On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Sep 26, 2018

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

Morning to you all! Meghan's here and ready to answer as many questions as she can (there are SO MANY). Don't forget to keep an eye out for her column. She often will answer something there instead if it needs more time and thought. Speaking of time and thought, here is today's column by Meghan where a parent asked if it was just cruel and unusual to not let her 9th grader have a phone

Okay, let's chat, shall we? 

My child’s new teacher is very strict and punished the entire class when a few students are not listening. My child is starting to hate school because she says her teacher is mean and she has no fun. Her school has a no transfer policy so we have to stay in this classroom. Also, as much as she complains about this issue, she is learning. How do I help her to adjust?

I am not a huge fan of punishing the whole for a few, though I understand what the teacher is going for...

Would look at the frequency...is this happening every single day? Weekly? The frequency is to be considered when trying to decide how to proceed...

Also, the teacher may or may not be more strict than your child is used to, so, yes, listen and empathize with your child, but try to tease out if she is complaining to you as a way to outlet her feelings but she is happy in school, or is truly miserable? You want to listen and validate a first grader while also not take them too literally. It's a tough balance.

In the meanwhile, try to connect to the teacher in a positive, lighthearted way. Build a relationship!

Solidarity, please. We're in the midst of a hitting-tantrum-back talking-refusing to eat-throwing things-pleasegodhelpus storm with our 2.75 year old. Please tell me that it only feels like it will never end. :(

It only FEELS like it will never end. :)

While you are holding your boundaries and loving up this child, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE plan some fun for yourself. Please do something without your child that makes you happy. And preferably not hung over the next day, because that is the worst thing you can do while parenting a tough toddler.

Also, look at temporary help with this. Do you need more support?


My toddler loves to wear dresses. This is fine! He worships his older sister and wants everything she has, and also dresses are awesome and he says he looks beautiful and he does. This is all great. Except we are living, temporarily, in the Middle East. Right now, if he goes out in the dress, people generally assume he's a girl and that's ok with me. But as he gets older, I worry a bit about what people might say to him. My husband wants to head it off by trying to get him to wear dresses only in the house, but I don't want to give him the message -- especially from us! -- that there is something wrong with who and how he is. We are planning to get him a thobe, which he will hopefully enjoy wearing. But do you have any guidance in nurturing him in what he loves while in a country that outlaws anything that looks like homosexuality?

Ugh, this is a tough one. And I am ALL for children wearing what they want, when they want, but when personal safety is an issue, you need to make other decisions. 

He is only a toddler so we don't know what the dress-wearing will lead to (or not), so for the time-being, celebrate the dress-wearing at home, and try to not worry for the future. You have some time to see how this plays out.

Just keep trying to strike a balance of allowing your son to be who he is while keeping him safe.

post points for today: OP8693

Hi Meghan, I’ve been co-parenting my 3.5 year old since birth with her dad and though there have been some rough spots, he’s always been reliable and insistent on keeping things amicable. We don’t have any legal custody arrangements and that’s been fine. He’s done something recently that has really upset me. I have yet to confront him about it but plan to and I could use some help. He started a new relationship about two months ago. One month in he asked if he could introduce our daughter. Knowing how outgoing and friendly our daughter is, I said sure, but we really need to have a conversation if this woman is going to be a regular part of my daughter’s life. Well, It seems she has become a regular part of our daughter’s life, spending the day at her house with her dad roughly once a week. I know he’s going to say it’s fine because she’s a good person and I’m guessing he didn’t tell me about it because he knew I’d be upset. But I feel he’s missing the point. I feel betrayed and I think he’s being cavalier about our daughter’s emotional health by establishing a bond with someone who could dissapear from her life summarily. I want to say no more contact until 6 months into the relationship. Is that fair? I’m so angry; I need help approaching this conversation constructively.

It sounds like you have been successfully co-parenting for almost four years, so let's not blow it all up.

Every co-parenting relationship runs into new issues, and these new issues call for a proper sit-down.

I don't know if the dad is being cagey, or he just figured he asked you about the woman, you gave a yes, and then he proceeded happily. I don't know, but I don't think it is helpful for you to assume he is trying to cavalier and disrespectful.

SO! You are in a transition point in your co-parenting, and you both need to sit down and say, "OKAY! We are in a new place in our parenting, with significant others and time spent with them. Let's talk about and come to a compromise on what we think is appropriate for our daughter."

