On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Dec 04, 2019

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

Thanks for joining us. Twice in one week

Meghan's column today is about a testy teen. And on the other age spectrum, here's her column from last week about criticisms and young kiddos

Okay, many questions await. Don't forget that if Meghan doesn't answer you here, she may use your question for a future column, where she has the time and space to answer in more detail. 

Okay, let's talk parenting, shall we? 


Hi Meghan, I love your advice. Thank you for sharing it with us. I have a 3 year old son (he will be 4 in late Feb, if that matters). He is recently in an obsessive “I love Mommy so much” phase and wants to be physically touching me. All.The.Time. And it’s not a simple as holding his hand... he “needs” all the weight of his 37 pound body to be on me. All.The.Time. He attaches himself to my leg while I’m trying to do things around the house or care for his 1.5 yo brother. He climbs on my lap or my shoulders or my head when I’m sitting down. He “needs” snuggles in the middle of the night. Did I mention this is All.The.Time.? I am tired from 2-3 wake ups a night for snuggles and can’t carry an extra 3 year old body with mine all day! And physical touch is NOT my love language - to the extreme, like the opposite of love to me. So, while I try to give him what he needs, I feel totally smothered and disrespected. I have regular help built into my schedule so I do get breaks from him, but the transitions have become harder - crying at preschool drop off (he loves school and play acts that he is his teacher when he’s home), crying when I leave him with his long-time nanny (who he adores & looks forward to seeing), refusing to go to grandparents (even though that’s a long-standing, regular part of his weekly routine). None of this was a problem a month or 2 ago. No major life disruptions or traumas that I can think of. Is this a phase that is common at this age? Any suggestions for surviving it or easing its symptoms? Any thoughts on how low long it lasts? - A tired mom with an extra 3yo sized appendage

Oyyyyyy, this is tiring.

So, if you are reporting NO sensory stuff before (and I none), then this is a stage that needs to be dealt with so much compassion and so many boundaries.

Coming from the connection angle first: many people (children) get their cups filled physically, and it makes sense. Children are purely physical the first year of month, and while their individuality is developing, they often need to check in, physically. If you add any changes to routine and schedule, etc., you will have a child who may become needier and more physical. Even maturity can bring about insecurity in a child, creating smothering physical neediness. So, please know that even though it feels personal and even a little manipulative, it isn't.

To keep connecting with him, I want you to plan VERY PHYSICAL time with him that has an end. So, set the timer and when it is over, it is over. Wrestling, roughhousing, sports, make believe that involves some physicality...anything. And then, when it is done, we will cry. And cry and cry. And that is okay. He needs to build some tolerance for this separation, and crying is how he gets there. Don't punish him, just let the storm blow through.

As he tries to smother you the rest of the times, work out a deal with him where you will hug him strongly around the shoulders or squeeze him or hold his hand for a bit, but then that is it. No more. Keep repeating, "We did our wrestling, now we hold hands."

As for other ways to stay connected to him when you are apart, get a nice big heavy blanket and sleep with it. Get it to really smell like you. Let him know that this is a special blanket, just for him, just from you and it has all your love and hug and cuddles in it. And whenever he misses you, he can hold on to the blanket. They make weighted blankets now, and I think the evidence if specious, but hey, if it works, it works.


Keep holding the no's. Keep sending him to grandparents. Keep leaving him with the nanny. Bring this village into what is happening and that he needs extra love (not punishment), but the discipline here belongs to you. Keep connecting with him while also allowing him to cry about what doesn't work.

It will be hard, but the current situation is not great, so why not suffer in the service of growth?

I learn from it every week. Thank you so much!

Well, shoot!

I appreciate you writing in. Amy and I love this...

My 10-year old son is very wise for his age, and is very intelligent. However, he is very lazy in school, and around thew house. To get him to do anything I pay him a little money. I often yell at him because he acts like he does not hear me give instructions. I often show him how to do things and he acts like he not pay attention - I yell to get his attention. He told me he is trying his best. I do not think so. Then he told me yesterday, I was the cause of his low self-esteem! I know he can do just about anything he sets his mind too, but he only does things that benefit him or his video games. I tell hi all the time, that he can do better. I tell him all the time he is smart. His statement has hurt me. Does my yelling bring low self-esteem?

