On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Oct 25, 2017

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

Good morning all! Welcome to our On Parenting chat with Meghan Leahy. Her latest column is on "shyness" -- if that's what it is. And last week, she wrote answered a letter about a 4-year-old who won't use the potty.

Also, join us! We just started a Facebook group about parenting and working for pay (or at least trying to). We'll discuss stories we and others have had, pose questions from you and be looking for your insight. Pumping, "balance," trying to work from home, family leave and more. Please join us right here.

Now on to the chat. Lots of questions (and comments) await, including one from a letter writer about her daughter who didn't use the potty until she was nearly 5. Come check it out.

Meghan received this email from a reader that we wanted to pass on, regarding Meghan's column about potty training. We hope you're reading, frustrated parent!

"I read with interest your answer in the Washington Post to the parent whose child was 4 and had issues potty training.

 My experience says your advice was spot on. That child sounds so much like my daughter at the age of 4, except that she wouldn't pee or poop without a diaper. After struggling for months to get her potty trained, I threw in the towel and let her be--much to the annoyance of my husband.

Then at 4 1/2, as I was preparing for a large crowd for dinner, my daughter announced that she wanted to use the potty--a first for her. I dropped what I was doing to accompany her. She did her business, and from then on, she used the toilet. No accidents, no running through stores in search of bathrooms. She was ready and willing on her own terms.

 I was lucky that because I was very active in her preschool, they didn't kick her out because she wasn't potty trained. While lamenting to the preschool director about my situation, she assured me that in the 30-years of her career, she didn't know of one child who started college in diapers.

I'm happy to say that my daughter started college this past August diaper-free!

I wish I could tell my story to the parent who wrote you to provide some encouragement. I hope she follows your advice."



My 4, soon to be 5, year old has a bad habit that's started in the last few months. He's constantly putting the collar of his shirts in his mouth and chewing on it and sucking it. He's never been a thumb sucker and gave up pacifiers a long long time ago. I'm worried about his teeth-as well as all the shirts that are now stretched out and getting ruined! How can I stop this behavior?

So, it many but not all, chewing is a sign off a child trying to relieve stress.

When I tell you that it is common, IT IS COMMON and usually unconscious on the part of the child.

There are bite necklaces, etc, but I would ask this: Is your child stressed? What could be the source of the stress?

If we can lessen the stress, we can slow the chewing...

I was talking with my sister this past weekend and she said that she thought my daughter (age 5) has serious behavioral issues. (She has two kids herself, aged 7 and 4). She provided a few examples, all of which took place when my daughter was 3 and all of which involved minor property damage (drawing on the wall, making soup out of dishsoap, that sort of thing). We didn't go into detail at the time, but I would like to talk to her again. My most rational, mature self knows that as a responsible parent I should engage in factfinding to explore the possibility that someone may seem something in my kid that I don't. But white hot emotions are not far from the surface. Aside from feeling protective of my kid and my basic competence as a parent, I am very fearful about losing part of my family. I don't know how I can continue to be around my sister knowing how she feels about my daughter (especially since, based on what she has said so far, I think she is being very unfair). Any suggestions for how to navigate this?

Yikes, what a mess.

I don't really think you need to engage on a fact-finding mission to find out if your daughter is a problem UNLESS you have a spidey-sense that maybe your sister is on to something here. Not that I like HOW your sister spoke to you or even what she said, per se, but if she hit a nerve, you can gently look at it.

Otherwise, you need to figure out a way to communicate with your sister...

Did your daughter destroy her walls and you never properly made amends? Have you always had this kind of relationship with your sister (drudging up the past)?

You really have to decide how you feel about this hurt, but you also need to know that you cannot control your sister. If you are firm in your knowledge of your daughter, all you can say to your sister is, "I am sorry you feel this way about Rachel. I believe she is a normal little girl, and I can see how those incidents left an impression on you...but we will agree to disagree on this."

Family...man...it's tough.

