On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Sep 16, 2020

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

Hello! Thanks for joining us today. Meghan is here and ready to answer your questions. Let's chat, shall we? 

Thanks for all you do, love your chats and columns! I have a very delightful and very stubborn just turned 3 year old, and we are struggling with potty training. We definitely bungled the start of potty training due to pandemic childcare issues and are trying to get back on track. She will go most of the time when we sit her on the potty, and is always proud of herself, but more often than not she refuses to sit and says she doesn’t have to go even if it’s obvious she does (the unmistakable gotta go dance). We are trying not to put pressure on her and don’t make a fuss when she has accidents. We just need a better way to encourage her to sit without making it A THING. When she sits often enough, no accidents. When she refuses to sit, accidents. She also basically only has accidents at home. When we are out she is great about telling us she has to go, and even holding it for a bit until we have a good place to go (much harder these days!) but at home accidents don’t faze her.

As soon as you "try not to put pressure," you are probably putting some pressure on your kiddo. And pressure plus potty training equals disaster. And if not disaster, it will lengthen the time it takes to potty train.

I would place little potties all over the place (different rooms and different floors), and every time you go to transition, YOU go the bathroom and bring her with you. She can sit with you and you can sing a song, etc. High five after you wash your hands and move it along.

Invite her to use the different potties around the house, and have a little "accident" area. A change of underwear, etc. Don't talk much about it (again, emphasis on the negative will prolong the ordeal).

And, can we not do pull-up's?

Our 16 year old is into making beats for rap artists and his manager wants him to travel out to Los Angeles the first part of October to attend a live recording session in a studio, Needless to say he is very excited, but his father and myself feel like at 16 he should not be traveling alone and meeting with people we don't even know. Plus we are in a Pandemic and of course the West Coast is on Fire! There are regulations regarding meetings and could pose a danger of contracting the virus. He thinks we are being overprotective and overreacting to the situation. Any advice on how how to handle this situation. Thanks.

Ummm, this is AWESOME.


1. Yes, YOU MUST GO WITH HIM. And like, contracts? I would need to be seeing some paperwork from the manager and studio.

2. Yes, LA is in a pickle...and I am wondering where you live. There are all kinds of different travel restrictions for different states...so those need to be taken into consideration. And are you living with people with compromised immune systems? Are you able to safely test and quarantine when you get back?

3. Read up on the safety of traveling and make the best decision you can. I am partial to making it happen, but only you know what is best!

My daughter just turned 2. We had attempted to wean her off the pacifier around 18 months (using a gradual method), but she spent an entire week just screaming instead of napping and sleeping very fitfully at night. because of covid, we were all miserable, so my partner and I decided to just give in and give her the pacifier. She only uses it for naps and bedtime - but now she's transitioning back into daycare and is using it more there because she misses us and is crying. Any tips on how to avoid reverting to overreliance on the pacifier, or ideas on how to wean? I don't like the idea of taking away her best coping mechanism while daycare transition is so tough, but should we just take it away?

Don't take it away right now.

Sucking is a powerful soothing mechanism, and while she is transitioning away from you, don't take it away. Too much drama for what? Some arbitrary "we think she should lose it" reason? 

A time will come, soon, where you will take it away. There will be crying, but it will be easier because she is older and will have more ways to communicate and soothe herself.

For now, let it be easy.

Like many families, we are doing online school with my now 6th grade son. He did very well with online learning last Spring, so I thought things would be easy for him. However, now we’re in a different school and the model has changed. He is required to be in Zoom meetings for all of his classes. Aside from the challenges of technology and the varying levels of engagement from some of his teachers (I get it, they’re expected to manage an in-person class along with the students at home—it’s too much), we are really struggling. My son is very driven, but has perfectionist and anxious tendencies. He wants me to hold his hand when he’s working on assignments and he has at least one major flip out per day if something doesn’t go right. By the end of the day, he’s burned out, and we’re having a hard time completing homework assignments. I know from my daughter’s experience that there is a lot of grace given in middle school for missed assignments, because they are developing executive function skills. How much assistance should I be offering for a middle school student (during a pandemic, granted)? I want him to take the initiative on his work, but he waits for me to be available to sit with him before he will work on his assignments.