Hmmmm, my spidey sense wants some ADHD/ADD testing.

I say this because the words "lazy at school and home" "acts like he doesn't hear me" he reports "trying to do his best" "good at video games" and the fact that he responds to rewards is a pretty compelling arrow toward this fact: I DON'T BELIEVE THIS IS A WILLPOWER ISSUE.

He is also reporting that he has low self-esteem...and maybe we should believe him,

Now, growing up, my little brother (Hi Hughie) was the laziest little boy in the world. He barely lifted a plate, never cleaned up around the house, and I never once saw him dust or vacuum. BUT, his own bedroom was as neat as a pin. This, sadly, was a parenting issue. He could do everything and he could follow any direction, but if he whined or walked away or flat-out refused, my parents didn't really push back. So, boom. Laziness. (He is now a stellar and fairly clean and organized grown man, btw).

So...Take another look at your son with some compassion and curiosity...what if it isn't laziness?

Oh, and yelling really doesn't work with anyone, ADD or not. If you have a clearly written chore chart/routine, clear consequences and rewards, etc. and he STILL cannot do it, get thee to the doctor. 

This is a question for those chatters who celebrate Christmas. How important is it for your kids to open presents at your home? My wife and I are originally from a state 5 hours away and to date have spent every holiday where we're originally from. However, our children are now 4 years old and truly "get" santa, so we wanted to stay in DC area for Christmas so they could open presents at home. This would likely mean that we'd be on our own for the holiday. Our extended family say they understand, but have asked us if it's such a big deal for them to open the presents at their grandparents. Due to aunts , uncles , cousins, etc it's not feasible for them to come down to us (or so they say). Wondering what others in similar situations have done. We are also concerned just the four of us will be lonely given what we're used to...

Oh, it will definitely be a transition, but it doesn't have to lonely! You are free to begin some beautiful traditions and frankly, you may end up really liking it.

I am not sure if I totally get your question, but I am a big fan of having children open the gifts in front of the givers (if possible). It brings joy to both parties and is just easier on the givers (maybe). And if you are worried that your children will suffer from a shortage of gifts (compared to what they are used to), it is okay to allow them to experience that. It is life and some disappointment is okay. I am also not above wrapping really little things just for the "more" feeling. Erasers and socks and a toothbrush and a little chocolate...you name it. Kids just love opening stuff, so go ahead and wrap a bunch of stuff.

Now, go and start planning some special stuff with your wife for the four of you...I promise, it can be so lovely!

Thank you for the holiday chat on Monday. The last answer for the work-from-home parent was especially great.

Hi! We're flying with my almost 2 year old in January and could use any tips / advice you may have. She flew a bunch as a newborn, but basically slept in her carseat the whole time. We sat out travel by plane this year as all she wants to do is run up and down the aisle. But we're going to bite the bullet and try again in Jan. It's a ~2hr flight and we bought her a seat / are bringing the car seat on board. She's good for about 15 minutes of Curious George, but isn't really into TV otherwise. Thanks in advance!

Listen, here is a message for every parent flying this season: bring all the junk: the snacks, the tech, the headphones, the games, whatever...do the best you can and then!


You bought a ticket, and you have every right to be on that plane with your child.

Don't allow your child to kick anyone's seat or run roughshod over old people in the aisles, but my heavens...do not bend yourself into a pretzel to make others happy.

(Steps off soapbox).

As much as humanly possible, run your child up right up to the moment you need to get on the plane so she can be as tired as possible. 

Just do the best you can.

Hi there. I think I'm taking on the Christmas question a little differently than Meghan. 

I believe you were asking about kids opening Santa presents on Christmas morning at your home and starting new traditions with just your little family. I get it, and we did that, but only later. My kids, when they were smaller, did wake up at my childhood home and it was lovely. But I have to say, it's really nice to just be in our own home in PJs, whiling the day away. 

