About the Episode:
Amanda is a mom of 4 boys. She, with the encouragement and support from her husband, was able to start her blog called Not Just Cute. Her family is now living in Utah where she continues to passionately write about children, whole child development, and a lot more.
In this episode, Amanda talks to us about her child development background and gives us great tips on how we can use positive language to help better communicate with our kids.
In addition, she mentions how even though she had a background in child development, it was a whole different beast when she actually had kids.
I think you will enjoy this entertaining episode, and learn a thing or two from Amanda Morgan.
Question: Tell us about who you are, who you were before doing the blog and before working on child development?
It’s so funny because you asked “How did you get started in child development?”, and really feel like it’s one of those things that I’ve always been passionate about. Even as a young child myself I love younger children, I find them really interesting. And then as I went to college I had my two oldest nieces who were 3 years old, so that preschool phase was really fascinating to me coz’ they were such interesting preschoolers themselves. And so I went to college and I studied Elementary and Childhood Education, and then I did a master’s degree in Child Development. So I was able to dive a little bit deeper into the parts that were really fascinating to me. And along all that process I got married, and I did a little bit of work in some classrooms in different environments. And then as we started having kids I decided to stay home, which was really a hard decision for me even though it’s something I’ve always wanted and we really knew it would be best for our family. So I decided to stay home in a little, a few years into that I started teaching just a little bit of preschool as I have preschoolers myself. I now have 4 boys, all boys, and we run from 5 years to 12 and a half right now. So 4 boys in rapid succession [laughing], and I just kind of always kept my toes in it, always fascinated by it. At a point I had a friend who said, “You take for granted that everybody knows what you know about child development. You should really start a blog” This was back when I had to say “What’s a blog?”, I don’t know what that is. So that’s how I kind of got started, just as a place to put all those thoughts that were constantly in my mind as I’m in this busy phase of busy little kids. And as they’ve gotten older, the work that I’ve done has kind of expanded and I’ve had a little bit more room in my life to be able to give it a little bit more time and attention, and kind of expand what I’m doing with it. So it’s kind of been this lifelong progression for me.
Question: So when you went to school, you were studying Child Development, and do you teach on the side? What does that look like?
Yes. So for me when I did graduate school, so it was Human – I’m trying to think of the formal name for it, my emphasis was Child Development, the whole program was like Human and Family Development, something like that. So yeah, there were courses that were theory, and methods, and different things, and at the same time I was really lucky I had teaching assistantship. So at the same time that I was doing these classes, I was a head teacher at the Child Development lab there, which is where they have preschool classes that run, but we also have student-teachers that come in so I was in charge of making sure it’s a good experience for the children and coordinating with parents but also training these student-teachers that were coming thru the program. And it was a really awesome opportunity and a great setting to be in, where you’re working on creating the ideal situation and putting best practices into play and find the observation booths where you can sit back behind and watch interactions take place. So it was really, really great opportunity to both work on my passion and my understanding of Child Development and also to work with educating adults. I just love both pieces of that.
Question: When you think about what you learned that are so important before you had kids versus when you had kids, can you tell me something about that?
Absolutely. There’s definitely that difference between you know – “Here’s how it looks on paper black and white. Here’s how it looks at 4 o’clock in the morning ...” you know [laughter].
You know the biggest thing that stands out to me in my memory is that whole transition between those two worlds. Our oldest was brand new and not sleeping well. I don’t know if all babies do this, my kids would go through this periods of maybe sleeping a little bit better and not, but about 6 months they would start waking up every 2 hours - when you know like they don’t need to be doing this anymore at 6 months. So I was at that point with him and just exhausted and feeling like a zombie, and so being a great student I went to the library and checked out every single book I can find on sleeping and babies. And I remember my husband coming home and there’s this stack of books next to me and I’m sitting in the chair with our son and he’s like “So, what did you find out?”. And I’m just like bursting into tears coz’ I’m exhausted anyway and I’m like, “They all say something different and I don’t know what the right answer is” - come from this background of finding the answer, right?
And he said, “There comes a point that you have to put away the books and listen to yourself coz’ you’re the mom and there’s something to that”.
And we’re a team of course, it was the two of us, but I think that was a big moment for me of realizing that: you do everything you can, you find out all the information you can, it’s good. I love to nerd out on research and best practice and philosophy. It’s all fascinating to me, but when we put it into work in our families
we have to listen to our guts a little bit as well, and that’s actually backed up by what we have in academics and research - that responsiveness is a key part of human development. Whatever, talking about education or parenting , that we have to get away from this flow chart mentality and the right answer and doing everything right and recognizing that it’s about responding to those kids that we have and being effective for them.
