On Parenting with Meghan Leahy

May 14, 2014

Parenting coach Meghan Leahy, of Positively Parenting, recently shared some advice with On Parenting readers: You are the parent your children were meant to have. With all of your imperfections, they don’t want anybody else. You are a good enough parent every morning when you wake up. Rather than always looking at improving the situation, improving your kids, fixing the situation, appreciate who you are. Let yourself feel like your kids were given to you for a reason, and move forward with that even in your failures. That’s how you earn your stripes. The mom of three was here to share her wisdom, calm you down and let you know you’re probably doing okay.

Hi all! Thanks for joining us today. We've got the wonderful Meghan Leahy, a local parenting coach who has a lot of good insight into our worlds. Three kids, a sense of humor, and a dog. Looks like the questions are rolling in, so let's go ahead and get started. Meghan? All yours!

Hi everyone!  I am Meghan Leahy, a parent coach here in Washington D.C.

I have worked with children and families for my entire career, and it is my passion to support parents.

To learn more about me, go to www.positivelyparenting.com

Let's get to work!

We may move cross-country this summer for work, but won't know until the school year is over. Whats the best way to tell our 1st and 4th graders they'll be leaving their friends and starting over? Especially if they haven't had a chance to say goodbye to anyone?

Oof, that's hard. 

As soon as you get a SOLID answer and you KNOW you are leaving (no need to panic the children before you know), PLAN A PARTY.

Pick your backyard or a park, and have everyone you love there.

Keep it as low budget or high budget as you want.

The assignment of this party is to TAKE PICTURES AND VIDEOS.

Have your children gt in pictures with all of their favorite people.

Have people make videos of their favorite memories.

Keep it fun.  (you know, this is good for adults, too).

Send the pics off to Shutterfly or a company like that and EACH CHILD gets a special book.

This look will serve to relax their brains when they are feeling lonely and scared.  You can sit with the child and revisit all the good memories and YES, HAVE A GOOD CRY.  The crying means you CARE, and that is good!

Google hangouts, SKYPE, Facetime, all of this tech keeps us AMAZINGLY connected these days.

I also love a good old fashioned letter...

P.S. - I also suggest going around your town or city and taking pics of your favorite sites, restaurants, parks, etc.  Take pics of their bedrooms before they are dismantled, etc.  Put these pics in the photobooks, too!

It seems like every time I ask the boys (6 & 10) to do something I have to repeat 3/4 times. Its infuriating! Come to the table, don't play the game where you bang the car upholders, get off my bed so I can get dressed, it drives me crazy!

Yes, it is frustrating.

So, this is a case where maybe nagging and bossiness have become a parenting habit.  And it happens to EVERY PARENT.

First things first:  You have to grab their EYES. You must get eye contact to make sure your message is getting through.  Assume they are not hearing you!

Secondly, call a meeting to establish a routine.  Do they need more jobs?  I love ChoreMonster (they just went FREE) for this task.

Thirdly, repeating yourself makes you more angry and stressed.  What ACTION can you take to back up your kind and EYE CONTACT message?

I believe I saw something recently you wrote about how getting a dog was such a good thing for your kids. Can you tell us what's up with that? Half of my house is begging for one. The other half, not so much.

Animals and pets in a house and family can be a huge blessing, but everyone (mostly) has to be ready for the work.

At the end of the day, a dog is primarily cared for by the adults...so first, the adults have to WANT the dog.

After that, the RIGHT dog can do a world of good for children.

To start with the obvious, there are chores and jobs the promote responsibility.  Feeding, walking, brushing, bathing, picking up dog poop, ALL of these jobs are great for kids.

And then there is the love.  Dogs love and love and love.  The studies show it for adults (lowered blood pressure, longer lives, relieves depression, etc.), and I believe it for children, too.  Children with anxiety, autism, asperger's, and other SN issues can often benefit from the love of a dog.  The brain releases oxytocin (the LOVE hormone) when we love our dogs...it is a beautiful stress reliever for children.

I also love that dogs take us OUTSIDE, for GOOD WALKS.  We commit to a routine and you cannot look into a phone while you walk a dog.  I find these walks to be wonderful times to connect to my children and husband.


I do not believe in "punishment" as an effective means of getting your 4 yr old to stop doing something he shouldn't be doing (grabbing toys from his brother, hitting his brother, acting like a crazy kid to avoid brushing his teeth), but, at some point, there has to be some sort of consequence for such actions. After gently, but, firmly, telling him that we don't take toys from other kids and asking him to give it back, he doesn't, he laughs and throws it across the room, or, worse, throws it at his brother... what next? Time outs don't work, they only make the situation worse. Is there a more proactive approach? Help!!!!!