I wouldn't worry about being lonely and totally agree with Meghan: Start your family traditions. Cinnamon buns that take a long morning to bake. A hike in the afternoon. Cuddled up for a family movie later. Whatever it is, this day can be special, as my fam has found in time. And maybe you could also consider hitting the road after Christmas for a post-Christmas gathering with family? 

Try it for a year and see what happens. I have loved our quiet(ish) Christmas lazy days in recent years. 

I was in the same situation growing up. We always did Santa gifts at home and then left mid-morning to celebrate with grandparents. We opened family gifts there. It was wonderful and way less overwhelming. We do family gifts on Christmas Eve with my in-laws now and my 4 and 2 year old love it for the same reasons. Spreading Christmas over multiple days means that it is way less overwhelming for the kids and they actually get to appreciate their toys because they open them over multiple days. Also, Santa is gifting to the child, not to the house. Santa knows where you are, even if you are visiting relatives. He found me at my grandparents the one year that we had a blizzard without any problem :-)

Please provide us with college break advice for parents and college-age students who will be returning home for a few weeks after living apart for a while. Any words of wisdom???

Ooof, well, this is me in a couple of year (eek), but here's what I got:

1. It is your house, it is your rules.

2. They are not children anymore, and this cuts both ways. They (may) have more independence, but they should also help around the house more.

3. They are going to sleep, a lot. And maybe lay around the house. And eat and stare at their phones. This may piss you off.

4. They may or may not want to see their friends more than you. It isn't personal.

So, have a meeting with your spouse/partner/yourself and decide what the expectations are BEFORE the kid comes home.

When the kid comes home, set the ground rules. Chores, curfew, family time, etc.

I don't know your family from Adam, but try to find the middle way here, whatever that means for you. 

Whatever you do, try not to be needy. A movie, meals, any time spent together counts...so try to keep your chill.

And if you are the opposite of needy, it is okay to expect your child to spend time with the family (and do it with a decent attitude).

Either way, keep your sense of humor.

Good luck, let me know how it goes. 

Post it notes. Bring all of the post it notes. And address labels. They amuse my kid for hours and are easy to clean up. Also, get a little craft box/tackle box and fill it with different snacks. You can easily spend 30 minutes opening and closing the compartments and exploring whether you want to snack on a blueberry or a cheerio. You've got this.

The thing we found worked the best was STICKERS! Let the child stick them on themselves, on their toys, on drink cups, on you. Hours of fun.

A four year old is probably too young for a weighted blanket (I think the lightest is 5 pounds) but the idea of getting a sturdy blanket and filling it with mom's hugs, etc. is inspired (like much of your advice). I also want to say, as an adult using a weighted blanket, that they really are wonderful for some of us - I always liked the feeling of weight on myself when I slept (disliked lightweight down for example)... weighted blankets are wonderful. Also, what about incorporating into mom's special physical time some "swaddling." - get a beach towel and wrap the kid up like a burrito for awhile. Fun for him and hopefully for mom too.

I found this, it says for children 4 and up....but I don't know...it really depends.


We do Santa at home (we are lucky enough that grandparents are close enough that we can see them that evening or within a couple days). We've done it since a bananas first year with six week old babies when my husband and I didn't even get a change to open our gifts to each other because we were trying to fit everyone else in. It has helped to cement for us that we are OUR OWN family with OUR OWN traditions, independent of our families of origin.

Our family split Christmas up, some by necessity, some by design. One side before Christmas, one side on Christmas Day, one on Boxing Day, family presents for opened for days, slowly. It was an excellent way to spread out the season, and keep the kids from getting overwhelmed.

We are out of ideas on how to facilitate our preschooler eating dinner. Both parents get home right at the time that she needs to be eating (I base this on her meltdowns - if she waits any longer to eat the evenings turn in to one long tantrum). We've tried having her grandparents (who pick her up from daycare) prepare her dinner, but she doesn't eat it. The only thing that gets her to eat consistently is if we sit and eat with her. This means we have to have food ready for all of us the minute we get home, which is challenging, and then sit with her for the hour it takes her to eat. Her one year old sister can't wait that long to go to bed, and if one of us gets up to put her to bed, our four year old stops eating and we have to start the whole thing over again. How do people do this? Please send help! (And for what it's worth, she's a great eater during the day. She may be getting her nutritional needs met at breakfast, lunch, and snack, but it's clear from her behavior that she's hungry again at dinner time. She just. won't. eat.)

