On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Dec 05, 2018

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

Morning all. Thanks for joining Meghan Leahy today for the chat about all things parenting. Here's her column from today, about a child who hits.  If you want to see what else we have going on at On Parenting, here you go

Okay, lots of questions await, so let's have at it, shall we?

Hi, I'm an avid reader of On Parenting, and I religiously read (and often participate in live chats). I've missed the past few live chats because they don't show up on the On Parenting page anymore for some reason. I finally found this one today by clicking directly on Meghan Leahy's page. Any chance we can get the live chats to show up on the On Parenting page?

Good question. You're right that these are on Meghan's author page (because hey, she's the author). There's also the live chats page right here where you can find previous chats. But I will ask if we can get them to stick to the On Parenting page. Thanks for your interest!

My 6yo daughter will often "act up" when she is in an area where it would be difficult to discipline her appropriately. I know that she is cognizant of this safe zone and it is sometimes difficult to know how to handle such a situation w/o causing a scene. Or to properly discipline her after we have left the safe area. Looking for some advice.

So, I need more information. Where does this safe zone mean?

I am going to say something that may cause people to roll their eyes, but you should be disciplining your daughter in a restaurant the same way you discipline her at home. Just as you would speak to a co-worker respectfully at a formal meeting or just in the hallways. Just as you would disagree with a partner at party as you would at home.

Not to say that we can give all of time and attention to a child in a restaurant that we would at home, but please thoroughly sit with this statement: as much as humanly possible, your child should ALWAYS feel safe with you. Even if you are using boundaries and consequences. YOUR CHILD SHOULD ALWAYS FEEL PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY SAFE. 

This may be a dumb question! But how old should a child be before they are allowed to read romance series like Twilight? My daughter is in 6th grade and is very mature. Her reading level is extremely high. She is so smart and loves to imagine stories. Her current career aspiration is to be a romance novelist. She has been begging to read Twilight for over a year now because she heard about it from some of her friends at school. Is she old enough for that? I don't *love* how women are portrayed in the books, but I also see that as an opportunity to have a conversation about feminism and women in literature. But the storyline... is she too young to be reading about being in love, getting married and wanting to have sex? And all that anti-abortion stuff at the end of the last book? Could you (and maybe other parents in the chat today) weigh in on this?

Gonna admit up front two points:

1) never read those books, never will

2) I pretty much let my kids read anything outside of some really out there stuff because...well, books.

Now, that being said, follow your mother worry and look at it. Just because a child is mature and a good reader doesn't mean that they are always ready for a book.

Could you read it first?

Can you read them with her and chat?

My thinking is that if you clamp down too hard: "NO! These books are NOT APPROPRIATE!" she will only be more tempted to sneak read, and we don't want that.

I would also visit your local book store or library and talk to someone who knows about this genre. What other books could your daughter read (with or without you) that could LEAD UP to the Twilight series?

AND, are there writing classes for her? In-person is best, but online is awesome, too. Any creative class would hone her craft and get her wheels turning.

We want to grow her love of reading and writing, so as much as you can, PARTNER with her on this. 

Good luck.


Your Post Points code for today: OP9100

By Safe Zone, I mean an environment where she knows she can get away with acting up because disciplining her (e.g. during a church service) would potentially cause a scene. I do not mean that she/us feels unsafe. I am calling it a safe zone because my daughter is cognizant of the environment and she feels "safe" to act up.

Thanks for the clarification.

So, let's say she is "acting up." Not listening, fooling around, being silly, bothering others.

She is six, which means that if she is neurotypical, she behaves pretty well most of the time and then also has normal kid shenanigans the rest of the time. This means that when life is boring (CHURCH), the child's mind will find ways to occupy itself.

Some children are more mature than others and can still just stand/sit/wait, but some children cannot control their impulses as long. This is not willful misbehavior. This is childhood.

If she is being REALLY disruptive, I would lovingly take a bathroom break with her. Get a sip of water, maybe run outside a little bit, help her get out her ya-ya's. Wait a couple of minutes and return to the service. Don't lecture and punish, that is only watering weeds (paying attention to and growing the negative).

Now that you know that this will be a weekly problem, go ahead and pack a little bag with her of things she can do during the service. I always had a bag of markers, crayons, coloring books, paper, mazes, word searches, etc.

Tech is not welcome at church, but do what you must.

Extend some compassion to your daughter. She is not trying to be bad. She is bored and I think she gets attention from you and this works.

