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Welcome New PAMP Board!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 24, 2016

PAMP has a new Board of Directors! We’d like to welcome the new crew and say thank you to the outgoing crew. The PAMP Board of Directors finds the sweet spot between "parent" and "professional" -- putting their talents to work behind the scenes for the organization while building a strong home life for their families.

The Board of Directors looks for meaningful ways to fulfill the PAMP mission, which is: Enriching the lives of families with young children, by providing resources, support and community in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and the surrounding areas.

In 2015, PAMP’s Board spent significant time evaluating program offerings and resources to ensure they were consistent with the mission statement. The Board identified certain key goals, including improving PAMP’s online platform and online presence. Our biggest effort and goal in 2015 was preparing for the new online platform. Now that it is launched, we continue to look forward to engaging with you, our members, and further driving both online and in-person connections.

The Board also looked into optimizing event offerings and enhancing new and existing member connections. With this in mind, PAMP is continuing to build on the success of our Farm Day events with more unique events such as bounce house events, Mother’s Day Tea and Member Connection events where PAMP members can get together for food and fun and entertainment for the kids. Two of those recent events were the Jump into Summer (with bounce houses galore!) and the Movie & Pizza Night. And of course, PAMP will continue to host our flagstone events like Family Day and the Preschool Fair.

"Our whole family loves PAMP. Through the years we have been members we have gotten to do some really fun activities and events,” says Co-President of the Board Sarah Sobel. “Family Day is one of our favorites because the kids love having a great picnic lunch with their friends while listening to the concert."

Keep in mind that PAMP relies on volunteers to do everything from article/review contributions to in-a-pinch meals to hosting events. Every Board of Directors position is volunteer -- but you don’t have to be on the board to help out! Many of our volunteers work from home with varied tasks -- from helping with design work to analyzing data to support with optimizing offerings.

“PAMP helps you create a village, which is what we all need when trying to navigate the ups and downs of parenting,” says PAMP member Jacquie.

We know that being a parent can be an all-consuming activity, and we appreciate all that our volunteers do for us. We believe that our members get much more out of their membership through volunteering, both from the satisfaction of having helped and from the connections and friendships formed through volunteering.

Once again, welcome to the new Board:

Sarah Sobel, Co-President

Maya Herstein, Co-President

Marissa Song, Secretary

Lisa Raghav, Treasurer

Alix Pora, Board Director - Engagement

Shirley Shtiegman, Board Director – Legal

Heather Gaillard, Board Director - Marketing & Communications

Alice Chao, Board Director, Membership

Jaimi Haydel, Board Director, Events

Jennifer Wang, Board Director, Member at Large

We hope that all of our members, new and old, take advantage of all PAMP has to offer.

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Join the Fun with PAMP Playdates!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 24, 2016

PAMP Playdates include In-Home Playdates, Family Playtime in the Park, Blanket Babies, Crawlers and Toddler Time. There’s something for everyone, including drop-in gatherings as well as ones that require RSVPs. Try out both the at-home playdates as well as the ones outdoors to see which ones you (and your children) like best.

Family Playdates are a great way to get out, meet other families and help the kids burn off some energy. If it’s easier for you to have people come to your place rather than get out to meet others, consider hosting an in-home playdate!

“I was shy about showing up to playdates at first, but everyone was so welcoming that I quickly got over my shyness,” says volunteer Jessica. “I've been thrilled with how supportive and understanding everyone I've met at playdates has been.”

It's not only a great opportunity for parents and kids to socialize, but it’s also helpful to learn from parents with older children.  

During the last playdate I was able to ask a mom with an older child questions about how she navigated issues such as sleep schedules, weaning and preschools,” Jessica said. “It was really helpful!”

Playdates can also expose your little one to new things. Jessica’s baby is four months old, and she usually doesn’t care for tummy time. When my daughter was doing tummy time with several other babies at a playdate, she was so interested in the other babies that she did tummy time for a good 15 minutes (usually she does it for 5 minutes before protesting)!” she said.

Find out more about all of the PAMP Playdates here. If you have any questions, please let us know.


Tags:  activities 

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Family Day - Save the Date!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Updated: Thursday, June 9, 2016

Mark your calendars for the upcoming PAMP Family Day! It's happening on Saturday July 30th from 10am-1pm at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto.