We need to zoom out (no puns intended) and get a bigger picture here.

First of all, these tendencies of perfectionism and anxiousness may be actual disorders that he cannot control with willpower and hope. I know for a fact that children can be tested right now for different learning issues and anxiety, even over Zoom. So, if this has been an issue his entire life, he (AND YOU) need more support.

Here's the deal: if you continue on this sit-with-him-go-away-he-tantrums roller coaster, his anxiety will grow. It's truly a sticky-wicket because he won't work without you there...and where is that going to lead? How will that improve itself over time? It won't...he will just become more and more reliant on YOU (instead of using skills to calm and support himself).

For now, I would reach out to his teachers and tell them what you told me. Tell them that the assignments are causing more trouble than they are worth and that you need a break. I would find your son a therapist and pick up some GOOD books about kids and anxiety. I like the recommendations on Hey Sigmund!

Can you recommend a good book to help my husband and me better understand and get on the same page about toddler expectations and parenting? We have an 18-month-old who I see as a pretty typical 18-month-old (i.e. a happy kid overall who sometimes cries when, for example: he needs to go from being held by his dad to being cared for by our nanny; we need to transfer him from walking or riding shoulders at the zoo into a stroller; he wants to go outside and he can't for some reason). We have different reactions to those moments of upset, and we both think we'd be really helped by learning about what's going on for toddlers mentally and how we can respond to best support him without letting him become the boss. I've looked on my own, of course, and much of what I've seen in perusing options seems to be focused on discipline (or explaining why discipline is the wrong response); however, neither of us is approaching this as a discipline issue now so those books haven't struck me as the right fit (I don't mean to rule out something you think would be helpful that talks about discipline; I just thought it might be helpful to clarify where we are now).

While the dive may SEEM deep, I would STRONGLY recommend the Neufeld Institute online series "The Power to Parent." 

Because you and your husband are willing to learn and be open, AND because you are interested in more than discipline tactics (thank god), these classes will help you understand the deep needs of ALL young children and how you can meet them,  in your own individual way.

These classes can either be on your own, or you can join a facilitated one, but if you dedicated this time, it will be life-changing. Period.

It will also offer freedom to both you and your spouse to be different! There is no "same page," there is each of you, doing your best work. Watching the class together will also offer deep conversations about your own childhoods and how you understand the world! 

Have I sold you?

Piggy-backing on the previous question: What DO people do while potty training, but out and about, during these pandemic times? We aren't often out with our child but when we are, I have just been hoping we can make it long enough to avoid an accident, or using a diaper if I think it's going to be too long (which makes me feel like I'm setting back potty training). I've been avoiding public restrooms and I don't want to bring my child there, either...

I think people are doing WHAT they can...and it is a mess. There is tons of regression due to pull-up's and diapers being used to escape needing to go into germs places, and I hear to tell you: IT IS OKAY. IT IS ALL GOOD. 

ALL of these kids will eventually leave the house, using the toilet. 

We used this as a "transition" away from pacifier. It gave our child comfort. 

LOOOVE this, thank you!

My almost 4 year old refuses to go anywhere but his pull up. We've pulled back completely on potty training due to the tears and freak outs. We haven't touched the issue, but he will hold it in or wet himself and get upset if we don't give him a pull up. He's starting school in a year, and I worry that we will have to battle this again. Advice? Forget about sitting him on a potty or getting him anywhere near it.

Leave it alone.

If he is this resistant now, pushing him for a worry that is A YEAR AWAY will really do him in.

Remember: the growth within a year (for a four year old) is MONUMENTAL. He will be a different dude in six months, so just love on him and tell him, "I get you love this pull-up's...I wish I could use pull-up's sometimes..." By making lots of acceptance and rims around this, you will RELAX him. And relaxation equals trying new things (like the potty).

I kept my dummy for a very long time - I think I might have been three. I know some of my parent's friends were telling them they should take it away. Maybe I realized that, I don't know. My parents said nothing at all to me about it - ever. I actually vividly remember waking up one day, chomping on my dummy and saying to myself 'you're too old for this'. I remember going downstairs and announcing to my parents that I was going to throw it away. My parents were delighted but told me that if I threw it away there was no going back. It would be gone forever. That gave me pause, but I still threw it away. Except for a moment of panic as it hit the rubbish, I was fine, didn't miss it. It made all the difference that my parents gave me the space for this. I was born in 1967, so this was ages ago.