My son finally agreed to start using the potty during the summer before turning 5, but we have had periods of consistent accidents since then, typically associated with school-related anxiety. He's back on track now, but I just wanted to weigh in that the experience of the contributor at the beginning of the chat, where everything was trouble-free after the child's snap decision to use the potty, is not always the case.

Regression is so common, I don't even like to call it regression.

Potty accidents are just part of of the maturity process...normal, normal, normal.


No. But certainly if parents allowed their children to dictate their readiness on potty-training, children would be starting kindergarten and first grade in diapers.

This is not true. The data doesn't support it.

Post Points folks. Your code is: OP6653

My 2.5 year old daughter has recently fallen into a serious mommy phase. So much so that she refuses to let me (her father) help her with anything. I used to do her bedtime routine every night but lately she refuses to even let me get her a drink of water. She constantly screams "no, mommy can do it for me". Should we indulge this for a little while hoping it will pass or should we be more forceful about ending it? Several meltdowns have ensued when I try to do her bedtime routine. Having my wife do everything for her while we also have an 11 month old to deal with is obviously not ideal. I also wonder if this is a delayed reaction to my daughter recently starting nursery school. Its only 2 days a week for a couple hours but she was never in daycare before as she is watched by my mother in law.

This is so normal, but I know it doesn't make you feel any better.

And I agree that stress due to starting school is contributing to all of this neediness and clinginess. NONE OF THIS CONSCIOUS on her part. It is NOT personal toward you. Promise.

So, the answer to this is both a bit of indulgence and a bit of "forcing."

I would choose a night where mom leaves the house for bedtime and you guys begin to find a rhythm. I am guessing mom's presence keeps the feelings amped.

You have to kind of keep at it and chug along. She may cry for mom, but just ride the feelings with, "I know. It's hard..." Lots of cuddles and waiting. 

Alternatively, don't try this every night. Step up with the 11 month old in whatever way possible and shift some special time to that 2.5 year old on a weekend. See if you can't have some daddy/daughter time AWAY from the bedtime routine to build up some kind of connection and safety.

In any case, as long as you stay invested, THIS WILL PASS.


Last chat you had a question from a mom with active twins, and you (rightly) suggested that she bring outside help into her home. As someone who has been there, I have another suggestion: join a gym that provides childcare. Even accounting for the membership costs, it’s cheaper than a babysitter, and the work involved is less (signing up and showing up vs. searching for a sitter, coordinating schedules, etc.). I exercise to stay in shape and fight depression, chat with other adults, and use the locker room for an uninterrupted shower. My kids play with different toys, see different kids, and get to know other adults (who can be potential babysitters). We all GET OUT OF THE HOUSE! It’s been a lifesaver for me.

I love this suggestion, thank you.

I HEAVILY relied on my gym daycare...I remember going once and just sitting on the recumbent bike for thirty minutes, reading a book. I am not sure I was even peddling! LOL.


Thank you for answering my question last chat, and your kind words. (My 9yo seems to be overly interested in the idea of men dressing as women, and may have tried on a dress that's about his size). It's hard to find someone to talk to about gender issues who's not biased in some (often major) way. I'm not freaking, but not knowing where this is going is driving me CRAZY... I pushed the issue a bit. I found a video on youtube of a mother getting her son ready for Halloween as a girl. She's doing his makeup and helping him get dressed, right down to his heels. A few days later, I showed my son while saying how great it was that they could do this together. I asked if he'd ever want to do that and he immediately answered "NO!" but yesterday he said "remember that video? Do you think we could do something like that for Halloween?"

You sound loving and caring and he is lucky to have you.

Your only real work, right now, is to watch your own worry and anxiety. He will emerge into whoever he is in his own time. I know, easy for me to say, so in the meanwhile, PLEASE get some support for this! You need an outlet for your worries.

