful soother for kids, the paci will always trump any kind of willpower.

So, just decide.

And just give him the toy, paci or not.

My 8-year-old granddaughter takes gymnastics, and she loves it, but she is not and probably won't be good at it. How can I ask my daughter to take her out and put her in something she will be better at? Time, not money, is the consideration. She is an excellent swimmer and could possibly make the swim team in high school and maybe even college. I wish they would put her back in swimming. She does take tennis once a week, she loves it, and she's good at it. Maybe she'd be good at basketball or volleyball (she doesn't like soccer). Should I try to get her into something she'd have more success at?

I am saying this with love:



I don't need to explain this, but just in case:

The point of life is NOT SUCCESS or being GOOD AT THINGS. 

The point of life is to be kind to yourself and others, ENJOY the activities you pursue, take responsibility for your thoughts and actions, and roll with the good and the bad without purposely hurting others (and when you do hurt others, say sorry).

For children, being 8 is wonderful. You get to try and love ALL the things (if you are lucky). You get to love and move your body, and while our society (or grandma) may come in and tell you what you should or shouldn't do at some point, being 8 is a time of emotional and physical freedom.


Your daughter is doing the right thing by allowing her daughter to enjoy her life.

Get yourself to therapy.





I used to get really overwhelmed by my young son's feelings, and am now working through what is actually ANXIETY with a therapist and meds. My anxiety (but also my son has anxiety) was talking in those moments, not my rational self. Is it possible the mom in this question is also struggling with anxiety?

You bet.

There could be all kinds of things happening there, for instance, adults who were NOT ALLOWED to be sad as children do not have the love language for their kids when they become parents themselves. It is so deeply (and unconsciously) uncomfortable for them to see someone else have these big feelings, the parent has to SHUT IT DOWN.

I see it all of the time in my coaching.

Once you become conscious that you are like this, it is actually easy-ish to see the path you need to take, but going down the path feels like pure panic.

If you are a parent who struggles with your children's big feelings (as well as your children's) it is useful to talk this out with a professional. It is never too late to allow the big feelings.

My 5-year-old behaves all day at school, and then when we pick her up, she lashes out at us (calls us stupid, says she hates us). How do we handle/shut down tantrums during pick up/when we come home in the evening?

Meghan has handled this one before. Here you go! 

Our 3 year old started a new Montessori school last week, one that is conveniently very close to my work. He'd been attending somewhere else for about 1.5 years and we changed locations due to the opportunity for a better commute for us. His dad used to do the drop offs and pickups and now it's my job. Since Tuesday (and I know that it's still early in the year), he's been saying "You can't leave me!" and "I'm going to miss you when I'm at school, Mommy" almost non-stop. It happens at night before bed. It happens in the car on the way to school. It happens on the walk INTO school. I try to reassure him that he's being very brave, that I will miss him too, that I will come get him when the day is done, that he has exciting things to look forward to and none of it seems to register with him. I've asked his teachers and they report that he is fine during the day and is an active, funny and playful kid. I don't think he's having a hard time AT SCHOOL, but he's having a hard time separating from me. It makes me sad that he is fixated on this and I'm not sure how much attention to give it (he IS expressing his feelings and I don't want to squash that). Do you have any advice for us? I'm hoping this is temporary, but the more he does it, the more I worry that it will become a routine for him. Thank you for your time!

It is a heartbreaker, isn't it? It is relieving to know he is doing well in school, but it doesn't help you in the morning.

Here's the deal. This will probably get better with time and a calm demeanor from you, but there are some little things we can do.

- Picture of you and the family for him to look at.

- Something that smells like you that he can hold on to

- Give him a little rock or toy that you've put "all your love into." Three year old's believe in magic, so he will believe that you did this!

- Write on his hand in a lip pencil or eye liner, just one heart to remind him you are "with" him all day (this is a tip from a reader that I love).

- And when you kneel down to him him goodbye, as much as humanly possible, hug him until he lets go. I know you may panic that the hug will never end (and you may need to detach), but he may relax when he doesn't feel you pushing him away (which causes more panic). 

Good luck and hang in there.

