A behavior contract can play a very effective role in any reward plan (along with reward charts and a token economy). They can be be a useful behavior modification tool when other methods aren’t working so well, and can give your child a sense of being involved in a serious, grown-up process.
The Effectiveness of a Behavior Contract
If you've been browsing through my site you would've caught onto the importance I believe a well structured reward plan has in shaping behavior. A behavior contract can play a very effective role in any reward plan (along with reward charts and a token economy).
A behavior contract can be be a useful behavior modification tool when other methods aren't working so well, and it can give your child a sense of being involved in a serious, grown-up process. This can be flattering to many children as it shows them that you are prepared to enter into a negotiation with them, and sign off on your agreement.
Why a Behavior Contract Can Work So Well
- A behavior contract allows your child to negotiate the "terms of the contract". This is particularly useful for older children.
- The contract spells it out in black-and-white what is expected and what will be awarded.
- It allows your child to feel more in control of their behavior choices.
- The behavior contract can help structure the behavior patterns of your child and gives them a great opportunity for self-management.
- As with any good reward plan, such as using reward charts for children, a behavior contract teaches delayed gratification.
- Because the contract clearly defines what is expected of your children, family tension and arguments over on-going behavioral problems tend to dissipate.
How to Use Behavior Contracts
- Be clear as to your requirements and when they must be met. But remember if your child negotiates reasonable changes, then apply them - that's the art of negotiation after all, and gives your child the required sense of control.
- Fill out the behavior contract and have both you and your child sign off on it. This act of signing off can really pass on the importance, expectation and "seriousness" of the contract.
- Follow through, be specific, be consistent, be positive, and don't overwhelm your child with type and number of expected behavior changes. In fact most of the rules regarding reward charts for children will directly apply to using a behavior contract.
- Whatever agreements have been made regarding the adherence to behavior contracts should ALWAYS be followed through.
Examples of Behavior Contract Agreements
- "I will brush my teeth every morning and night" / "We will provide a movie night at the end of every week"
- "I will put all my dirty clothes in the clothes hamper as soon as I change" / "We will allow an extra 10 minutes of playtime before bed"
- "When I feel like hitting my brother, I will walk away to another room until I calm down" / "We will provide your choice of dinner and dessert once a week"
- "I will dress myself in the morning" / "We will provide an extra 5 minutes of story-time when it's time for bed"
- As you can see these types of agreements are specific and achievable. Of course the behavior you wish to tackle will be specific to your child and family situation.
The beauty of a behavior contract is that they can be easily adapted and used for younger children as well as older children. The examples above would be more suited to younger children but the contracts can be as sophisticated as you would like (or what is appropriate). For example with an older child the agreement might be "I will complete all my school assignments and hand them in on time during this semester" and your response may be "We will provide a PlayStation game of choice at the the end of semester".
Good luck with your endeavors, and I would love to hear about any of your behavior contract successes.
Using a Behavior Contract to Reduce Arguments
Used correctly a behavior contract acts as a “record” of what both parent and child have agreed to. If your child says “but you said…” pulling out the contract and referring to what actually WAS said can put an end to many arguments.