When you call this meeting with the dad, ask him to look into the research or what experts or therapists are saying about what almost 4 yo's need and the impacts of significant others to children's lives.

Don' t do this work FOR her dad...have him find his research and you bring yours, and compare. 

It is natural, when someone is happy with their new significant other, that they think, "she's awesome, my daughter will love her, this is all good..." and it is easy to forget that children can become attached easily, only to feel abandoned later when the person disappears from the child's life. We cannot guarantee everything, but we should always be prudent with introducing other adults into our children's lives.

Enter this discussion with a cool head. The woman is already is your daughter's life...so don't lay down the hammer...and if it possible...maybe you could all meet up? First the adults to meet and be cordial, and then at a park with the daughter? This tells the daughter that everyone is on the same page and is VERY REASSURING.

But to begin, call a meeting with the dad and proceed slowly and with respect for both of your positions. You will work it out!


My parents were part of a generation that believed the adults make all the decisions for the kids and the kids obey without question. My parents rankled at the idea that a child would have a say in anything, and they were outraged if children ever asked for anything because we should be grateful for whatever our parents gave us. My parents were also equally outraged at the idea that capitalism would drive any of their parenting decisions. So I was literally the only kid without a band t-shirt or the only kid who couldn't go on a school trip or I was the only kid who couldn't participate in anything with an extra fee. If the school didn't provide it, I wasn't getting it. Even though I was isolated socially, my parents also believed that I'd get over it because these things are no big deal and grades are the only thing that matter long-term. My follow up question is about how my parents are today. My husband and I aren't overly strict with our son, but my mom especially is quick to say I'm harsh and unyielding. She has even gone as far as to say I need to buy my son things that he wants so that he's not left out at school. (Yeah that had me seeing red.) After all those years of screaming fights, both of my parents refused to budge so I'm having a hard time being in the receiving end of their advice today. How do I deal? I'm not as strict as my parents, but they are the last people who should be telling me what to do.

How do you deal? Honestly? With therapy! I am not saying you were abused as a child (but you kind of were), but even compared to another generation, you were really isolated from your peers and school community! And guess what? That does emotional damage to a person!

Additionally, you were not allowed to have an opinion, a voice, a word in your family. Any wish or hope or dream was not even allowed to be expressed, and I don't want to slam your parents, but that is super jacked up. True, we have too many kids that get what they want these days, but to have parents who were outraged or rankled at the very idea that you had a desire or an opinion? That's not healthy. In fact, I would say that you were raised in a suppressive, emotionally unstable household.

And now your parents are really mind-screwing you by doing a total reversal and telling you that you are too strict? Oy veh.

Listen...get thee to a therapist, stat. Your parents have a clear voice in your childhood and parenting, and you need to sort through all that, find your own voice, and FIND YOUR BOUNDARIES WITH YOUR PARENTS.

I am not saying you need to boot them out of your life, but they don't get to rule your parenting life after ruling your childhood.

Get help. 


My son’s 2nd grade teacher takes away recess as a punishment (15 minutes out of 30 are taken away at the first offense). I definitely don’t support this, and want to tell the teacher that I don’t want his recess taken away, but I also don’t want to start a conflict with his teacher this early in the year. I’m just worried because my son NEEDS his outside time, or else he’s going to have even worse behavior problems and honestly just doesn’t enjoy life as much when he faces a whole day with so little recess.

This is the worst punishment possible. I really can't stress that enough. Your son DOES need recess, as do his peers. All of them. Talk to the teacher, explain why this is such a bad idea. It doesn't have to be a conflict... think of it as an, er, education. Not only is this bad for your child, it's bad for the teacher. He won't just suddenly behave if he can't run around and get some oxygen. (By the way, I believe it's actually illegal to take away recess in some jurisdictions, including D.C., so check on that.) 

I am with Amy....taking away RECESS IS BAD SCIENCE.

I would approach this with, "Hey teacher, I know you know this already, but science shows....and my son's brain goes haywire without....and I know we BOTH want the best for him and all the kids...."

What you want to do is align yourself WITH the teacher. Be in partnership.

If the teacher is not amenable, go to the mattresses. 