Family Day is one of our biggest events of the year hosted just for PAMP members. It is a fun-filled day for PAMP families to mingle with other PAMP families, and enjoy food and fun activities. We’ll have live music, a petting zoo and pony rides, a catered lunch, costumed characters, bubbles, and more! 

We're always looking for volunteers, too. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and get to know PAMP families. Not sure what you can do while wearing your little one or chasing your toddler around? Just ask us!     

Bring a friend and join the festivities. It's definitely a day not to miss!

For complete information, look here.      

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Summer Playdates - new Family Playtime (hosted by dads), and more

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 20, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 17, 2016



Family Playtime in the Park, hosted by Dads on Saturday mornings

Calling all Dads!  Want to get out with the kids to meet other PAMP fathers (or give your partners a relaxing morning to themselves)?  We are launching a new playgroup this summer hosted by dads (moms welcome too!): PAMP Family Playtime.  It will take place in Mitchell Park on Saturdays at 10 am and is open to kids of all ages.  Come enjoy a morning out and allow the kids to burn off some energy!

RSVP is helpful but not needed - feel free to just drop on by. Look for our group at Mitchell Park by the smaller playground with the reddish fence near the East Meadow Drive entrance to the park (note this is on the opposite side of the park from where the Magical Bridge Playground is). Bring blankets for the babies, snacks, sunscreen, and any toys or sports equipment your kids will enjoy. Hope to see you there!

First playdate starts on July 2nd!
Hosting schedule:
July 2nd: Mauro
July 9th: Peter
July 16th: Jonathan
July 23rd: OPEN
July 30th: No playdate (PAMP Family Day)
Aug 6: Mauro
Aug 13: Peter
Aug 20: Jonathan


Current in-home playdates:

Looking for a comfortable, controlled environment for a playdate for your 0-14 month olds? That's why we started the "In-Home Playdates". Join in on the fun and sign up for one of the upcoming dates. Since these are hosted in homes and have a finite capacity, advanced signup is required. All playdates are free.
We are also looking for hosts, so we can continue to offer these unique events. It's super-easy to host - just open up your home for one playdate, to a few other PAMP members. It's a very low key, informal gathering, and a fantastic way to meet other parents with children of similar ages. This is one of the easiest ways to volunteer and give back to the PAMP community!
We organize these playdates by age - with "Blanket Babies" for 0-9 month olds, and "Crawlers" for children 9-14 months. Blanket Babies in-home playdates are currently on Mondays 3-5 pm and on Thursdays 1-3 pm. Crawlers in-home playdates, for mobile babies, are currently hosted on Wednesdays 4-5:30pm. 

If you are interested in hosting any of these playdates, please email


Current drop-in playdates:

Not able to plan that much in advance? No worries, we continue to have our hosted drop-in playdates at Parents Place each week as well. "Blanket Babies" is held on Fridays for the young ones, and "Toddler Time" is for your older children. No need to sign up in advance, just show up!

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Celebrate 25 Years with 25% Off!

Posted By Communications Manager, Saturday, June 18, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 3, 2016


Celebrate PAMP's 25th Anniversary with 25% Off!

Join Now!

The Palo Alto Menlo Park Parents Club (PAMP) was founded in 1991 by a group of 5 mothers as a way of connecting with each other. In 1991, connecting with other parents was a very different experience – without social media, text messaging and smart phones – moms formed clubs to meet other moms and organize playdates for their young children. 

Right from the beginning, PAMP proved to be popular and to serve a need among Peninsula parents. PAMP has grown to more than 1600 members. Today, PAMP is a vibrant community of families across the Peninsula - served by an active online forum and a wide range of classes and events throughout the week to keep families with young children connected, informed and entertained.

Join for a limited time offer of $45 for a one-year membership (normally $60). Two-year memberships are only $90. Offer expires June 30. 

Join now and lock in this great discount!

