On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Dec 19, 2018

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

Happy Wednesday, and thanks for joining us today! Meghan Leahy is here and ready to take your questions about all things parenting. Here is her most recent column, on a 6-year-old who doesn't take no for an answer. We have a wonderful series this week about what it's like to be, and raise, boys right now. And for all of our parenting coverage, click over here. On with the questions!

Hi Meghan, Thanks for the chats! I know you have been against homework for young kids and I've always been in agreement from afar. However, my kindergartener is coming home with worksheets and flashcards to practice with sight words. Is this helpful and worth it to speed up the acquisition of the ability to read? Or is this just homework that should be avoided. This is a Montessori school and we already read to her every night at bed time. Thanks for any guidance!

Does your child happily do the HW?

I think if everyone is happy, and march along with the work and THE CHILD IS DOING IT, then fine.

If there are FREQUENT power struggles, complaints, whining, and if the HW feels like yours, you reassess the goals of these assignments and talk to the teachers.


I submitted a question a few months back about a very strong willed 5 year old. I'd like to thank you for answering it, that child is in much needed therapy now. The process of finding the right therapist is a tough one but if she learns how to name and manage her emotions our family will be in a much better place.

Thank you for writing in! I am glad you found someone you like and trust.


Hi Meghan, I have a 2 year old, who started preschool 2 mornings a week this fall. As is expected, he brings home a new cold just about every week. What’s the proper etiquette for sending preschoolers to school with a cold? I keep him home if he has a fever (which almost never happens) or if he is acting particularly sick/off (again, rare). But most of the time it’s just a ridiculously runny nose and occasional sneezing that doesn’t slow him down at all. I feel terribly guilty for taking him to school like this... not because I think he should be home in bed, but because I know he’s spreading the germs to everyone. But he would be so bored at home, and honestly, if he stayed home for every runny nose, we probably wouldn’t see the inside of his classroom again until May! Help! What’s the right answer when they are a little bit sick, but not too sick?!

A runny nose and some sneezing? Sounds like every two year old known to man.

Your instinct is smack-on.


Child is low energy, tired, and looks awful = NO SCHOOL

Extreme coughing = NO SCHOOL

But if you waited for complete health, you would NEVER leave the house.

To check your worry with reality, check out this handy list!



I am in toddler hell. I love my daughter more than anything. Anything! But she's a literal tornado. I can't keep her out of anything. Potty training has been a struggle. She still doesn't talk clearly and her favorite word is mom. She walks around just saying mom for no reason. Her other favorite word is no. No to everything. Even things she wants. It's baffling sometimes. If I need her she runs the other direction. She wants to be chased and caught. Of course everything is a game. Sometimes I play, sometimes I don't depending what I have going on. Luckily she's not too big on tantrums, but of course they always happen out in the world when we're stuck somewhere. She throws things when she's mad. The other day she dumped her milk out on the table because she was angry. I know all of this is normal but my frustration is starting to overwhelm me and I'm needing some kind of mantra to help me thru all of this. I feel my temper slipping a lot and I hate myself for it. I'm also not a believer in spanking but I've found myself spatting her hands or hiney when she's extremely uncooperative and I hate that the most. Please help. I'm so frustrated.

Friend, you don't need a mantra (Although they are nice), you need HELP.

You need another human helping you through this stage of parenting, because it is SO. VERY. TAXING.

Parents resist bringing on help because we want to do it all ourselves and we feel guilty when we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. But the toddler stage is INTENSE, and if you feel like you are veering toward spanking (again, I get it), you need to change something, STAT. And please know, this stage WILL not last forever.

There will be new problems to take on, but the unique problems of toddlerhood will give way to some maturity.

Until then, what CAN you do?

- Regular babysitter

- Nanny share

- Daycare options

- Mother's helper

- Childcare at gym

- Parent coach

- Parenting classes (in person or online)

It is NORMAL to need some time for yourself here...raising a toddler is physical and emotional heavy-lifting.

My 3rd grade son said in passing the other day that there is a boy in the 3rd grade who smells and no one wants to sit near him. I feel like I should definitely talk to someone at the school about this as I'm sure the boy is suffering and possibly being bullied, but I'm not sure how to go about it.