And that looks different in different families. So I think that was the biggest mindset shift for me, was getting away with right answer mentality and embracing responsiveness even though that looks a little bit more messy and not so clear cut.
Question: So when you say responsiveness, does that mean you’re in the moment when something happens to your kid? Do you have to be like, “Okay I see what they’re doing”, “I see their expression”, and “What’s the right thing for me to do?”?
It does really require you to be present, but it’s also the recognizing that—I work a lot with behaviors. One of the areas, positive guidance-- that I work with parents and teachers and often times I get these questions like: what do I do about XYZ? How do I deal with fighting? How do I deal with whining? Or whatever the problem of the day is and I can teach principles and I can teach somethings that do work on certain situations, but recognizing that’s not going to work for everyone. That responsiveness is about being descriptive rather than prescriptive. So we can kind of understand basic principles and have an idea of where we’re going, but within our own home even between children, we’re going to respond in a different way. For one example for temper tantrums, some of my kids, if they’re having a total emotional meltdown and I come in and snuggle and we get cozy. That helps them calm down, but some of my other kids if I try to get in and snuggle and get cozy, they’re going to push even more. That I had to learn, even though I wanted to get in there and fix it, if I was being responsive to them I actually had to back off and give them the space and let them know I’m here when you’re ready, take your time.
So responsiveness is being aware of their body cues, of what they’re saying, of how they look, of how they respond to different things so that you can be flexible and come out a different way when they need it.
Question: Thinking about the issues you mentioned, my son goes to daycare with another child who bites a lot so now he’s starting to bite. So when I see him biting his older sister as a defense mechanism of “back off” when she invades his space too much, what would your recommendation be on how to approach that?
So I think I kind of want the basic level. The descriptive level. Anytime kids are hurting other kids, that’s definitely not a behavior that we just want to ignore, right? So we always want to make sure that we step in and make it clear that it’s not okay. And usually, I think one of the biggest cue is making sure that we stay calm. So we kind of scoot in and separate or stop the action, and being able to calmly not overreact. Coz’ overreacting creates another emotional charge that can create a whole other issue going on. But to calmly-- but that can still be very…yeah, kind of stern. Like you can still be very firm and be calm and not overreact, but very clearly and firmly saying, “This is not okay. That hurts” is one thing. Always making sure that we get in and let them know that you will not allow it to happen. And then also turning the attention more towards the person that got hurt rather than the person that’s causing it. So even encouraging them to help like, “Let’s get a cold cloth”, or “Let’s help her feel better” type of a thing, but a lot of it especially when they’re young is recognizing—well, they’re all young, I was to say younger or preverbal or early on talking –a lot of it is a language. I can’t communicate effectively what I need so I use these physical outlets to get what I mean. So sometimes when we give them the right words or placing it like you said, often it’s somebody getting in his space, so if he can kind of every time reinforce just say “I need more space”, or just say “please back off”, or whatever are the words fit for him. So giving them the words and being aware of it. I think that’s the hardest part, is trying to step in before it happens or being able to read their cues so that you can see “Oh wait, this is about to happen”. You know we wish, we parents could always see the future and step in.
Question: What are other things that you see that parents are doing, or tips that you could provide, that might help people just to better manage those what would be considered as “tense” situations with their kids?
I think that’s one of the biggest things, when it gets tense is recognizing that children are going to feed off of our emotions as well. So I think, just what we were talking about, being calm but firm is really key, but sometimes we’re overly playful and so they continue to use that behavior when they are looking for playful interaction or we’re overly emotional even if it’s angry - feeds into the sense of power that they can ignite that in you, that feels really powerful for them.
So when it’s a frustrating situation, it’s really important for us to be calm but firm, and also because they’re going to often times mirror our emotion so rather than escalating we want to kind of continue that firm. We also know from research that young children actually listen better if we use a lower voice rather than if we bring our voices up.
We kind of a lot of times fall back in this pattern of yelling and raising our voices, but we actually know they’ll do a better job of listening if we can get close and lower our voice. It’s more effective.
So being calm is one of the first things and also just being really clear.
We kind of underestimate how much our children do understand and we kind of dance around on words and we’re not very clear with what we’re asking them to do. So stating clearly what we want them to do, but also recognizing that our words paint a picture, and so making sure that we say what we want to see - is how I teach it.
And so rather than saying, “Don’t run in the library”, you want to clarify and tell them what we do want. Coz’ we created this picture of them running in the library, so instead we want to be clear and say, “I know you’re excited. We need to make sure we use walking feet in the library”, or that “We walk carefully”, or “Walk with me and hold my hand”. So creating the picture, what you want them to see. The words that you’re using is more effective than the negative correction because it paints the wrong picture.
