On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Oct 14, 2020

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

Good morning all. How's everyone doing? We've hit a wall in our house (again?) ... school at home, working, emotions. So many emotions. 

So hopefully Meghan here will have some good advice and guidance for us all. Her column today is about whether to send kids back to school when faced with that option. 

Let's chat, shall we? 

So this is far less pressing than many of your other questions, but I need some help with creatively celebrating Halloween. My toddler is 3 and I've arranged for his best friend from school to come over for an outside mock trick-or-treating on Halloween. I have some rough ideas about making it into a quest, where they have to do different things or sing or make a potion at different stations, but I'm trying to think of activities that will be fun for 3 year olds while being economical. Do any other parents out there have plans for toddler-friendly Halloween celebrations?

There are some ideas in this good piece. Also, I heard neighbors talking about doing a "scavenger hunt" for their little ones. Like an Easter egg hunt, but in costume, and 2-3 kids. Honestly, at age 3, that's pretty darn exciting. And you still get your picture of the cutie(s) in costume.

I just got a covid piñata and we are going to smash it to pieces...two in one (getting out anger and candy).

I know a lot of families doing distanced marches and smashing drums, etc.

A three year old can handle a short quest...so whatever you do, keep it short, keep it distanced, and keep it light. 

I am a SAHM of three kids under seven, and I was burnt out on stay at home parenting before the pandemic even started - I ended up in therapy last year, and the prescription was to get a job once the youngest started kindergarten this fall. We all know how that went (our district is totally virtual till at least Jan). My SAHM super power was always finding us fun things to do outside the house and getting us organized enough to do them, so seven months at home has broken me. I don't want to be too melodramatic - everyone is fed and loved and snuggled and clean and read to and schooled, and they have each other to play with - but I feel like I'm spending more and more time hiding from my kids so I can doom scroll about the election, and my patience for normal kid drama is non-existent. Today I shouted, "if you're not bleeding you don't need to talk to me for the next 15 minutes!" down the stairs. How do I not damage my kids while we are all waiting for a meaningful break from each other?


Go back to therapy, STAT. Just venting to a safe space is worth it.

Get away.

My friend stayed in a YURT for a night. It was as stripped down as one could imagine, and that's what you need. A YURT.

Have a friend or spouse block you from doom scrolling. They can go into the settings on your phone and block your social media on your phone, either all of the time (which is what I would recommend) or some of the time. Your spouse or friend would have the code.

You have to get away from your family, and I would plan a time every single month that you are going to do that.

Even for one day or one night. Even just sitting in the woods. Anything. Anywhere.



Hi Meghan, Always love your advice and thanks for taking my question. My second grader attends a private school that has returned to in-person schooling. He made a lot of strides at home in the spring when school shut down and is now multiple grade levels above his peers in reading and math. He gets in the car everyday complaining about the pace. His school is not really able to accommodate him other than letting him work on different worksheets at his desk during math. We have no interest in advancing him but I’m a SAHM and seriously interested in homeschooling him. I can’t see paying tuition for the current situation. But upon bringing it up to my son, he was sad at the thought of not being with his classmates. How do we proceed? I don’t want him to begrudge us bringing him home. Please help!

I would work with the school to take another look at this. If his happiness lies in seeing kids, I am reticent to recommend taking him out.

There is also much to be done outside of school to promote learning and staying interested in school.

I would also look around at other private schools for next year to see if they could accommodate his learning needs.

While you look around, there is no harm in researching homeschooling cohorts around your home...you may find an active group where your son could grow both academically and socially.


Can we talk learning? My kid has slight learning differences and is completely at home, no in person school. He's lost his desire to work at all and to learn, and says he doesn't like any of it. I get it. But how much should we push? If we didn't at all, he'd just fail everything and be fine with it. My husband and I are at wit's end, so bummed out about it and it's coloring everything right now in our lives. He just doesn't care and we want him to care. I know that's not a winning strategy. So what is?

I don't know.

I am going to be so honest right now.

I don't know what the winning strategy is.

That's because there isn't one.

If we give up, we fear that child will slip away.

If we push, we get tremendous push-back and misery.

We are working, we are burned out, we are sick of each other, we are scared, we are tired, and we are grateful for health.

Above all, you don't have an teaching degree in special ed and how can you do this?

So, choose one thing every day. One lesson, one activity, one SOMETHING and do that.

Some days you will push, and some days you won't. Some days you will have strong boundaries and some days you will let it all go.