So, if you read back your note to me, you can see where the 4 yo is getting his attention needs met...for being DIFFICULT.  His brain is LATCHING on to all of your attention, even if it is negative.  This is how the brain works.  (Crappy, I know, but this is us, 400,000 years ago too. It has kept us alive!) 

So, we need to get some GOOD STUFF GOING.

Make this 4 yo the hero.  Find ways where he is helping, the good kid, the compassionate child, the funny child...and GROW THAT.  If he carries groceries, you notice THAT.

When he sits next to his brother and doesn't mess with him, NOTICE that. 

When he helps you in the kitchen, notice that.

And start to break up the bad stuff without speaking.  Take him into another room and just wait.  Your speaking GROWS the bad...does that make sense?

He brain will repeat whatever you pay attention to!

When my four-year-old son is angry or frustrated, he often hits or kicks me. I understand this is somewhat normal for his age but it also is a behavior I do not want to encourage. I have responded somewhat inconsistently -- sometimes telling him firmly that it is not OK, sometimes taking away a favorite toy, and sometimes trying to ignore it and not give it much attention. What do you recommend?

Ugh, being kicked stinks.  I am sorry.

So, kicks and hits are a normal part of a 4 yo's routine of releasing frustration.  NORMAL.

I give the child a pillow, a boxing buddy (you know, those clowns you can kick and hit?), something safe and say, "Go ahead and hit this!"  Sometimes I show how I karate chop and kick it.  This will get some giggles going...which is great.

Things that don't work with hitting:  lecturing, shaming, punishments, taking things away, or hitting back.

If the child is feeling out of control, just go ahead and remove him to his room, but STAY with him. When he calms down, go back to your normal life.  This is hard...it is very mature to do this, so take good care of yourself!

How do I stop yelling? I feel like I yell ALL the time even when it's not really needed.

So, if I say, "Don't think of a pink elephant, don't think of a pink elephant..." what are you thinking of?


What CAN you do instead?

I sing.  Yes, sing.  I sing These Are a Few of My Favorite Things when I want to control people and circumstances and I cannot (hence yelling).


So, start there.

For more on how to avoid yelling at your children (even when they are being oh-so-frustrating), here is a link to a story we did last fall about getting through to your kids without resulting to screaming (including advice from Meghan).

Hi, Have a 2 year old that is doing great however what are your thoughts on how to often to praise? Have read conflicting things over the years. Constant praise when something is done? Don't praise too frequently? Want to make sure he is on the right path!

You are confused, too?  It is nuts, right?  What is a parent to do?

Ignore everything and keep doing what you are doing.

Your two year is doing great?  Well, guess what?  YOU ARE A GOOD PARENT.  Trust yourself.

But to answer the question, praise is based on outcome and YOUR judgement.  Stick to encouragement and intrinsic characteristics.  So, "This picture is beautiful!"  PRAISE.  "You used BLUE here...do you like blue?" Encouragement.  Or, "You are a boy who really uses color!" Encouragement. 

But you keep on keepin' on.



How do you handle people making remarks about the physical appearance of your child, especially in front of your other kids?

Easily!  "thank you! MY CHILDREN ARE LOVELY."

I throw ALL of my kids in when I respond. 

But here is the secret (and it is not a secret)...what strangers say doesn't matter.  IT IS YOU.  YOU. 

Notice how each child is special, grow that, and strangers will fall to the side.

My four year-old son recently started with "I don't like girls" and insists that pink and purple are "for girls." It seems like the more I react to it, the more he insists, but it is very hard for me to just ignore. Suggestions?

Your son is teaching you, isn't he?  I love kids.

So, when you tell what to think and feel, he reasserts.  So, stop. 

When he says he doesn't like girls, just say, "Hmmm.." and keep on doing whatever you are doing.

This will pass. 

Remember, whatever you pay attention to grows.


My 3.5 year old daughter has been taking ballet classes for about 3 months now and has loved it up until recently. The last two weeks she has refused to participate for no apparent reason. I keep asking her why and she just says she doesn't like it anymore. I didn't make her participate last week but did stay and watch the other kids participate. I know not to push it but seems odd that she would just all of a sudden not like it after loving it. What to do?

This is a 3.5 year old.  They are not committed to activities because their brains are too young to do that.

They are here and now.

So, you can make a call here.  When you take her, does she resist and then have fun?  Well, keep going!

Or, does she resist, sulk, fight it, cry?  It may be time to chalk it up to: try again in a year or two...or not at all.

This is childhood, in essence....


My 10 year old hears of people's illnesses whether it's her aging grandparents or her friends 12 year old sibling and worries about it. It's always at bedtime. All my cuddles and reassurance of "you're okay, and if you were to have an illness we'd manage it" don't seem to be helping. What is your advice for calming her down and helping her manage these feelings when they reoccur? Thanks Meghan. I follow you regularly and think you have the most honest and helpful advice out there!

Thanks for the kind words.  :)

Ahhh, worries.  Yes.