That is so great you can remember this! Thanks for sharing!

My older sister was prone to unpredictable physical and emotional violence when we were growing up. It was the 1980s so my parents left us alone a lot. Mimicking what our parents did, she found every excuse possible to spank me, especially if I didn't want to interact with her. Once, she squeezed her hands around my throat and I couldn't breathe. In another instance, I was terrified of her so I locked her out. When I let her back in, she bashed my head against the wall multiple times. She washed my mouth out with soap when I told her to stop touching me. My parents, then and now, chalk this up to typical older sibling behavior. My sister had top grades and was an extremely obedient child when my parents were around, which is why I suspect they were reluctant to do anything. My sister only stopped her violence when I could physically defend myself. Her emotional abuse is not as intense but still there. Now that I have kids of my own, I'm vocal about my sister not having any contact. This hurts my parents deeply because they think I'm being dramatic and misremembering the past and taking away a relative from my kids. But the bigger problem is that my sister thinks the two of us had a grand old growing up and she doesn't remember any physical or emotional issues. What negative incidents she does remember, she retells as funny anecdotes or she'll explain I was a terrible child and she was trying to correct my behavior as a way to help my parents out. I've ensured that my sister has not had any contact with my kids ever, but I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. Our pediatrician says any adult who still believes in corporal punishment for children cannot be left alone with them. Am I doing this right? What do I tell my kids when they start asking why they can't have contact with my sister? And what do I tell my sister who doesn't agree with how I view her actions?

I am going to say this loud and clear: You are a victim of emotional and physical abuse. 

That your parents allowed it is also another severe blow.

You MUST (yes, I am yelling) find a trauma-informed therapist to help you.

Why? I don't give a rats @ss about what your sister wants right now. You need to heal that little you, then find a way to talk to your immediate family (your kids), THEN deal with your parents and sister.

DO NOT ALLOW YOUR SISTER AND PARENTS to bully you into seeing them or anything of the life. Period.

When and how (AND IF) you see them is a plan you need to set up with your therapist.

Again, TRAUMA-INFORMED therapy is needed here.

I would love for you to circle back and let me know how this goes...I am thinking of you.

I wrote in last chat about my son and I being excluded from the local "hiking" club. Shortly after the chat, I got official notice of exclusion from the group. This prompted me to contact the national group. The person who runs the groups was on the ball and vehemently stated that the groups are for all. We set up a conference call the next day for the 3 of us. Apparently there were a few more incidents that I didn't think were a big deal but apparently to this mom they were. No one mentioned this to me. She never apologized for not talking to me and basically was unwilling to follow the rules of the national organization. So now she is no longer head of the local group and her group will be their own nature/hiking group and I'm restarting the local chapter of the national group. Mind you, we now have to communicate because I certainly do not want to end up on a hike and find her there and vice versa. Even if I do not want to be part of her group, it's not the solution I wanted. I am hopeful though that we will find our own tribe who wants to explore with us.

Hey now! Thank you for writing in.

I am proud of you for advocating for yourself and your child.

And I would reflect on this mom's reaction to the behavior...

IS this a "her" problem...or is there some truth in her reactions to your kiddo?

I am not defending her immature reaction, I am just suggesting that it is good to reflect on some of this as you start your own group.

Happy hiking!

The easy solution is to get a Potiette travel potty. It folds up and can fit in a bag and you go in a plastic bag with a paper towel in it. I practice with it at home (in the back yard) and then bring it with me when we go to playgrounds or outings. That way they can go wherever they need.

Nice! This would have been a better option than having my kiddo squat behind trees years ago!

Also, stop doing homework. There is absolutely no need for homework during virtual school. Learn during the day and do other things in the evenings-walk, play, family time.


Thank you all for joining us today! Meghan is always ready to answer your questions: Check out Meghan's latest right here. You can always find On Parenting's stories here, and sign up for our newsletter here

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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