Absolutely call the teacher and maybe the school counselor.

There are times when a child may be having issues at home that lead to some kind of neglect, and the school needs to know.

And even if he smells for other reasons, the bullying needs attention, STAT.

Be an advocate for that child and praise your own child for telling you!

Hi Meghan, I enjoy hearing your parenting advice! I'm coming in as a high school teacher with a question. I am comfortable with interacting with students dealing with mental health concerns like anxiety and depression and IEP plans for things like ADHD. But I recently email our school guidance counselor about a student who did not turn in a project and stopped doing homework. When I asked her about it, I was surprised at how bluntly she said "Yeah, I just don't do anything at home but watch Netflix." When I emailed her counselor to see if parents had been called (she was failing multiple classes), the reply was "She has social emotional issues. She has anxiety, paranoia, and is oppositional defiant." There was no follow up as to how to help a student with oppositional defiance. I'm curious what separates out "normal" teenage testing of limits to be considered a social emotional issue and what I can possibly do in this situation.


Well, sitting and watching Netflix for hours is often the sign of a problem, not the actual problem...so I believe that this young woman is escaping into Netflix to avoid her hard feelings...at least that what the counselor is indicating.

ODD is a big disorder and as a teacher, you are not going to be able to do much to change that, but you can CERTAINLY be a compassionate, open, and kind teacher while holding some boundaries.

Depending on her level of crisis, I would try to engage with her on the Netflix level. IF she says she only watches Netflix, say, "Oh! I just binged The Great British Bakeoff, what are you watching?" Simply creating a link between you can provide a teen a powerful sense of connection and belonging. Ask for recommendations and just LISTEN.

Again, you are not her parent or counselor, but asking thoughtful questions and LISTENING is good enough.

Otherwise, ask your counselor for best practices with these conditions.

"But if you waited for complete health, you would NEVER leave the house." YES! Finally sunk in for my husband (who always votes for staying home with the sniffles) when kiddo barely went to school in November between snow, holidays, and illness. The teacher actually commented how much it impacted his learning.

YUP, send him this: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722603/

I'm a long distance aunt of a not fun kid. My nephew, an only child, who doesn't have cousins or live in a neighborhood of kids, is eight years old and mostly obnoxious and exhibits unempathetic behavior as well. I don't know much about kids so I don't know what is normal obnoxious behavior and what is me observing what I consider worrisome behavior. Examples: I was out to visit recently and he was stuck like glue to his computer game the whole time. I figure that's normal. When he wasn't and was "engaging" in human interaction he was a know it all, bragging, liar who bossed older people around without any please or thank you. And conversations were responded with yes/no/I don't know with a shrug. I swear if I didn't know better I would think I was hanging out with a teen! I took him out with his friend and while he and his friend played in a pretty great way he was exhibiting some of the same not great things--telling the other kid he was not as smart as my nephew because of where he goes to school, lying about factual things to win a point/game, cheating at games at the arcade, and so on. I know his parents are aware and are working on it. I would leave this to them except for these behaviors been going on for a solid year during which I have visited or vacationed with them several times. Is there something I can learn/do that will help? I try to engage on any level he's interested in, even playing computer games with him (badly, which earned a heap of kid scorn) but he's not interested. Is this what being eight years old is all about and I need to understand that? He does have friends at school so it's not like he has alienated the kids in his class. I worry that he's going to grow up into a real jerk who will get by on his looks (he's good looking) and his arrogance...plus I would rather like him. Signed, Draco Malfoy's Aunt


I have empathy all the way around here.

While you sound a bit tough, you list example after example of an aunt who is trying her best to connect to this child.

The parents may be aware...but it is not getting better.

And the real victim, the child, is not getting what he needs.

Culture, school, and peers will soon punish him for his rudeness, but what if he has deeper needs that are not being addressed? Learning issues? Social-emotional issues? 

Keep lovingly supporting his parents, when he is with you, be VERY clear with your boundaries. If he insults you, leave the video game. If he is rude to his friend, say, "UH NO. DON'T SAY THAT."

