Hi All, my name is Dr. Marnee, I am a mom of 2-boys, and I am guilty of saying this phrase: “Do your best.”  “Do your best” is often said with the best of intentions. It sounds supportive, encouraging, and motivating. But for many children, these three words can carry an immense amount of pressure, creating a complex emotional landscape that can be challenging to navigate.

We typically say “do your best” to encourage our children to put forth effort, persevere through challenges, and strive for excellence—me included. The intention is to foster a growth mindset where children learn the value of hard work and resilience. We aim to provide a quick pep talk, boosting our children’s confidence and motivating them to push forward.

It seems simple enough, however, …the impact is often more complicated. Here are some reasons why “do your best” can sometimes be too much:

Vague Expectations: What does it even mean? What does it look like? “Do your best” is inherently subjective and open-ended. For a child, especially one who is a perfectionist or struggles with self-esteem, the lack of clear boundaries can be too much. They might interpret “best” as “perfect,” setting an unattainable standard that leads to frustration and disappointment.

Fear of Disappointing Parents: Children naturally want to please their parents and make them proud. When they hear “do your best,” they might feel immense pressure to meet their parents’ expectations. If they fall short, they may fear they are letting their parents down, leading to feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Ouch, that is not our intention at all.

Comparison to Others: In environments where performance is easily measurable, like school or sports, “do your best” can be interpreted as a directive to outperform peers. We do not want to foster unhealthy competition and/or comparisons. Increasing stress and anxiety is not the goal. We want our children to focus on their personal growth.

Did you know that even the “best” batters in baseball bat 300: 30% of the time, they get a hit? Yep, 70% of the time, they won’t get a hit.

SO, what do we all do about this phrase:  

Define What “Best” Means in clear terms: For example, instead of saying “do your best on your math test,” parents might say, “focus on solving each problem carefully and checking your work.”

Emphasize Effort Over Outcome: Praise children for their hard work, persistence, and progress rather than the outcome. This reinforces the idea that the process is more important than the product.

Encourage Self-Reflection: Teach children to self-assess and reflect on their performance. Ask questions like, “What part of this was the most challenging for you?” or “What are you proud of in your work?”

Provide Emotional Support: Remind children that it’s okay to fail and that setbacks are part of the learning process. Offering unconditional support and understanding can alleviate the fear of failure. Let them know that your love and approval are not contingent on their achievements.

Let’s be real: We adults don’t always do our best! I would say we mostly do “good enough.”  

Here is my commitment: to be more mindful when using this phrase with my kids. Can you do the same?

Happy Parenting,
Dr. Marnee xoxo