How to Win at School: Set Outrageous Goals

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A few weeks into the school year, I realized I was setting my son up for failure every day when he left the house by telling him the things moms typically tell kids:

“Do well in school.”
“Get your work done in study hall so you don’t have homework.”
“Eat your lunch.”
Or even, “Have a good day!”

Some days he’d succeed at those typical things. But some days he’d get a D on a test, or do nothing in study hall and come home with hours of homework. Often, he forgot to eat his lunch.

And he’s a teen — he doesn’t always have a good day. Really, who can?

And when he walked in, I’d ask, “How’d you do on that test?”

“I blew it.”

Or, “Did you get all your work done in study hall?”


In addition to the typical teen short answers, he also felt like he was letting me (and himself) down. Yes, he should accomplish these things, but I didn’t want the first thing he heard every day when he returned home to be a reminder of how he’d failed. So, I decided that the first thing he hears every day should be congratulations on a recent success.

The first time I did it, he walked in with way too much homework expecting me to be disappointed but instead I said, “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you!”


“Congratulations for making it through the day without having a tree fall on you.”

He looked at me like I was crazy. And then smiled, shook his head and walked away.  But the next day he walked in and I greeted him with, “Good job today not getting hugged to death by a boa constrictor!” And he laughed.

Once he got over the shock of being congratulated every day, he started to get in on it. “Hey mom, what’s my goal for today?”

“Um, Don’t lose your pants!”

“You got it. I can do that.”

Here are some of his favorite successes he’s had this year:

“Congratulations for…

…not getting run over by gummy bears!”
…not getting eaten by rabid clowns!”
…not being killed by dancing demon bunnies!”
…not getting pixelated!”
…not getting caught in a volcanic explosion!”
…not getting eaten by leprechauns!”
…not choking on a milk truck!”
…not getting killed by ping pong balls!”
…not getting run over by stampeding cows!”
…not defying gravity and floating off the earth!”

And his all time favorite:

“Congratulations on not being eaten by aliens!”

Not only does he have at least one moment of total success every day, but it also has led to more conversation with my teen. The creativity of coming up with these bizarre goals has sparked the storyteller in him. When I tell him, “Congratulations for not turning into a robot!” he will respond with something like, “Thanks! It was close. There was a nanobot invasion at school today and half the kids in my history class were turned into maintenance robots, but I managed to build an EMP blaster during science and saved the school.”

And that’s a much better answer to, “How was school?” than “Fine.”

I recently asked him what he thought of all this. His answer was profound for a thirteen-year-old (especially one with Aspergers):

“I like doing this because no matter how many other things I screw up in during the day, I know that I will always succeed in at least one thing. And it also reminds me to set at least one realistic personal goal a day. I might not be able to make it all day without getting distracted (even though I try hard), but I know I can make it a whole day without blowing up the solar system.”

Wow. Well then, congratulations certainly are in order, aren’t they?

On a side note, after nearly 150 days of doing this, I’m starting to run out of ideas. If you have some crazy goals for my son, feel free to share in the comments. I’d probably love to use them.

PS: My son is now entering his senior year of high school, still loves this routine and participates. Recently, we found out that he’s been logging these goals almost every day, sharing them with his friends at school. And he’s even given me a goal once or twice! And now our middle school daughter is starting to get in on the fun; so, here’s to our fourth year of congratulating our kids on the wild and previously unimaginable.

Jennifer Tatum is a substitute teacher in West Michigan. She blogs at Lexical Jen.
This article first appeared at Lexical Jen. Used with permission.

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