Again, don't discipline him (not your job), but you can hold the minimum boundaries of not being called names and not allowing him to call others names.

Your confidence and love may rub off. He's still young.

Miss Leahy, Any words of wisdom you would care to share with your previous Form A students from the Class of 2009? Merry Christmas to the best and coolest teacher ever! Your Class of 2009 Abbey Boys


My words of wisdom are a heartfelt apology for all the times I cried at the To Kill A Mockingbird movie, that I didn't teach grammar with more precision, and that I was probably more interested in chatting and talking about literature than grading. Lastly, always hold on to my favorite Benedictine precept: Always we begin again.

I loved teaching the Abbey Boys...some of the happiest years of my life.

I hope you are well, and your holidays are warm and bright.

How important do you think it is for a kid to wake up on Christmas morning at home? My husband and I are originally from NY, and each year we make the drive a few days before to stay at his or my families house. We now have a 3 year old who is starting to get "into" Santa etc and we're starting to think it would be nice to stay here. The issue of course is that we'd be giving up spending Christmas Eve with family, and maybe even Christmas day itself depending on if we would drive up after opening presents or not. The thought of spending Eve/Day just the 3 of us is a bit lonely, but we think it might be unfair to not have Christmas morning at home for our daughter. Wondering if you've experienced this or any of the chatters. Sorry for the long post.

Don't apologize.

Home is where the heart is, and Santa goes to the children...so, be where you want to be.

DO NOT overthink this.

Where do YOU want to be Christmas morning?

How do you handle physical meltdowns with bigger children (big in size, not necessarily age). My 5 year old is 65 pounds and I know he's going to have at least one major meltdowns during an upcoming road trip over the holiday break, even though we'll do everything we can to avoid it. When he was younger, we could just grab him and hug/hold him while he thrashed around, so he and others would be safe. Because of his ADHD and sensory issues, his meltdowns are pretty physical (lots of arm flailing, screaming). At home we can just move away and give him his space, but that may not be possible while we are in a hotel, restaurant, at a relative's house, or out and about. Any tips?

Do you have a team of people who help you? OT/Developmental Ped/Pysch/Etc.? Asking, just in case you don't. You need support as your child continues to grow and change...


Have a clear list of what will set him off and avoid if possible.

When not possible, create a plan with him. Say to him, "If you are overwhelmed at Aunt Susie's, we are going to go outside and play soccer." This will require you trying to catch the meltdown before it begins, which is not always possible, but having a CLEAR plan that is written down and shared with him DAILY will help.

Build in frequent rewards for having him identify his mood on a chart (m & m's or skittles), and this may help you see what's coming as well as grow his neural synapses toward greater self-awareness.

And wherever you go, scan for where you can be a bit private with him. 

But the reality? Tantrums may occur and there may be nothing you can do but not make it worse. Keep YOUR calm and kindness....it WILL end and you WILL make it.

My 4 year old is getting homework in her PreK class. I have very strong feelings against this, because the research is pretty clear that stressing literacy early doesn’t produce lasting benefits, and can backfire. But my daughter really likes it. I still worry that this is probably not great for other students, and I have a lot of objections to the worksheet explosion in early grades, when the research is clear that they learn by play at this age.

Have a chat with the teacher...as long as you partner with the teacher and you are seeking information, not trying to lecture or prescribe, it will be okay. :)

Recently I've been unhappy with the way some of my parenting is going. I fall into power struggles with my 5yo that are not productive or beneficial and I don't like it. That said, i REALLY struggle with not falling into the pattern of behavior. I know I can read about different techniques - and I am all for that. How do I make myself DO THEM in the moment without reverting to what feels like habit....or what was modeled for me? Any tips for keeping myself focused on the "new" strategies instead?

Alerts in your phone, stickies everywhere, practicing in the mirror, handwriting what you want to change, creating a vision board, writing down sentence or mantras, literally envisioning what you will do and say differently, talking it out step for step with a loved one...


Get it out of your head and INTO PRACTICE.

You will fumble, but it is only the way.


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.
Recent Chats
  • Next: