How to Write a Child Contract
The first step to writing an effective behavior contract is to identify your child's problem behaviors. These may be behaviors that are dangerous, disrespectful, inappropriate, non-compliant, or simply annoying. Contracts can be used to stop a specific behavior (such as swearing) or to start a specific behavior (such as picking up after one's self).
Next, write down the behaviors that you expect your child to change then identify a privilege that will be earned for meeting the expectation and a consequence (or restriction) that will be earned for not meeting the expectation.
While writing down your child's expectations, be sure to clearly state the expectations that you have of him or her. For instance, instead of writing "Don't be rude," it would be much more effective to write "Use a positive voice tone when speaking to others and refrain from using sarcasm or inappropriate language." Once you have all of your child's expectations listed (along with the privileges and consequences) you are ready to sign the document to make it "official." Be sure to explain the contract and each expectation to your child so that there are no misunderstandings. Both parties (child and at least one parent) should then sign and date the contract. It wouldn't hurt to have a witness sign the contract as well.
You are now ready to implement the behavior contract.
This site offers low-cost, prewritten behavior contracts that can be downloaded immediately! A teen version can be found by clicking here.
Scroll to the bottom of this page to view a more detailed explanation of how to create a behavior contract
Other Tips for Using a Behavior Contract:
• Decide ahead of time how long the contract will be in effect.
• Have weekly family meetings to discuss progress and/or changes to the contract.
• Involve any and all caregivers that spend time with your child (daycare providers, teachers, babysitters, etc.).
• Be consistent and follow through with the privileges and consequences.
• Give verbal praise when you see your child meeting his/her expectations...it can be highly motivating.
• Involve your child/teen in the process of creating the contract...it helps them to feel like a part of the process.
• Make sure that all expectations are fair, including the privileges and consequences... or the contract will fail.
Topics that are typically covered in a behavior contract include...
1. Curfew (school nights / non-school nights)
2. Socializing / Dating
3. Use of Computer
4. Homework/School Expectations
5. Running Away
6. Use of Phone
7. Medication Compliance (if on medication)
8. Expression of Anger
10.Therapy compliance (if in therapy)
11.Attitude / Character
13. Bedtime (school nights / non-school nights)
14. General Misbehavior15.
15. Use of Car
16.Conflict Resolution / Sibling Rivalry
NOTE: Police should be called any time a teen becomes violent! This includes any real or perceived threat of injury to a family member, destruction of property, or when the teen is a danger to him or herself. Violence that has no consequences will continue to escalate and could eventually result in a much more serious incident. Teens should experience serious consequences for violent behavior (police, charges and a possible court date).
I, __________________, do hereby promise to meet the following expectations with regards to my behavior:
I will manage my anger by counting to ten when I start to feel angry. I will then take three deep breaths to calm down. If necessary, I will take a self-imposed time-out in order to regain my composure. If I need to then I will talk to an adult (in a calm and non-threatening voice) in an effort to handle my anger causing situation
I will come straight home each day after school and will check in with mom or dad to let them know that I have arrived home. I will eat a snack and relax for one hour before I will be expected to start working on my homework. Once I am done with my homework, I will show it to either mom or dad so that they can verify that it has been done.
I will refrain from interrupting mom and/or dad while they are on the phone unless it is an emergency.
I will feed the dog each day after school and will be responsible for taking him for a walk every Wednesday and Saturday.
My bedtime is 9:00pm on school nights and 10:00pm on non-school nights (unless permission is given to stay up later). Teeth must be brushed and all requests must be taken care of before going to bed. Showers are to be taken before bed on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights.
If the conditions of this contract are met, then the following privileges will be maintained:
Two (2) hours use of any combination TV and/or computer on the following day.
Can stay up and additional 15 minutes at bedtime on the same night.
If the conditions of this contract are NOT met, then the following consequences will be earned:
No more than 30 minutes of combined TV/computer time on the following day.
Additional chore must be completed on the following day (to be determined by mom or dad).
No dessert on the following day.
Special privilege for meeting the expectations all week: Can either have a friend spend the night or can choose to go to a fast food place for dinner on the weekend.
Signed: _________________________ (Mom/Dad) _________________________ (Child)
What is a Child Behavior Contract?
A child behavior contract is a written set of expectations that adults have of their children (or teens). The contract includes basic rules and expectations as well as consequences and privileges.
What is the Purpose of a Child Behavior Contract?
The primary purpose of a behavior contract is to establish firm limits and clear expectations for children and teens. With these limits and expectations in place, it is hoped that the child or teen will learn how to behave in a way that is more positive and appropriate. A well-written behavior contract should bring about a more peaceful and mutually-respectful home environment.
Who should be Included in the Implementation of the Behavior Contract?
It is best if all caregivers (with whom the child or teen has contact) be involved in the creation and enforcement of the child's behavior contract. This includes biological parents, step-parents, adoptive parents, foster parents, teachers, and any other custodial or noncustodial person(s) who are responsible for the child during all or part of any day. It is very important for divorced parents to put their differences aside and come together for the purposes of creating a unified front for the child, so as not to sabotage the other parent's efforts to bring the child's bad behavior under control. Children learn quickly to manipulate and undermine parents who are at odds with each other, but will conform much more readily if both parents are on the same page. Even if the divorced parents do not agree on other issues, it is tremendously important for them to agree on how to manage an out-of-control child or teen. Divorced parents might find it helpful to initiate the help of a third party, if necessary.
All children in the family should be included when using a behavior contract. It may not work to single out the child with the bad behaviors and exclude siblings, as the offending child will see it as unfair and will most likely refuse to follow it. If the compliant siblings protest their involvement as they are already following the rules, remind them that this is a family effort and they are part of the family. They can be told that since they are already following the rules, this home contract should be a piece of cake for them and that you value their input. By including all siblings, you are firmly establishing the fact that you are a FAMILY.
Who Should Write the Child Behavior Contract?
Parents should give a blank sheet of paper to their children/teens and have them write out the household rules and expectations that they think they should have to follow. Also have them write out the privileges and consequences they think they should earn. Children and teens who feel that they are being heard by their parents and are allowed to participate in this process are far more likely to be compliant than those who are just handed a set of rules and told to follow them. Parents are often amazed at what rules their children think they should be following... and at the severity of punishments they assign for themselves. Many parents actually find it necessary to decrease the punishments that their children or teens have suggested for themselves. Other parents have found that their children will think of important behaviors or topics that they (the parents) didn't even think of. When kids contribute significantly to a good working contract, their contributions should be openly acknowledged and/or praised.
If your child or teen refuses to participate then you should let him or her know that the contract will be implemented with or without his or her cooperation, and that you fully intend to follow the contract to the letter. Don't allow yourself to be undermined by a child or teen who is threatening to not cooperate.
What are Appropriate Consequences?
Parents should provide progressive consequences for refusal to follow the conditions set forth in the contract. Unfortunately, some parents, in an effort to "get tough" on their wayward teen, will go overboard and ground their child for weeks and weeks because of a single incident. The rationale behind punishment should be primarily to offer an unpleasant learning experience so that the child or teen will learn to correct his or her own behavior and not repeat the offending action. For most children, a punishment that consists of weeks of grounding on a first offense is too long and will cause further resentment rather than providing a helpful learning experience.