Hi, Meghan and Amy! Thank you for taking my question. My 10 year old does not seem to be thriving academically in fifth grade. We caught her grades a few weeks before the end of the quarter (all work and grades are on the computer, so it's not sent home) when the damage was already done. I saw today that most of the grade made either all As or As and Bs, including all her friends. I know it's not a matter of intelligence or an undiagnosed learning disability; instead, when I've looked at her work I've seen careless mistakes (i.e. poor grammar, omitting words, etc) that could be corrected with better attention. Additionally, she resists any kind of suggestion we make to study differently (all study tools are also online--we've suggested flash cards or writing answers longhand) because it's not how her teachers have told them to study. We're trying not to put so much pressure at 10 years old, but we're at a loss about what to do. We don't want to deploy a lot of extrinsic motivators, but I'm not sure how to establish intrinsic motivation, especially for something like grades.

I'm no doctor, but the attention issue might be something to look in to. (So, er, check with a doctor.)

Meanwhile, I'm sure Meghan has some thoughts.

DO NOT APPLY pressures (yet).

I would begin with reassessing her homework routine. Don't make this about grades as much as you are going to make it about healthy and good work habits. Begin sitting near her and take interest in her work. She may resist, but hang in there.

I would recommend a thorough testing of reading, writing, eyesight, attention issues, etc.

You will have your marching orders when you get that data back...

But if you apply too much pressure here (to a non-willpower issue), much emotional damage can be done.

Good luck.

Thanks! This behavior coincided with the start of his Pre-K classes, so he may be stressed about doing real school work (learning to write letters) for the first time. How can i help him relieve stress in other ways?

I am not being cute when I say STOP MAKING HIM WRITE LETTERS.

The essential work of a preschooler is PLAY AND PLAY ONLY.

There is no need for REAL SCHOOL WORK.

If the school is demanding it, PUSH BACK. 

I mean it.


Hi Meghan. I write to you under sad circumstances. My sister (who was a single mom) passed away recently and left behind an 20 month old daughter "Kate." I am now her guardian, and I have no other children. I'm wondering how I help Kate deal with her grief (is that what she's feeling?). She will go up to pictures in my house that my sister is in and cry and say "Mommaaaaa" and she won't let me comfort her. Should I take down the photos and help her avoid the pain? My gut instinct says no, but I should note that she is mostly fine (although a bit subdued) when she isn't reminded of her mom. How can I help this poor baby? I can only imagine the confusion and fear she's experiencing!

Oh man.

I am so sorry.

So...yeah, keep up the pictures. As torturous as this is, we want Kate to cry about what she has lost...this is how humans adapt to change, even change as awful as this.

I want you to get support, STAT.

Get a GOOD parent coach or therapist who understands ATTACHMENT THEORY (Pamela Whyte is so good) and if you cannot afford that, go to The Neufeld Institute and self-study The Art and Science of Transplanting Children. 

There are people who will help you. Please get the support...


My son is 5 years old and in kindergarten. He is an only child who loves to play with friends. We find though that he can get overstimulated when has has evening after evening playing with friends. He has one friend in particular that they seem to fight more than anything which will lead my son to cry, run away, etc. Also with this one particular boy they seem to get into mischief which he doesn't with his other friends. We limit his play time with the boy to twice a week but my son only seems to have bad nights afterwards (cranky, crying, mean) after playing with this one particular boy. We assume this is normal and I don't know that I have a question other than, please tell us it is normal!

It's normal that he's having horrible nights.  I don't know why your son is playing with this child at all...

Why are there playdates with this kid?

My four year old is refusing to go to preschool. He went for a month with no problems. He went part time, three days a week. I am confident nothing happened, but he tells me he misses me- that's why he doesn't want to go. I am home still with his 16 month old brother, so I haven't forced him. I thought I would give preschool a rest and try again in a few months, but the insecure part of me fears I will be forcing my 4th grader to school if I don't force him to go now. But I want school to be fun, not a punishment. He otherwise is okay leaving me for short times to go to friend's house or childwatch at the gym and he does okay with babysitters. But in general we spend a lot of time together- even co-sleeping! He is a wonderful, well behaved boy who really requires little redirection and I get great reports on his behavior. So, should I force preschool or is he just slow to develop "independence"? Thank you!