The goal, at the end of all this, is to remain mentally healthy. Not excel in school, not assume the year will be "normal" etc. You want to stay mentally healthy, so point your arrow in that direction and go.

Toward that end, keep some things as you north star:

1) nature and outside. I know, I know...it is beyond annoying to be continuously told to go outside and hike and whatnot, but nature is healing and so....

2) tech is necessary and awesome and also needs lots of boundaries. This is hard because we are ALL using tech to basically live and work, but kids cannot experience any mental rest if they are on tech. Period. So, you have to put boundaries on it.

3) I am not against a reward system here. If your kiddo does his "ONE THING" every day, he can earn something. Whatever you want. Have a meeting and figure it out.

4) PLAN JOY. It ain't coming on its own these days, so PLAN SOMETHING FUN. I don't care what it is, but be sure to make a plan of it.

5) celebrate what is working...and I mean AS PARENTS. It is too easy to see where and how you aren't measuring up or are failing, but I promise you that you are doing a better job than you think. Praise each other, even if it is for not losing your mind.

Good luck.

As an empty nester, I would appreciate children coming by to knock on the door and wave hello. No candy exchange just a neighborhood connection. My 2 cents.

Oh, I love this and yes...

May I suggest putting out a sign? Parents will not know to knock, and the kids may be confused that you aren't putting out candy, but if you make it explicit, it is more likely to happen!

Do you have any recommendations on how to seek counseling / therapy for controlling a short temper & increasing patience? I feel that I've always had a lack of patience but I really feel like its gotten out of control during the pandemic with my 4 year old and now a 4 month old.

I would begin with your regular doctor.

From there, I would move into your insurance.

From there, I would ask friends.

And in the meanwhile, make a list of questions you would like to ask the therapist, as well as the type of person you would like to work with.

Also, school yourself on the different types of therapy and see what speaks to you...

Remember, you are the consumer...you need to feel good about the therapeutic relationship.

And congrats on deciding you need this!

My daughter is in 2nd grade (public school) and her class meets "live" online every day, 9 am to about 1:30, with two 30 minute breaks. Do you think this is too much screen time? Should I aak for an accommodation for her in which she does more on an independent study 1 or 2 days a week? Or should I keep her with the class full-time despite my reservations? She's not excelling in this format but she's made some improvements in being able to participate in conversations and doing the class academic activities. My homeschooling wannabe mama heart kind of aches over all this screen time.

Yes, it is too much screen time.

It is too much screen time for all of us.

AND, everyone is doing the best they can to get through this time, and this is what the schools are doing.

IT stinks.

If you are really considering homeschooling, you are going to need to decide if you have the time and wherewithal to take it on.

Really get nitty-gritty about what that will look and feel like in your house...but definitely look at it!

Only you know what the best option is...listen to yourself and keep going.

Hi, and thanks for taking my question. We were pretty much completely locked down for the first 3-4 months of the pandemic, but in the last few months have started to allow occasional outdoor, socially distanced get-togethers with a few friends. It's so tough on my 13-year-old daughter, though. She wants more time with friends. More normal. To go back to basketball (hello, contact sports). And as there is no end in sight, we're not sure how to find the right balance between safety and mental health. It's made worse by the fact that she knows her friends are socializing more freely, etc., and at that age, well.... Any suggestions on helping her deal with the limitations?

I don't know how to find the balance either. 

It is a mess.

Every family has a different way of doing this pandemic, and there isn't one right or wrong way. Well, there is a WRONG way and that is hanging out, inside, with no masks. THAT IS WRONG AND BAD.

Plan what you CAN do and then simply listen to your daughter vent about her loneliness and anger.

Maybe you CAN have some bonfires or cookouts or distanced walks with friends, maybe you CAN play HORSE outside, maybe you CAN sit outside a Starbucks and have hot chocolate  (all with masks)...and then deal with fallout from watching some friends have almost no rules. 

It is hard. And that is all.

Wait, is this not good parenting? "Today I shouted, 'if you're not bleeding you don't need to talk to me for the next 15 minutes!'"

I mean, I say that kind of stuff everyday...which leads me to believe that parents are really out there showing off. Doing the most. :)


Thanks for joining us today, folks. It's rough out there. Do what you can to take care of yourselves. We'll talk to you again the week after next. In the meantime, check out washingtonpost.com/onparenting or subscribe to our newsletter for more. 

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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