Current members - click here to early renew for 25% off 

How to Join:

  1. Click on the "Join PAMP" menu item at the top right of the page
  2. Follow the instructions to sign up - create your Username and Password, Select your Membership (1 year or 2 year), create your profile, and then when you get to the payment page use the appropriate promotion code from below:
    1. One Year Membership:  25off1yr-f  (one year for $45)
    2. Two Year Membership:  25off2yr-f  (two years for $90)



Join now to enjoy these upcoming events:

Family Movie & Pizza Night - Friday June 10, 5:30pm

It's Summer and time for movie fun and festivities! Join us for Family Movie and Pizza Night! Meet other families, cuddle up, and enjoy pizza from Pieology, and drinks (BYOB for the adults)!  The feature film will be the highly popular "Shaun the Sheep the Movie".

We will also be hosting a pre-film raffle with several prizes from many local businesses such as Cheeky Monkey Toys, CuriOdyssey, Gilroy Gardens and More. Winners will be announced before the film. 

Looking to meet other members to form a playgroup or get some advice? This is a great way to make those connections! 


Jump into the Summer-  Sunday, June 26 10am-2pm

Whether you missed it or attended our "Jump into the New Year" event in January, you don't want to miss this one! More bounce houses, more activities, and more fun, as we have a combined indoor/outdoor space for the event.
Inside we'll have a soccer activity put on by Super Soccer Stars and another kids' activity put on by Bandalou. With the outdoor space, we'll have 5 different bounce houses!  Water and light snacks will be provided, and you can bring a lunch along with you as well.

Annual Family Day - Saturday July 30, 10am-1pm 

Family Day is one of our biggest events of the year hosted just for PAMP members! It is a fun-filled day for PAMP families to mingle with other PAMP families, and enjoy food and fun activities. We’ll have live music, a petting zoo and pony rides, a catered lunch, costumed characters, bubbles, face painting and more! 

Thank you to Stanford Children's Health/Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital who is again acting as our Main Sponsor at the event and providing lunch, which will be provided between 11:00-12:30. In addition, they will be providing free carseat checks (must be reserved in advance).  And thank you to Friendly Pony Parties, who will be providing the Petting Zoo and Pony rides for the event. We will also have 20 other sponsors at the event who will be providing fun activities for the children.



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Jump into Summer is Coming Up!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Updated: Thursday, June 9, 2016

Our Jump into Summer event is coming up! Have you attended PAMP’s bounce event before? Whether you missed it or attended our "Jump into the New Year" event in January, you don't want to miss the next one on June 26th.

This is such great fun for the whole family. There's nothing better than seeing your kids smiling and having fun -- and going home super tired, too.

We’ll have more bounce houses, more activities and more fun. Outside we’ll have five different bounce houses! Inside we’ll have a soccer activity, bean bag toss and arts & crafts -- thanks to Super Soccer Stars, Bandalou and Little Bytes Pediatric Dentistry.

PAMP will provide water and light snacks, but feel free to bring a lunch if you’d like. We’re excited to see you there!

Cost is only $10 per PAMP member family -- bring some friends, too, for only $20 per non-member family. Click here to sign up now.

Sunday, June 26th, 10:00am - 2:00pm
Arrillaga Family Recreation Center - Sequoia Room and Patio
700 Alma Street, Menlo Park


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Top Father’s Day Outdoor Adventure Ideas

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 10, 2016

Father’s day is just around the corner so before you scramble to buy another tie or “World’s Best Dad” coffee mug, get creative and treat him to an outdoor adventure! To parents, the ultimate present is that of time spent together and precious memories. So this year, plan to wake up dad with a home cooked breakfast (bacon, eggs and French toast please!) followed by an activity-packed day outdoors with the entire family.

Today I would like to introduce you to a very special place that has all the above and makes for the perfect Father’s Day gift. Northern California’s Half Moon Bay is home to sun drenched beaches ideal for sunbathing and picnicking, one of our nation’s most spectacular marine protected areas for tide pooling, marine mammal watching, long stretches of coastline trails for biking and hiking, a protected harbor for sea kayaking and a great fishing destination.

Half Moon Bay’s Coastside Trail runs parallel to the Pacific Coast and is truly a fun destination. It’s a family-grade flat ride with sweeping views of the coast, the ocean, picturesque bluffs, views of the world-famous Mavericks, a surfing spot near Pillar Point that’s visible from the trail and wildlife viewing.

It has access to several beaches so make sure you take your bike locks if you plan to make stops to visit the beaches.

This ride is an overall easy one with the most difficult part being where to choose to stop! Insider Tip: Stop at El Granada for a delicious cup of clam chowder and finish your ride at the ice cream parlor.