There is no real "need" for your child to be in preschool if he is emotional and physically safe at home. 

Look at this like a baby bird. The baby bird gets stronger, eats, sleeps, stretches his wings, flaps, gets stronger and stronger. 

If we push the baby out of the nest, though, he won't fly. He will flounder and wall.

But when THE BABY is ready, he flies off confidently.

This is how nature works, and don't look at the baby bird and think, "if we don't push him out, will he EVER fly?" No, we wait.

We can be confident with our kids this way, too.

Listen to your intuition.

One of my two year-old girls (twins) refuses to brush her teeth. We've tried multiple brush types, "you brush mommy's teeth, she'll brush yours," modeling behavior, praise, etc. and little seems to work. I'm concerned about her oral health and it's making bedtime a bit of a nightmare. Any tips from you or other readers? I'm trying to be patient but it's getting difficult.

Give this a rest for bit.

I know, you are afraid her teeth will rot, but at this point, you are just fighting and fighting and fighting, and it isn't working.

Adopt an attitude of "I love brushing my teeth," and happily brush away (your own teeth). Sing songs and really enjoy it.


If she wants to, you just say, "AWESOME, let's do it." No fanfare. Be cool.

What we are going to relying on the 2 year old to WANT to be like you. That's what 2 year old's are like.

Be confident she will get there. She will.

My kid are 3 and 4 and we are at that age were we are having a lot of gatherings at our house with other families. Often, parents will allow their kids to behave in my home in a way that I would not allow my own children. Things like eating in the living room, throwing toys, going into rooms that are off limits. When i say things like "we do not go in Grandma's room" or "please do not bring snacks into the living room" to my friends' children, my friends will say in turn "oh it's fine. I'm watching," or "I'll clean it up. Don't worry." This bothers me for two reasons. One is that these rules are meant for a reason. When my mother moved in we agreed no kids would be in her room because at her age its harder to childproof things, her furniture is not kid friendly, and she just wants a bit of privacy. With food in the living room- I don't mind cleaning up the kitchen floor multiple times a day but now that the infant stage is over I don't want to have to scrub down each room of the house. Second, this sends mixed messages to my own children about the rules of the house. I let this stuff got when all the kids were younger ( and still do for some of the 2 and 3 year old visitors) but I do not think its unreasonable to ask a 4 , 5 or 6 year old to respect rules that might be different to what happens at their own home. How can I ask for a bit more respect in my home without interfering in other people's parenting?


Okay, i would post the "RULES OF THIS HOUSE" prominently and READ THEM TO BOTH ADULTS AND CHILDREN who enter the house.

Thank your guests AHEAD OF TIME for respecting the rules and be sure to set up snacks, etc. where YOU want them to be. Finally, do not hang out with people who don't respect your rules. PERIOD. 

My wife and I are very meticulous about showering. We have always instilled our daughters to take a shower every other day at least. However, our 10.5 year seems to forget: we have to ALWAYS push her and remind her to take a shower. Maybe she is used to us reminding her? We have experimented with not reminding her and this led to three days without a shower (which was followed by us expressing our frustrated bewilderment to her). One the one hand, we think she should be able to do this on her own, and yet we don't want our daughter going to school with greasy hair and being unwashed. What do you think?

I think you are controlling a young woman's body that is not your to control.

We ALL want our kids to NOT stink, but you have GOT to lay off here. You will definitely (hand on Bible swear here) cause more problems with controlling her than you will by letting her hair be greasy.

Thanks for joining us. Please keep up with us at washingtonpost.com/onparenting. And join us in our parenting/working Facebook discussion group right here. Check out Meghan's site right here and her Post columns here. So much reading, so little time. Enjoy!

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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