Behavior Contracts
The Behavior Contract—

You thought the "terrible twos" were bad. Now there's dating, driving, drugs, alcohol, chores, grades
and a whole slew of other issues waiting to ambush you as a parent. Besides begging and pleading, what
can you do to keep your child safe and happy?

A behavior contract is an agreement between the child and parent. The behavior contract is a written
agreement about how the individual will behave. It will indicate the appropriate consequence should
the child neglect to behave according to the contract, and it also states the reinforcer to be used for
successful compliance. The behavior contract provides the child with structure and self-management.

Behavior contracts provide many benefits to those that use them:

·        They clearly define what is expected
·        They provide structure and consistency
·        They allow both parties to work together
·        They promote positive and appropriate behavior
·        They hold individuals accountable

Behavior contracts set ground rules for home-life with your child or teen.  Behavior contracts for
children and teens provide the incentive they need to change bad behavior patterns.  Behavior contracts
encourage good behavior because incentives or rewards are given for accomplishing goals set forth in
the contract. Rewards do not have to be expensive, complicated or even tangible.  

Behavior contracts can include such areas as driving, substance abuse, school, allowance, chores,
working, dating, and more.  Behavior contracts may be utilized for incidents such as violation of house
rules, arguing about rules and directives, failure to complete chores on time, failure to focus on
homework, and more. Behavior contracts help avoid the gray areas and make sure everyone in the
family understands the family’s values and rules.  

Parents need to sit down and decide what the rules are going to be and what discipline will be forced if
those rules are broken.  Parents need to be ready to listen to their kids' concerns with the agreements
and make any changes that are appropriate.  Parents need to write the contracts in clear, simple
language that can be easily understood by the child.  Parents need to involve their children in the
process by writing the contract and then discussing it in detail with their children and making changes
if necessary.  Parents and children must sign and date the agreement.  

Developing the Contract—

The contract should include the following:

1. Define who and how the behavior will be
monitored (e.g., parent’s initials, stickers,
check mark system, etc.)

2. How the child receive the reward (e.g., will
be able to have a friend spend the night over
the weekend …will be able to order pizza on
Friday night …etc.)

3. Set a date for reviewing the contract

4. The goal (e.g., will not use profanity
…will not pick on younger brother …will be
home by 9:00 PM …etc.)

5. What the consequence is should the child not adhere to the behavior described in the contract (e.g.,
will be grounded for one evening without privileges)

Other considerations:

  • Ask the child to make suggestions for reinforcement and consequence for failure to comply.

  • Be patient and consistent, and you WILL see results.

  • Consequences and reinforcers need to be thought out clearly -- you can include tangible
    reinforcers, social or activity based reinforcers, curtailment of an activity, tokens that can be
    cashed in for a specific activity etc.

  • Focus on the ‘child making better choices’ rather than ‘controlling a child's behavior’.

  • Involve the child in the writing of the contract.

  • Let your child know – in no uncertain terms -- that you like them, you're only disappointed in
    their behavior.

  • Name specific behaviors to be changed and focus on only 1 or 2 behaviors at a time.

  • Review and revise the contract as needed, and include the child when making revisions.

Some Successful Reinforcers/Rewards—

·        Use of cool gadgets (e.g., ipods, cell phones, video games, etc.)
·        Snacks or fast food
·        Being able to stay up late on the weekend
·        Being able to spend the night at a friend’s house
·        Almost any activities or privileges

Behavior contracts are one of the simplest but most overlooked techniques available to help parents
through the difficult preteen and teenage years. When used properly, written contracts can be
incredibly successful in preventing or stopping unwanted behavior.

Behavior contracts work because all children want and need structure in their lives. Written agreements
will bring a calming effect to them because they know the rules and their consequences and find that
very reassuring. In addition, written contracts will reduce the number of disagreements between
parents and their kids because the rules were previously discussed and agreed upon in advance.
Below is an example of a behavior contract.

CLICK HERE for a blank version of this contract that you can print out.
The primary purpose of a Behavior
Contract is for children to be held
accountable for their behavior while
allowing moms and dads to maintain
a reasonable amount of control.

A Behavior Contract will teach
children that there are consequences
to breaking rules, the knowledge of
which hopefully will transfer in the
child's mind to school rules as well
as the legal system.

A Behavior Contract will not resolve
the issues of feelings and emotions
involved within the relationships
between moms and dads and
children. It can only act as a basic
agreement that may allow you to work
toward a resolution for problem
behaviors, minimizing the disruption
and interference that can many times
occur during the process of getting
bad behavior under control and
restructuring a family's rules.

Sometimes your child will refuse to
participate, and if that's the case, then
you may let him know that this
contract will be implemented with or
without his cooperation, and if he
makes the choice not to participate,
you fully intend to follow the contract to
the letter. If he ultimately doesn't like
something that is put in the contract,
then that will be his problem because
he didn't participate in writing it. Again,
the participation of each person in the
family who will be involved, if at all
possible, is vital to the success of
your contract, but don't allow yourself
to be undermined by a child who is
threatening noncooperation!

Your final contract should be the
results of negotiation and
compromise, taking everybody's
ideas into consideration. If the whole
idea of a Behavior Contract threatens
to break down when an agreement
cannot be reached between two or
more parties, particularly moms and
dads, the entire family should strongly
consider visiting a social worker or
family therapist, even if only for one
visit, to get an objective third party to
help break the log jam and create a
Behavior Contract that everybody can
live with. However, some items
should not be negotiable, such as a
child demanding a curfew that is later
than what the law in your area would
allow for his or her particular age

Moms and dads should provide
progressive consequences for
refusal to follow rules and directions.
Unfortunately, some moms and dads,
in an effort to "get tough" on their
wayward child, will go overboard and
ground the child for weeks and weeks
for a single incident. The rationale
behind punishment should be
primarily to offer an unpleasant
learning experience so that the child
will learn to correct his 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 be a
learning experience for the child.

A list of possible priorities to include
in a Behavior Contract includes:

1. Alcohol/drug use
2. Chores
3. Computer use
4. Conflict resolution (helpful when
two siblings are at each other's
5. Curfew
6. Expression of anger or violence,
including profanity
7. Medication issues and compliance
(for those who take regular
medicines, such as Ritalin)
8. Running away
9. School behavior and grades
10. Smoking
11. Telephone use
12. Use of the car