So, your sweet child is realizing that life is fragile.  This is painful and necessary...and hard for us parents.

Two points:  ALLOW THE FEELINGS. "Yes, it can feel scary.  Yes, I have felt worried too.  Yes, it is hard to hear this stuff."  There may be tears...this is good and normal.  It cleanses the system.

The other point: (and you are doing this!!) KEEP reasserting that, no matter what, mom and dad will take of you, you are safe, we are here."

You may have a child who also need to hear a LITTLE less than other kids.  I am not talking about total protection...but a little more until her brain matures more...and she will get there.

Good job...

How do you modify your school year schedule to fit with the less structured summer months? In other words, what priorities in terms of your family daily routine do you ditch in the summer and which do you keep?

Great question.

This is different for every family, but my advice?

Waking up and going to bed are REALLY important for kids.  It sets their internal clocks and keeps them regular.

Each child needs the right mix of activity and down time for them, and then every family has needs, so you do the best you can.

Sit down with your spouse, talk about the needs, the wants, and how to make it happen!

My almost 6 year old girl wakes up still 3 or 4 times each night. And she ends up coming to my bed. I am not against co-sleeping but she is a kicker! So I have put a little sleeping bag on the side of my bed and told her she can sleep there. I was wondering what I can do to ease her anxiety in the night. Do you think this behavior is of concern? Thank you!

Always check with your dr to make sure that your daughter is not suffering from any sleep issues, first and foremost.

Is your daughter sleeping in the sleeping bag?

We need a revamping of our chores and jobs in our house. Our oldest gets a small allowance, but now his three younger siblings want in, too. Where do we start?

CHORE MONSTER.  I love it.

It is fun and easy to use, and keeps the kids into it.

And, btw, this is an awesome problem to have.  :)

We are not a religious family. I'm spiritual and hubby is atheist. My 5.5 year old is asking lots of questions about Jesus/God and the like and my 'everyone believes different things and that's ok' is being met with blank stares and demands for a yes or no answer. What do we do?

Congrats!  You have an intellectually curious child.

I love a public library for this.  Go ahead and start finding about books for him and world religions. 

Read them together and see what he thinks!

I am a PEP parent (i.e. I subscribe to the PEP philosophy and principles), but I am still having a really hard time dealing with my 7 year old, who is so consistently and chronically rude to all of us in the family. The other day she said to me "shut up dumb bell!" It almost seems like she has gotten into a habit of being rude and seems to do it reflexively. How do I help her break this habit? And how do I keep my own anger and hurt at bay, because I invariably get mad and then the situation escalates. And, why is she doing this in the first place?

I love PEP, what a great group!

I am guessing she sees the hurt in your eyes, and even though she is not trying to do this, she is owning the relationship.  She is in charge.

She is finding a way to attach to you and it is working.  It is through rudeness.

How can you take OWNERSHIP of the relationship, such that the attachment is positive and strong? 

I take my children to the library or kick a ball with them and we talk about other things.  I delight in her presence.  I notice what makes her special.  Stories from when she was a baby are always GREAT.

Do not address the rudeness right now...it gives it too much power.

Meghan - My three year old daughter has developed a habit of whining constantly, about everything. I'm pretty consistent in telling her that whining will never get her anything and I don't give her what she wants until she stops and asks for it nicely. I'll also admit that sometimes I raise my voice when the whining gets incessant. Is there anything I can do to get the whining to end? Thanks!

I'll jump in here for a sec, Meghan, because this question reminds me of something you posted on Facebook recently that I think many people could relate to and perhaps get something out of. Think this is similar?

You wrote: "Took my nine year old on a mother-daughter date last night to thank her for all her hard work as of late. Nice, right?

Well, the night ended with EVERYONE in the house screaming (including the young woman I took to the movies) and everyone was totally exhausted.

First thought? You ungrateful brat.

Second thought? The date was worth it. Handle the moment I find myself in. Get them into bed. Tomorrow is a new day.

Don't allow the crappy moments ruin the good ones. Treat them separately. Because...they are."

YES.  Thanks for chiming in with that excellent quote! ;)

Parents tend to expect too much from a three yo.  Their brains are too young to do all of this thinking and changing...

Studies show that whining stops when you ignore it, but I also think whining is a sign of, "Do you see me?  Do you hear me?"

I will get on my knee, close my mouth, and just listen to my child until she is done. 

See what happens from there...

My almost 6 year old still refuses to wipe himself after pooping. He will sit on the toilet and yell repeatedly for me (or my husband if I'm not home) until someone helps him. If no one comes, he'll just pull up his underpants without wiping. I've been telling him that when he turns 6 this summer he'll have to wipe himself. But I suspect when that time comes he will still refuse. We had toileting issues with our other two kids, but this is ridiculous!

Ahhh, yes.  Well....

