What Trying Means to a Little Girl

How often over the years have I asked the question to my children, “Did you try?”Simple word, simple meaning. Right? Wrong. We all have an understanding of what it means to try. But somehow, at the end of the day our actions don’t always reflect the same meaning. Webster defines try as, “to make an attempt or effort to do something.” But how do you gauge an “attempt,” and what does “effort” really entail in a work, social, or family setting?


In my house, try is the word that reinforces how each member of my family should pursue every challenge in life. It represents the effort to start, the persistence to finish, and the ability to succeed. It’s not limited by the level of difficulty and encourages asking for help when needed. This three letter word is designed to empower my family to persevere; to give them the confidence to do anything.


Ironically, I’ve found it’s used for the complete opposite reason: as an expression of defeat and an excuse to be okay with it.


I am reminded of a time my daughter ran up enthusiastically,



“Daddy, daddy, what can I do to help?”

“Can you take out the trash?”

“Can I have a cookie if I do?”



She wrapped her little fingers around the trash bag, grunted a few times, and respond with, “I tried, but I can’t.” Then, she turned right around and moved the heavier chair from the kitchen to the counter, scaled the chair and counter, and opened the cabinet to get a cookie.


With its many interpretations, how did I help my daughter understand her ingenuity to obtain a cookie was a much better representation of what I mean by “try?”


Dilemmas. Repetition. Discussion. Positive Reinforcement.


Day after day when my daughter used the word I can’t or I don’t know, I would reiterate the word “try.” I would quickly follow up with examples of resources and tools that were available to her to solve the problem. We would talk about how she could solve the problem, and I would help her approach it from different angles. Over time, the word “try” was associated with looking at a problem again and again until other options became available to overcome it. “Try” was affiliated with pushing forward and giving it your all. Now years later, she knows exactly how to move forward…to try.


I have found so much power in utilizing these classical learning techniques – Dilemmas. Repetition. Discussion. Positive Reinforcing – to help people understand and align with my values. What tools do you use to clarify the ambiguity of family values?