Parenting can sometimes feel like running your own small company. Unfortunately, when you don't have control over your kids, you're a bad boss at her wits' end. That's where behavior contracts come in handy, as a way to get on the same page as your kids when it comes to daily behavior, to have better control over what is and isn't acceptable, and to set the parameters for punishment in the event that your child doesn't hold up his end of the bargain.
As with any solid partnership, spelling out the terms of your teamwork means you both know your roles. Kids sometimes feel out of control, which results in acting out to try and influence a situation, whether it's doing homework after school, helping with chores, or behaving. With a behavior contract, you get to have a conversation on what is and isn't acceptable so there isn't any misunderstanding. It also allows your child to be heard with his concerns, so you're working together for home harmony instead against each other.
The first thing you'll need to do is to call a meeting of all the involved parties. That definitely means you and your child, but may include your partner as well. Introduce the idea of a behavior contract to your child in non-accusatory way -- it's better if you note that you need a contract as much as she does. Ask her to begin thinking about what she wants from you in the form of praise, rewards and punishment while you discuss her behavior and take notes about what you discuss. You can later type up a contract with all of the points you talked about, making it a true team effort.
Your behavior contract will be personal to you and your child, but some of the terms you can discuss include household chores, attitude toward each other, behavior toward parents and siblings, schoolwork, and any other areas where your child could improve. To solidify the teamwork aspect of the contract, you could ask your child where she thinks she could improve, but usually such contracts focus on getting along with siblings, respect and attitude around the home, specific grades at school, and other behavioral issues that you may have had problems with.
Punishment and Consequences
To finish your contract, you need to outline the consequences for breaking the terms of the agreement. The consequence can be different for each item -- like losing a night of computer time for a missed homework assignment or loss of allowance for chores that don't get finished. The point is to discuss and agree upon consequences for breaking the contract terms with your child so you're both on board. Your child will feel heard and validated, and you'll get to reinforce the importance of obedience for a win-win situation.
- National Education Association: Behavior Contracts - How to Write Them
- Dr. Phil: Creating a Contingency Contract for Your Child
- Counseling Children; Charles L. Thompson, et al.; p.276
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