Okay parents, I’m about to get real.
PLEASE, For. The. Love, tell your kids to STOP trying their best.
Yep. I said it, and I mean it!
Let’s look at the definition of “best” (according to Google, of course)
best: that which is the most excellent, outstanding, or desirable.
Did you catch that? the MOST excellent, outstanding or desirable.
My own personal definition would be something like this: better than anything else; the top of the mountain; the highest wrung on the ladder; Shannon Denney (oh, ha! sorry. my child frequently reminds me how UN-funny I am).
In all seriousness, when we tell our kids to “try their best,” we give them permission to use that as a crutch or excuse to do exactly the opposite of “best.” Let me give you an example:
Susie’s mommy told her to go to dance class today and try her best. Susie went to class and repeated the same mistake that she’s made every week for the last several weeks. The teacher just doesn’t get it. When she corrects Susie, Susie fixes her mistake in the moment only to make it again the next week. The cycle repeats itself over and over. After seeing the repeated behavior, the teacher asks Susie why she’s not permanently correcting the issue. After all, the teacher has actually seen Susie do it correctly. Susie replies, (cue the whiney voice) “but I’m trying my best.”
Now I don’t know about you, but THAT phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I know what Susie’s really saying. She’s saying “I don’t want to put in the work.” She’s saying, “I don’t feel like it.” She’s saying, “you have to let me get away with this because I’m telling you this is my best. And maybe, just maybe I can get away with playing you like I do other adults in my life with one simple sentence.”
WARNING: Hold on to your hats. It’s about to get tough for a minute…
My response to Susie will always be, “Okay. There will be no need for you to return to dance. Thank you for coming.”
I’m kind of known for my dramatics.
After a brief moment of silence, as the child, mouth open, gives me that wide-eyed, “Oh Crap” stare, I go on to explain that if THIS is their best (meaning the MOST excellent, MOST outstanding, MOST desirable thing that they are capable of), then they have reached the mountaintop. They have in fact reached THE highest wrung on the ladder. There is nothing more for them to learn or accomplish because what they’ve just told me is that THIS moment, THIS effort, THIS is all they’ve got. There is no room for improvement.
After my dramatics, I always finish with “your best can ALWAYS be better. Instead of saying ‘I’m trying my best,’ let’s say ‘I’ll keep trying to get better.’”
Then they realize that their growth is 100% determined by their mindset and work ethic. This is the lesson we have to teach our children. See, it’s my job as their coach to teach my students how to push themselves. Not to allow kids to believe life is only perfection or failure with no in-between. It’s about the journey. It’s about the small steps that, when added together, help them climb the highest mountain.
At my dance studio, I’m always saying that it’s about SO much more than dance. I will always push my students to be better tomorrow than they are today. I want to know that I’ve given them lessons to carry them through the rest of their lives. Sure, my students are going to learn how to be awesome dancers, but they’re going to learn how to be awesome people too.