This may sound a little nuts, but I want you to tell him, that from now on, THE PARENTS will wipe him after he poops.  That he simply does not have to do it.

And then decide, in your head, that this is what you are doing.

Wiping him.

What may happen is that his brain will relax, "ahhh, mom is helping me." and when he is relaxed, you know what he may start doing?  Wiping himself.  There is a direct correlation between pushing potty training and resistance. 

How would you recommend handling screen time for the summer break? My kids 6&10 get TV on weekend mornings and iPad time on weekends for downtime they have with homework, sports etc. I'm ok with what they are getting now, but they will have camp-free weeks in summer, and I don't want it to be an all-screen-desiring-all-the-time situation.

This is a parenting problem that is NEW for our generation. 

And it is TOUGH.

Two points: Gotta get a plan.  The kids are old enough is make their own plans.  So, say to them, "You will have these hours for tech (whatever you decide), make a list of other things you can do."  Crafts, projects, outside stuff, friends, neighborhood stuff, etc.

Hang up the plans and STICK TO THEM. 

And listen, there are some GREAT APPS out there...so also help the children find some cool stuff this summer.  CommonSenseMedia.org is a great resource.

Stick to your guns!

What do you do when your child doesn't want to eat? And when he does want to eat, he only eats 5 moderately nutritious items?

If the pediatrician is not concerned, then you serve the food and the child eats or not.

Repeat every day.

They will eventually eat.  :)

My daughter is starting to develop BO and with summer coming, it's starting to get pretty ripe. She was on a natural deodorant, but we've recently upgraded to a stronger one with antiperspirant. She's pretty good about using it daily, but we still think she needs to shower daily. How can we communicate to her, without too many hurt feelings, that daily showers are now a necessity when they weren't before? In general, I think she cares about her appearance like a normal 10 year old should: some days it's very important and some days it's not. I just want to try to make this part of her normal ritual, along with brushing hair and teeth and getting dressed, without making her self conscious.

Ah yes.

So, this is where the peer group comes in.

You can definitely say to her, "Hey...so you are getting big and developing right on schedule.  And kids your age shower every day to feel clean and fresh!  Do you want to shower in the AM or PM?"

But here is the truth: you cannot control this.  You cannot.  A peer will tell her she stinks, or she will notice people saying something, etc...and she will then shower.  This happened to all of us, at some point.

It stinks, but the shame is better to come from a peer than the parent. 

Following up on my question about my 6 year old girl having sleep issues. Yes, she does sleep in the sleeping bag and sleeps better when she is in my room. Thanks for all your posts on FB. You are an inspiration!!

This *is* inspirational, isn't it? Thanks, Meghan.

I have the sleeping bag thing going on myself with our four year old. It helped us to explain to him that he could make his way there in the middle of the night if he's scared, but once he's there, no more waking us all. For some reason, it worked. He still comes in many nights, but seems to be working it all out and sleeping all night in his own room. It's like his confidence is building up again. And by discussing it/giving him a rule or two, I think he felt like he was in control of himself a little more. Meghan?


I would leave her on the floor when she comes in, and start to build on that.

She is looking for proximity and attachment.  She is looking for LITERAL closeness to you.

So, we can start to transfer that to waking hours.

Hugging her longer than she hugs you.

LOTS of eye contact and smiling.  Strong listening.

Let this be slow and easy.  She will sleep in her bed again...

What is your advice on stopping potty mouth? I love that they can be silly boys but my 5 year old is getting in trouble at school for using potty words, not cursing, and for spitting or making rude noises too.

Well, not much can be done, by you, when he is in school.


Talk to the teacher, and let them know you are working on it.

Give your child GOOD attention for kind words and IGNORE the potty language...

It's hard, but it works.  This will pass!

Hello! Thanks for taking my question! My 20 month old son is struggling with horrible tantrums when he doesn't want to do something, especially during diaper changes. He kicks and bites me! He's been such a sweet boy until now, so it's hard to know how to cope. He's not speaking much yet, and I wonder if his lack of language skills is part of his frustration (Any tips on working on THAT?) I have read the Happiest Toddler on the Block, and I try to use his Fast Food rule and toddlerese, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Ideas? Thanks SO MUCH!

This is a hard stage.  You need FRIENDS, BABYSITTERS, exercise, good sleep, and LAUGHTER.

That's your homework.  No more parenting books.


I loved answering these questions.

To learn more about me and parent coaching, go to my website.

Enjoy your kids and be kind to yourself.


Well that was fun. Thanks everyone. Don't forget to check out OnParenting every day at www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/. We tweet @amyjoyce_berg and @OnParenting. More chats to come, so stay tuned.

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). An editor for Weekend and the Going Out Guide, she is particularly interested in movies, things to do with kids and things she can do on that rare date night. When not at work, she can be seen dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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