Roosevelt, Dunes, Venice and Francis beaches line up along the Half Moon Bay coast to form two miles of white sand that makes up Half Moon Bay State Beach (see the map above). A fifth beach, Cowell Ranch Beach, is also part of the state beach and is three miles further to the south.

Venice beach is between two creeks (Pilarcitos and Frenchmans) and makes a great wading area for kids.  It has outdoor showers and flushable toilets, which is a nice luxury. Birds are also common users of the freshwater of Pilarcitos creek so be sure to pack your binoculars.

Francis Beach has a nice grassy park with picnic tables and barbecues on the bluff above the ocean. It also has a campground for tents and trailers. Word of caution: These beaches are not suitable for swimming but they are great for sunbathing and picnicking.

Tide Pooling
Located only 15 minutes north of Half Moon Bay in Moss Beach is Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is home to dozens of colorful, unique sea creatures.  If you visit the reserve at low tide (one foot or less), you’ll be able to see a multitude of sea-life. The reserve hosts a living community of seaweed, crabs, sea-stars, octopus, sponges, mollusks, fish, and even harbor seals. It’s Full of natural marine wildlife splashing in the Pacific Ocean which makes it an ideal spot for your little marine biologist. Watch the introductory video created by Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.

Kayaking, Stand Up Paddle Boarding, Boating and Fishing
Pillar Point Harbor is one of area’s most protected harbors. This location is ideal for sea kayaking as well as stand up paddle boarding (SUP) since the area is shielded from wind. There are kayak and SUP rentals available at the harbor to enjoy an afternoon paddle amongst the seals, birds and other marine life.

Pillar Point Harbor is also a prime location along the California coast for commercial and sport fishing. There are several sport fishing charters operating at Johnson Pier. If your family has no luck with active biters, you can purchase fresh fish from commercial fishermen that sell their catch of the day right off their boats! Food doesn’t get any fresher. Insider Tip: As with any other Northern California coast, Half Moon Bay can get foggy in the mornings and cold in the evenings so dress in layers.

Mavericks Cliffs Trail is a 1.5 mile (easy) hiking trek that places you in one of the most famous surfing locations in the world, where the annual Mavericks competition is held. You can supplement the excursion with a climb to a bluff with ocean views, and scramble down a hillside for a walk on the beach.  Inside Tip: The Mavericks Cliff Trail is dog friendly.

GPS Coordinates for the Trailhead: 37 30’06.5”N 122 29’47.9”W

Another fun activity to consider – boulder hopping! My kids and I had a lot of fun watching the seals and looking for other marine life while hopping along a 1.4 mile long jetty of big rocks. This is however a potentially dangerous activity since the rocks are large and sometimes big waves may come unexpectedly so please proceed with caution.

Outdoor enthusiast Holly Motaghi created Power Travelers to help families plan and execute their next outdoor adventures with ease -- including hiking, biking, camping and water activities. Power Travelers can also be found on Facebook.

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Family Movie and Pizza Night is This Week!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Updated: Friday, June 3, 2016

PAMP's Family Movie and Pizza Night is this week! 

If you're trying to find distraction-free time to engage with other parents while also enjoying some family time, what better way to do that than at our Family Movie and Pizza Night?

Kids can watch the movie Shaun the Sheep, eat some pizza from Pieology and have fresh popcorn from a theater-style popcorn machine. Parents can enjoy some BYOB (or wine) and have the opportunity to ask about preschools, summer camps, play groups -- or just indulge in some casual conversation. 

For more information and to register, please go here.

Family movie night has always been a fun summer tradition, but most movie-in-the-park events start too late for most bedtimes. However, this PAMP Family Movie Night will be held at the beautifully modern Palo Alto Room at the Mitchell Park Community Center, right across the courtyard from the library, and early enough for the little ones to still get to bed in time. It's a win-win for everyone!

We will also be hosting a raffle before the movie where there will be an assortment of exciting prizes kindly provided by local businesses such as Cheeky Monkey, Kepler's Books, CuriOdyssey and Gilroy Gardens. Tickets will be sold for $1 each and the winners will be announced before the film -- so make sure to get there early!

We'll see you this Friday, June 10th from 5:30 - 7:30pm at Mitchell Park Community Center.