Try heading it off at the pass rather than planning to react. MUCH easier parenting life.

I read Pet Cemetary in the 4th grade. I loved it and it set me up for a lifetime love of Stephen King novels. Was is appropriate, HECK NO! Have you read that book?!? There is some graphic "scenes" described, gory and sexual! My English teacher tried to steer me back towards "Goosebumps" series, but the damage was done and I was hooked. It will NOT damage your 6th grader, let her go for it! (Caveat, I also have never read or seen Twilight and I never will, gah!)

I mean, I am with you. My parents (in the 70's and 80's) did not police any of my reading, leading me to believe that all couples had hot sex in barns and what not. LOL.

But seriously, I always read "ahead" and I loved it. I devoured the books and I am glad I was not policed. It grew my imagination, creativity and love of reading.

There are always exceptions...

How much should my soon to be 3 year old daughter be learning? All her similarly aged friends in daycare/preschool seem to be doing well with their ABCs, numbers, etc. But, my daughter shows the opposite of interest in learning these things when I bring them up. She will speak gibberish or talk about something else which indicates she has no interest in what I'm trying to teach her about. I don't worry about it too much, but when I hear other moms talking about how important learning is and they don't want their kids just playing at daycare/preschool it leaves me feeling like I'm not doing something right for my daughter. (I should have mentioned, I am a SAHM and she has a 1 year old brother.) So, how much active learning do kids need to get at age 3? Is my daughter screwed because I don't spend my time making sure she knows how to spell her name? I mean, I would be happy to but she has no interest....



That wut encompasses all my thoughts and feelings, which are as follows:

1. IMMEDIATELY stop listening to these mothers as they churn their anxiety caldrons and fuel each other's wrong thinking.

2. Look at this website for a basic list of developmental milestones for the AVERAGE three year old. Remember! EVERY SINGLE CHILD IS DIFFERENT. 

3. Find and use and trust a pediatrician whom your child sees regularly. 

4. Know that if you read books yourself, if you own books, if you read WITH her, and if you are educated, studies show that your child will also read.

5. Your child is not screwed. She was born with all of her genetic material right there. You are to tend to the environment. Forcing early learning actually DISRUPTS the healthy maturation of children. To understand more about this and what young children really need, read this.


Good luck.

I remember a particular series that a friend and I discovered in our school library. It was about a fearless girl who has to dress as her twin brother to be allowed into knight-training school. She falls in love with the prince and you can imagine what happens from there. Was it something my mom would have expressly allowed in 6th grade, no. But what she didn't know didn't hurt me. I'm not saying Twilight is a feminist creed, but your daughter has probably read worse without your knowing...

I absolutely love the Harry Potter series and can't wait to share it with my 7 year old. He too is an advanced reader, but I envision us either reading together or reading separately to discuss together. As Harry ages, the series gets much darker. What age do you think a good time to start could be?

I think it depends on the kid. My 11-year-old won't finish them. He got most of the way through book four and decided he doesn't like books where people die (as most of their books they must read in school do). So that's what his deal is for now. You could start and take your time, and see how your child reacts. They start mildly, then do get a bit dark... 

I was an avid reader as a kid and I can count a few times my mom took a book away from me to read it first. Sometimes she'd bring up things that went totally over my head when I read it and sometimes she realized that I was thinking about things she thought I was too young to think about. It was a great pathway for us to talk about these things. I know it's terrible to realize but in sixth grade, she is already surrounded by a lot of talk about boys, love, marriage, etc. Let her read the book, let her see how poorly written they are, what a bad relationship Edward and Bella have, and how she definitely should have blown off Edward AND Jacob, stopped dating mythical creatures and like gone to college, and learned more about herself not based on who she was dating. If she can figure that out in sixth grade she'll be miles ahead of her friends.

Not only should you allow your daughter to read them, but you should read them together. This is a fantastic opportunity to talk about how wrong it is to try to control someone or what's considered romance in books and movies is usually creepy in real life or how gendered stereotypes hurt everyone. It's not enough to tell your daughter that these behaviors (in abstract terms) are wrong. You have to show her and what better way to do that!

As a child and teenager, my sister was predisposed to violence. Not surprising given that my parents spanked her and instilled plenty amounts of anxiety and perfectionism. While she never laid a hand on my brother, she had plenty of violence for me. Whenever my parents left her in charge, that's when she decided I needed to be punished. She would also lash out when she was upset. Once she lost her earring in the grass and upon finding this out, she punched and scratched me multiple times to the point my mother pulled her off. My sister quit when we became the same size and Learned how to defend myself. Today, we're in our 40s. I keep my distance from her. Either my sister doesn't remember it or if she does it wasn't a big deal and if it was a big deal then it was funny. Often she has retold stories of her violence against me as a "funny story." I'm mortified. Now that I have young children, I'm not too keen on letting my sister watch them. My mother is horrified and claims that my adult sister would never lay a hand on a child, citing the fact my sister has never done so with my brother's kids. That's all well and good, but something in my gut says she would do something in anger or frustration because they're my kids, especially if it has to do with one of her possessions. My sister's last violent outburst was a little over ten years ago so not recent but enough to make me feel secure about it. My parents need me to get over this. What do I do?

Your parents need you to get over this?

Your parents need you to get over that you were chronically bullied and physically hurt as a child by a family member?

Your parents need you to move past your trauma and fear...to make them comfortable? To make her comfortable? So, what? So you can feel revicimized again? BY YOUR FAMILY?!?!?!

Holy Moses on the Mountain. Nothing like family to make you shake your head.

Here's the deal. Rationally, your sister will probably not tear anyone limb from limb now, but your brain doesn't know that. I am guessing you have not gone for therapy because you are not defending yourself here at all. Your child brain is on full alarm AND IT SHOULD BE.

You were abused in your own home and the people who are supposed to take care of you (parents) didn't.

And everyone expects you to trust them now?

Here's the deal. I am not going to even address your parents or sister here, and what you should do with them.


My only advice is that you get yourself to a VERY GOOD therapist to heal that hurt little girl. You need to stand up for her and for the woman you are right now. It is not too late.

Until then, you are not obligated to get over a darn thing.







Middle school was about the time my cousin and I discovered “Flowers in the Attic” in my grandmothers bedroom, and I did not fall in love with my brother.



Thank you for your sage advice and the reality check. You rock <3

You rock.

Now, my some normal friends whose kids eat dirt and play.

My kids are 7 & 9. Their last living great-grandparent is in hospice care in a facility a 12 hour (plus pit stops) round trip drive from where we live. They've expressed a desire to say goodbye in person but we really can't do that right now without having them miss school. Younger kid is highly energetic and emotionally immature. We have behavioral issues in school as it is and any change in routine - like when my spouse was gone for a day last week visiting this grandparent - can mean days of challenging behavior at school. Part of me says that taking the kids for a visit now and then having them take another trip for the funeral just means twice the drama for younger's teachers and support team. Then again, this is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. I certainly feel guilty saying we'll go to the funeral but aren't certain we'll go while great-grand is still alive. I also worry the kids might get scared when they see Great-grand's current physical state. Great-grand is on heavy meds and was confused at times when spouse was visiting. Any advice on how to figure out what we should do?

This is tough.

I would almost always recommend going to say goodbye to loved one, and I am still leaning toward it, but there is a lot of juice with this squeeze, huh?

If you feel that your family will be so thrown out of whack for a visit that will end in confusion and fear, it may be best to wait for the funeral. If you don't  judge yourself for this, no one will either. Only you and your partner know what is best. Make your decision, accept the consequences (they stink either way) and know that you are doing your best. 

The series described by one poster is The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce - it is a wonderful series for 6th graders (and beyond)!

The girl dressing as her twin brother is from Tamora Pierce's excellent series of quartets. I liked that quartet (the Lioness) but the later two with a few of the same characters are even better for a young girl: the Wildmage quartet and the Protector of the Small quartet.

My son has long (ish) hair compared to other boys his age, he is 7. I found out that other kids in class have told him multiple times that he has girl hair. My son finally came home and said he wants a haircut so he can have "boy hair." Before this school year, he used to LOVE his hair, so the only reason he wants to cut it now is because of what the other kids are saying. Should I let him cut his hair just to conform? Or should I send the message that we should change who we are for other people? Or am I going to deep with this?

Ugh. It is painful to see our children to fall victim to our larger culture, but it is somewhat inevitable (unless you go off the grid).

I would not become too attached to his hair, and nor should he.

At 7, the need to feel part of the pack is so strong and not letting him cut his hair could result in miseries that are simply not worth it

Stay in talks with him about it, cut the hair, grow it back, cut it again. It is a fluid situation. More importantly, keep him surrounded by people and activities that are character strengthening and value his special spirit.

Good luck.

Thank you for joining us today! We'll be back again in two weeks. In the meantime, check out washingtonpost.com/onparenting

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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