Question: With how the child’s brain work, can you talk more about what you see with like development in different stages and what that means for a child?
I think a lot of it, when we’re talking about behavior or really anything, when we’re talking about our young children, I think we have to keep in mind, and this is what I’m passionate about, is this developmental perspective.
So recognizing that sometimes our frustration with our children isn’t so much that they have some sort of deficiency, but that our expectations aren’t appropriate.
So recognizing that their capacity for self-control or to communicate or to do different tasks are going to change as they get older. So if we’re frustrated because our 2-year-old won’t sit still for an hour the problem might be with us not with our 2-year-old. So kind of having that perspective and then recognizing that there are a lot of factors, like their ability to communicate or understand, it’s going to grow and change. So the conversation I have with my 5-year old about his behavior is different than the conversation I have with my 12 and a half year old. So we have to kind of change the way that we talk a little bit.
Question: Could you give an example of what you would say to your 5-year-old versus your 12 and a half year old so that people could have a better understanding of that?
So my 5-year-old is still really clear-cut: “That’s not okay”, “This hurts”, “Here’s what I need you to do”, and I do that with my 12-year old as well, but we have a little bit more dialogue.
I think it’s really important that we have dialogue to all of our children, to all ages,
but as children get older that can take up a little bit more of the space. We can have a little bit more of a dialogue why this isn’t okay, how do you feel about this, and how do I feel. And that grows incrementally. So I do that with my 5-year old a little bit, but it’s just very clear as far as “We don’t do that”, “It’s not okay”, “It hurts”, “Does that hurt when that happens to you?” and with my 12 and a half year old it’s going to be a longer conversation.
Question: Can you talk more about what you cover on your blogs? The types of scenarios and what that looks like?
So I write at notjustcute.com and it’s focused on intentional whole child development. So my focus is on providing things that help parents and teachers of young children. So I kind of run the gamut between, I write quite a bit about, positive guidance and behavior ,and kind of a little bit more leaning towards parenting, but I also write a lot about early childhood education which I feel like spans both between parents and teachers. That it’s getting everybody on the same page, because part of my passion-- a lot of times I hear people saying, “You got to choose, are your writing about classroom or home?” and my perspective is I write about children and principles of child development and the environment that they’re in may change, but the principles are going to stay the same.
So I write about how children learn and how we can more effectively teach and create positive environments for them. Those sorts of things.
Question: Are there specific books that you would recommend for people who would want to learn more about child development?
You mentioned a good one, The Whole-Brain Child is a good one. I’ve recently read The Danish Way of Parenting, I thought that was really interesting and was a really easy read, but encompassed and really incorporated a lot of principles. It was interesting to read and kind of an interesting dive into social cultures in that sort of thing. But it’s also a really supportive of what I know from my background, my educational background. Another one is an easy read, it is What Great Parents Do. And it’s just divided in really short chapters with just a quick wind type of a format, and I thought that one was really interesting as well. I really enjoyed the Importance of Being Little by Erika Christakis, it’s a little bit more in depth and research-base, but it’s still really applicable to parents and teachers. And then Mind in the Making, it’s a little bit deeper and heavier by Ellen Galinsky. A little bit more research base but really fascinating things that are really important to child development, whether it’s parents or teachers, it’s important stuff that we know.
Question: If you could provide parents with 3 tips that they could walk away tomorrow and they’d remember and execute what would those be?
As parents, right now in this day and age, one of our biggest challenges is that we have this surplus of information and ideas but we feel like we have no time. So it’s kind of this diametrically opposed approach where we feel like we need to do all of the things, but we don’t have time for any of the things. So I think the 3 basic things that I know personally from my own experience and I also know from what I’ve read and researched this consistent threads that keep coming up is that
what’s really most important for our kids is to build a connection with them.
To take time to build our relationships of love and trust and just healthy family relationships that we just do in simple ways of consistency. And just loving them.
Just taking the extra 10 seconds to give them a kiss and say “I love you”.
So building connection, and then communication, whether it’s again back to that connection relationship or whether it’s for you wanting to help them in academic areas. That one biggest thing we can do for young children is just to talk with them. To talk, have meaningful conversations and read books. So to have them in a language rich environment. So just taking that time to read and to wander aloud and to talk about things. And play. I’m a big proponent of play. So whether we’re making space and time for them to be engaged in simple play or playing together as a family, all of it is just so good for us in a way that we’re wired as human beings, for young children to grow or us families to build connection with each other.
So I really focus on connection and communication and play which are really simple things that can kind of let go of all of the production part or parenting and just be present and engaged in those things. It feels a little bit simpler, getting to the basics.