My 7-year-old has recently become afraid of riding roller coasters (and a few other "adventurous" activities like climbing trees). She's fearless in other regards--she loves making new friends and trying new sports or other types of activities. I'm not sure it's as clear-cut as a general-purpose fear of heights, although that may play into it. Last year at an amusement park she loved going on the first non-kid roller coaster she was tall enough to ride, and went on it three times in a row. (It was her idea to try it initially, and her idea to go back on it.) She'd say things like "this is a bit scary, but let's go again!" This year we have a season pass, and she suddenly has no desire to go on the same ride. So we suggested a kid's roller coaster with her little sister--they went on it 8 times in a row, loved it, and only left because the park closed. The next several times we returned, she said she would not ride the kid's coaster (or any other). I've asked if there's anything in particular that has her worried, and she says "it goes sideways" and "there's a hill." She hasn't fallen out of a tree or had any accidents or other scary experiences that might be related. Of course it's her choice if she wants to ride a roller coaster or climb a tree or anything else, but we're a bit concerned since this came seemingly out of nowhere, and her panic seems to escalate the more she talks or thinks about it. We're worried that this sort of reaction may start to carry over to other situations, and that once she starts to panic she has trouble calming down. At a recent birthday party she was scared about going on a water slide, and after talking to her dad she decided to go and wound up loving it. Last time we were at the amusement park we reminded her about how fun that slide was, despite her initial fears, and she agreed to try the kiddie roller coaster again with her dad but wound up hating it and came off the ride in tears. We've told her we'll never make her ride anything she doesn't want to ride, but now I'm wondering if trying to talk her into it actually made things worse. Is there a way to help a 7-year-old understand that sometimes getting back up on that horse is really worthwhile, while at the same time making it clear that it's always her choice? [edited for length]

I could be wrong, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with your child. 

Your anxiety, on the other hand, is going to make her go crazy.

Who cares about her back and forth love or fear of roller coasters? And I am not being flippant here. WHO CARES? Only you. You are making story upon story about how her REASONABLE fear will leach out and affect her whole life when that has not happened AT ALL.

I am guessing she panics when she talks about it because the parents are talking about it TOO MUCH. 

Let this child LIVE.

Holy smokes.

Seriously, the way you just accounted for her roller coaster riding leads me to believe you either ride these for a living or you are anxious and obsessed with your child's emotional life.

I know I am being harsh here, but if you want to give your child a shot at living an emotionally healthy life, I STRONGLY suggest you print this letter and bring it to a therapist who specializes in anxiety. Not to shame yourself, but to help you see where you have gone off the tracks (sorry, bad pun).


My 19 yo daughter left college (her #1 choice) last fall because of anxiety. After she came home, she took a few classes at community college but had poor grades. She's working about 30 hours a week at a local shop now, she loves her job, her employers love her and she is very responsible about getting to work and doing a good job. But I am so worried about her. When she's not working she's on screens at home in her bed. Since her friends all went back to college, she doesn't have a social life. She's not sure she wants to go back to school. has ADHD and anxiety, takes meds for both and sees a therapist every two weeks (all we can afford). I'm not sure what to do to help her. She doesn't seem at all motivated to do anything. I've recently instituted rules that she has to shower and leave the house every day at least for some period of time. I'm worried we could be in this same position in 10 years if we do nothing. Do you have any suggestions?

I know this is a tough one, but please focus on the good (AND I SEE A TON OF GOOD HERE).

She's working, she's loving it, her employers love her, and she's responsible.

And I promise you, if she were in school, she would also be sitting in her room, staring at a screen!


You are right to ask to her leave the house when she isn't working (and showering is good, too) and I would take this one step further by taking her to the bank and getting her set up with a good savings account and a good checking account.

It is up to her to go back to school or not (tough to swallow, but true), but in the meanwhile, you can all work together for her to save and find a place of her own.

That timeline and where is for your family to decide, but work toward it.

In the meanwhile, please see how crippling anxiety and ADHD can be, and HOW WELL she is doing, despite that. Please tell her often and precisely, how proud you are and point out how she is SUCCEEDING. Be specific. It sounds small, but it can make a world of difference.

And remember: MANY young adults need a gap year (years) before they launch...make some room around the timeline you always thought would happen...

Good luck.

Thanks for joining us today. We'll be here again the week after next. In the meantime, wishing you happy parenting. 

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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