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PAMP turns 25!

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 30, 2016

You know and love today’s PAMP as a vibrant community of families across the peninsula connected by an active online community and amazing in-person classes and events. This volunteer-led, non-profit organization also has a small but essential team of part-time staff to keep operations running smoothly.

But it didn’t always look this way.

Twenty-five years ago, in 1991, several moms from the Menlo Park and Palo Alto area came together to form a mother’s club. Back in those days, connecting with other parents was a very different experience -- no smartphones, text messaging or social media. Moms formed clubs to meet other moms and organize playdates for their young children.

And so PAMP was born. Founders Trish BoBorff, Kathryn Hall, Nancy Hosay, Kathy Mlinarich and Mary Pless, along with 38 members, officially formed a community dedicated to supporting each other along the journey of parenting. In 1991, the club was known as the Mother’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

To get the word out, members would post flyers around town to alert others of upcoming playdates and parties.

In 2002, the club wanted to be sure the name reflected inclusivity of the whole family -- not just moms. The Mother’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park was renamed The Parent’s Club of Palo Alto and Menlo Park (PAMP).

As the area grew, so did the club. By 2003, PAMP grew to over 1,800 member families. To support the growing organization, a Board of Directors was established to oversee club operations, and PAMP officially became a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) status.

With the changing times came changing technology. The club started using Yahoo! Groups as an organizing tool. The club continued to grow, and by 2008 it was so large that staff positions were added to support operational efficiency.

As the club continued to evolve, new elements such as large organized events and small weekly classes were added to the club offerings. To accommodate these changes and to embrace the newest technology, in 2009 PAMP transitioned off of Yahoo! and onto Big Tent. This change allowed PAMP to expand the offering of club gatherings.

Today, PAMP offers a wide range of events and classes throughout the year.

The success of PAMP’s newly launched in-home playdates has nicely complemented the existing drop-in Blanket Babies, Crawlers and Toddler Time events. Other new family activities include Farm Day (featuring train rides, pony rides and more), Jump events (with bounce houses for every age kid) and Family Move & Pizza night. PAMP has also recently transitioned off of Big Tent to a new online platform that enables members to get all the latest PAMP information from the public website and the membership site in one place.

The club has done a lot in 25 years. Here’s to looking forward to the next chapter in PAMP history!

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Five Reasons to Stop Saying “Good Job!”

Posted By Communications Manager, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Updated: Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: “Good job!” Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together (“Good clapping!”). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.

Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation (“time out”). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive reinforcement.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here’s why.

1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as “sugar-coated control.” Very much like tangible rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done — or failed to do. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.

The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A “Good job!” to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

2. Creating praise junkies.  To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, “I like the way you….” or “Good ______ing,” the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.

Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice (“Um, seven?”). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.

In short, “Good job!” doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

3. Stealing a child’s pleasure. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, “Good job!”, though, we’re telling a child how to feel.

To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary — especially with toddlers and preschoolers. But a constant stream of value judgments is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that “Good job!” is just as much an evaluation as “Bad job!” The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.

I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, “Good job!” because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, “I did it!” (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, “Was that good?”

4. Losing interest.  “Good painting!” may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, “once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again.” Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a “Good job!”

In a troubling study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard “Good sharing!” or “I’m so proud of you for helping,” they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something valuable in their own right but as something they had to do to get that reaction again from an adult. Generosity became a means to an end.

Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.

5. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that “Good job!” can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to “keep up the good work” that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks – a prerequisite for creativity – once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.

More generally, “Good job!” is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.

*Once you start to see praise for what it is – and what it does – these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), “Good praising!”

Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.

What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. “Good job!” is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.

This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids “earn” it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.

So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, “Good job!” isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, “Good job!” won’t help.

If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now “behaving himself”; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons he’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using “Good job!” to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)

We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, “What do you think we can do to solve this problem?” will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a “Good job!” when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why “doing to” strategies are a lot more popular than “working with” strategies.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be “reinforced” because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement (“You put your shoes on by yourself” or even just “You did it”) tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: “This mountain is huge!” “Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!”

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: “Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack.” This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking “What was the hardest part to draw?” or “How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?” is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying “Good job!”, as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life — or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Reprinted from

Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. 

Tags:  parenting 

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