Sista-friend recently introduced us to a phrase that changes everything.  For real, within 48 hours of learning this we used it with both kids, and it was a game changer.

It’s real easy to remember.  Only two little words.

“Try Harder.”

You wouldn’t think two words could work such magic, but they have a rather remarkable effect on the recipient.  Short, simple, to the point, and extremely effective in shutting down whatever nonsense is happening.

So Bear’s been pulling this delightful move where she refuses to eat a dinner she’s enjoyed on a previous occasion.  This has been happening more and more — I take the time to cook a meal, she stares at her plate, and the first words out of her mouth are, “Do I like this?”  My answer is always, “Yep, you loved it the last time we had it.”  End of story.

(The only dish I’ve given up the ghost on is stew beef, which is unfortunate because it’s one of BrightSide’s childhood staples that he loves.  Bear came down with the flu right after this meal so it’s hard to argue with her reluctance to eat it, though by now I’m sorely tempted because it’s been over 7 months and we’ve got to MOVE ON.  But whatever…no amount of “try harder” is going to get her past this hump.)

Anyway, the weekend we learned this new magic phrase Bear pulled the same nonsense at dinner.  I assured her that she did indeed like the food in front of her only to watch her take a bite, chew twice with an expression like she was eating rancid meat, then spit her food into a napkin.  Bear’s comment?  “I don’t like it.”  My response?  “Try harder.”

There were a good three seconds where she just blinked at me, utterly confused by my response. This doesn’t mean she ate her dinner — as memory serves, I’m fairly sure she didn’t — but it certainly did stop the conversation in its tracks.  And that was enough for me.

The next day T-man gave me attitude over his chore.  Their job that day was to clean their rooms, and as I recall his was a crazy nightmare of a mess.  Apparently he’d spent what he felt was an adequate amount of time cleaning, but when I checked his room it was still a horror show.  When I explained he wasn’t finished I got a very whiny, “But I tried.”  My response?  “Try harder.”

BAM.  ‘Nuff said.

While my friend had told me how effective this phrase could be, I was still stunned at the response it evoked in my kids.  Hearing about it was one thing.  Seeing it in action?  Well, that was quite another.

A week or so went by and then I got the funniest e-mail from sista-friend.  It was about her friend who worked in a high school guidance office, someone who had also discovered the superpower of “try harder.”

It being springtime the seniors are all nutty with panicky college needs and would swarm the guidance office at will.  Appointment…no appointment…they’d show up in droves saying it was an emergency and that they had to see their counselor right that moment.

One day someone’s precious gem appeared before this woman, flustered and demanding to see his guidance counselor immediately.  Well, the counselor was booked up for the day and there was no way he could fit the student in, so the receptionist asked what the problem was.  Maybe she’d be able to tell him what his counselor would probably say.  Sweet Pea replied that he was getting low grades in his classes, on his tests and projects, and he didn’t know what he should do.

The woman’s best guess for the counselor’s advice:  “Try harder.”

Student: [blink, blink]

So the woman firmly repeats:  “He’ll tell you to try harder.”  (Run along now, Sweet Pea.)

See?  It works for almost everything.

When I really let my mind run wild, the possibilities are endless…

“I can’t find my (belt, shoes, book).”  Try harder.

“I hate the new dog food container.  I keep pinching my fingers when I close the handles!”  Try harder.

“T-man (or Bear) won’t listen to what I’m saying!”  Try harder.

Sibling nitpicking, laziness, stubbornness, blowing off homework, chores, refusing to do age-appropriate jobs, plain old orneriness…the list of things that can be shut down with “try harder” is pretty mind boggling.

Just two little words.

Sista-friend is pretty freakin’ smart.