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How to Encourage Children to Try Their Best

A Deep Dive into Growth Mindset


At this year’s Camp Slumberkins, Bigfoot gets some big help to learn how to practice having a growth mindset. His friend Narwhal teaches him to try his best as he struggles with fear and insecurity about learning how to swim. Narwhal’s encouragement of Bigfoot to try his best really seems to help, but why? Read on to find out the back story about why trying your best is a key tenet of growth mindset.

Try your best! It sounds simple enough and, at first glance, it doesn’t seem like rocket science to understand why trying your best would be a key part of growth mindset. But when we look a little more closely, there are reasons beyond simply putting in maximum effort that make trying your best an important aspect of growth mindset.

It’s All About Focus

When we help our kids focus on challenging themselves to try their best, it naturally pulls their attention away from how others are doing and more toward their own progress. We hear from professional athletes all the time that focusing on a “personal best” goal is a great place to keep our attention, and we agree! A key characteristic of fixed mindset is comparing ourselves to others. We believe that helping our kids focus on trying their best is an excellent strategy for avoiding that comparison pitfall and staying in growth mindset.

Effort, Vulnerability, and Authenticity

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown discusses the process of trying our best. She says that when we really give something our all, we may feel vulnerable because others will likely see us giving it our all, which means they’ll know we really want something. If we don’t get what we’re striving for, we might feel disappointed or embarrassed. But what Brown has uncovered in her research is that this kind of vulnerability leads to feelings of deeper authenticity and better connection with others.

This lesson is not just for us adults. We can teach our kids that while giving something our full effort may feel like taking a risk, it actually helps us to have a more genuine relationship with ourselves and others. Additionally, when we see a friend or family member try their best and fail, we are better equipped to support them because we’ve been there ourselves.

Encourage Them to Try Their Best at Any Age

The ways we can encourage our children to try their best may depend on their age, but it’s never too early to start! Babies love to try their best and strive to master new skills like rolling over and picking things up with their hands. We can affirm their effort and process by smiling and using encouraging language when we see them putting forth effort. It’s also great early growth mindset practice if babies are allowed to work hard to reach a goal (i.e., setting the toy just beyond her grasp so she can really reach for it). We can comment on the process (You’re really trying your best!) and be sure to read baby’s cues and help her reach her goal if she starts to get distressed. For younger kids, we can encourage their sustained efforts to learn new skills, from balance to drawing: Way to keep practicing your numbers and letters! For older kids, we love to tell them that every time they practice a new skill, their brain gets stronger: Wow, you are really practicing dribbling. The basketball area of your brain is getting stronger! Way to build those skills! 

The Power of Trying Your Best Despite the Outcome

It may sound counterintuitive, but from a growth mindset perspective we gain more satisfaction from trying our best even if we fail than we do if we only give something a fraction of our effort. In the short term, it may feel less disappointing to think, “It’s no big deal that I didn’t finish the race. I didn’t try that hard anyway,” but this approach undermines our ability to persevere in the future.

When we encourage our kids to try their best, it takes the focus—and therefore the pressure!—off of the outcomes and more on their experience of the process. This helps them to strive for their personal best and enjoy more genuine connections with others, and it gives them a chance to practice the important skills of determination and perseverance. 

When practicing a growth mindset we learn that we can’t always control the outcome, but we can control how much effort we put in.

Camp Slumberkins offers loads of activities and resources to help you expand on Narwhal’s lesson of Try Your Best! We hope you’ll join us.

Join us for our second lesson in How to Help Children Build Flexible Thinking Skills here.


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