You gave really good advice. A smartphone is the way teens communicate these days. And frankly, if this parent still chooses to not give this teen a phone (and likely ban social media), it is an invitation for this kid to get online, open accounts, etc. on friends' phones. I've seen this happen. Being left out like this makes kids go behind parents' backs. (My high school aged teen has had a smartphone for years and tells me about these kids.) So better to give your teen a phone and supervise, and converse, converse and converse. This does not necessarily mean read your kids' texts every night. A number of parents do this, and kids hate it - I think it also invites "secret" behavior. Teens want to keep some of their life private (developmentally appropriate), and you need to give them space. Your kid will be out of the house in 4 years. Better to give them some freedom now where you can guide good decisions before you lose ALL CONTROL over them when they move out.

Hey, I nominate you to speak to ALL PARENTS ABOUT TECH, because you are on the money.

I know parents are running in a blind panic about tech, and the science is FRIGHTENING, but moving backward and being a police state is NOT THE ANSWER. 

Every parent needs to assess their own child's ability to govern him or herself and make smart decisions from there...based in reality, openness, and honesty.


Hi Meghan - my sister in law has taken to sharply saying no when her baby squeals or throw her toys on the ground. The child isn't a year old yet and it's really upsetting to me husband and me. Is there anything to make us feel better about these corrections, or things we can do? I don't want to overstep any boundaries.

Is there anything you can do to make you feel better about these corrections? Ummm, errrr, uhhhh.

I don't know. I mean, how close are you to your SIL?

When my BIL barked at one of his twin babies once, I sat up and said loudly, "What the HECK are you doing?" Shocked, he looked and me and we both laughed, and I said, "Stop yelling at the baby for doing baby things!"

I could do that because I have that KIND of relationship with my BIL. 

If you don't have that kind of relationship with your SIL, then you need to find a way to live with her corrections.

And BTW, many many cultures have parents who sharply correct their babies...so we don't need to totally awfulize this, unless is it verbally abusive.

It's just awkward, and your SIL will also soon find out that she is just watering weeds...

I often have suspicions that my teen daughter is gay She is a strong defender of LGBTQ rights and many of her friends are part of the community. I want to let her know that I would be supportive, but I don't know how to make that clear without explicitly asking if she is gay.

Listen, I am not an expert on this...at all. And I don't know how old your daughter is...


If you live an inclusive, loving life, and you love her for exactly who she is, every day...she will come out of the closet (if she's gay), when she's good and ready.

Again, I don't know a thing, but coming out is a big deal...even in a time when we more and more LGTBQ people in public life...don't be fooled by our larger culture. Your daughter still has to work out her interior life, and that is no small thing.

Your job is to create an environment where you unconditionally love her and tell her that. Every single day. Even if she rolls her eyes. Even if she doesn't seem to care. Be specific about what you love about her (try not to focus on accomplishments) and just BE THAT PARENT.

She will tell you what she needs to tell you when she's ready, and not a day sooner.

I don't like the idea of owning a gaming console. I've always thought they were a silly waste of time and now that I'm a parent, I cringe when we visit someone else's house and the kids do nothing but play video games for 4 hours straight. We are the only household I know without some sort of gaming system. My kids (7 & 9) get to play educational, single player games on our PCs on occasion but that's it. Am I being the tech police here too?

I don't know. Are you?

I cannot answer that for you. 

Do you FEEL like the tech police?

(And I am not being snarky here. Take note of how your actual lived experience and don't should yourself about it. What is real?)

My parents were also pretty restrictive, but in a weird way, it made me a better person? I learned how to be crafty and get around some pretty strict rules. Not allowed to date? I'd say I was going out with friends they already knew. Not allowed to eat certain types of cereal? I'd make friends with the kids I knew who did eat that stuff and get invited over to their houses. Not allowed to see a particular boy because my parents didn't approve of his background? I signed up for the same extracurriculars he had and saw him that way. These habits have served me well as an adult honestly. When trying to work around a boss or an overly rigid rule that stifles productivity? People come to me. When trying to get around an HOA guideline on trees? Husband comes to me.

Kudos and YIKES. :)

In all seriousness, this is what boundaries that are too close in DO...they create children (and adults) who will climb, bust through, and sneak. Over and over and over...

Thanks for joining us today. Check out On Parenting at washingtonpost.com/onparenting. Meghan's previous columns are here. We'll be back to chat in two weeks. Until then!

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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