Snacky dinner! Have something prepped before work (I know, I know). But it can be easy: Cut up veggies/fruit. Cheese and crackers. A little bit of pasta to be reheated. Sit with her and let her eat as much as she can for as long as you and her sister can stand it. Make sure to give her something for the ride home from daycare. A cheese stick, apple slices. She'll have enough in her, and with time, this will change. (Then when she goes to bed, you and your partner can relax over a more adult meal?)

You had me until "THE HOUR IS TAKES HER TO EAT"

Whoa, no. That must be the longest hour of your life.

I mean, it may sound draconian, but I would set a timer, smile, and say, "This dinner is rose and thorns (something good and something bad) about the day. We will eat while we do this. When he 20 minutes are up, dinner is over! Oh, and we are ending it with strawberries and whipped cream!"

I am curious to see what happens what happens when you take a stronger leadership role during dinner.


Wrap lots of little presents for the two year old flying on the plane! Wrap some crayons and a little coloring book, a bag of favorite snacks, a new storybook, a dollar store toy... the unwrapping will take up time and make the "present" feel extra special!

My 2 year old is doing what I assume is normal toddler behavior, but it's the first time I'm not quite sure how to respond. Whenever someone does something she apparently doesn't like(i.e. dad singing along to christmas songs or silly dancing), she screams "no do that" over and over, increasingly louder until you stop. I don't think the right answer is to just stop whatever we're doing because she demands it, but I could also do without the screaming. Do we just keep doing what we're doing and tell her we like to sing, dance, etc. ?

Meh, this is a back and forth. You don't want to always stop singing, for instance, because then she is THE BOSS. And that is a one-way ticket to preschooler hell.

But sometimes you are going to stop singing because there isn't energy or time to hold the boundary.

You don't have to worry about consistency too much, just don't fight with her, if you know what I mean.

Now, when things are good, you can say, "Holly, I am going to practice asking Daddy to stop singing!" Daddy sings and you say, "Daddy, can you please stop singing?" And he can say yes or no, but you are modeling kindness.

So, keep on keepin' on.

Oh, and if you can get her involved in the singing or dancing, that's a win. And it is also okay to respect that maybe she is all sensoried out...and she doesn't have the language to tell her parents to chill out for a minute.

My 4.5 year-old daughter is bright, clever, creative and (normally) very capable. She does have a problem with perfectionism, and often doesn't want to try doing new things (I think for fear of failure). Lately, she's been reverting more frequently: wanting help getting dressed or going to the bathroom, or complaining of "itches" all over that keep her from putting on her shoes to go outside. The precipitating factors are usually fairly low-impact but involve her being asked to do something that she doesn't want to or thinks she can't do: yesterday, I asked her if she wanted to crack the eggs when we were making cookies--which she often does--and suddenly she had itches all over and had to take off her shoes and needed to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW even though she'd gone not long before and needed me to be the one to get the toilet paper and needed me to dry her hands after she washed them. I've been looking closely at where she says she itches (usually legs/feet) and don't see any hives or bugbites; we've tried lotion, anti-itch cream and even Benadryl, which made no impact, so I think it's psychosomatic in some way. She only mentions itching when she's upset. Is this worth bringing to a child psychologist? What techniques can we try to get her to move past these roadblocks she sets up for herself? So far, I've been trying to take her very seriously, but I don't know how to help her.


Start with her pediatrician.

Sometimes, when we are stressed and our nervous system gets going, it can make our skin feel prickly and slightly hot, and if she got that feeling once or twice when stressed, she may be just repeating that because it works to stop the stress, get your attention, and calm her down?

Whatever you do, don't assume she manipulating you (it doesn't sound like you are), but I wouldn't drag to a pysch just yet....

Thanks to you all for the great discussion today. Here's to you.

See you again on the 18th, and in the meantime, check out On Parenting right here. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter for a ton of great parenting pieces. Have a wonderful week, all. 

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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