Parenting FAQ: What Is a Behavior Contract?

behavior contract, kids, parentA behavior contract is a discipline tool. It is a written agreement between parent and child that sets the expectations of a certain behavior or related behaviors for both parties. They reflect the wanted processes and outcomes of the behavior of both the parent and child; they are not one sided. While the behavior contract may be initiated by the parent, they are created by both parties and each person’s set of thoughts and ideas are recognized and respected. The behavior contract reflects the logical consequences if the behavior is met or if it is not met. To put it simply, a behavior contract is a written agreement that reflects the behaviors both a parent and child want to see happen, along with the consequences.

You may hear another term used for a behavior contract: the Action Plan. These two types of written agreements are very similar and you can use an action plan to help curb poor behavior or encourage better behaviors. The difference to my way of thinking is that a behavior contract focuses on discipline and changing behaviors, while an action plan can be multi-level and used for goal setting and family purposes.

When a parent thinks about what they want to see happen for their child, they often think in outcomes instead of behaviors. A behavior contract forces parents to think through what they want their child to actually do – a certain behavior.

For instance, a parent want their child to get better grades and attaches the consequences to the grade, which is the outcome not the behavior of their child. By attaching a consequence to a behavior, like no video game play until the child has studied for 30 minutes to an hour every school night, you give your child something they have control over, empowering them to succeed. Thereby, succeeding at better grades because of more studying.

As a parent, you will often recognize behaviors that you wish your child would change. As a smart parent, you pick and choose your battles wisely and focus on trying to help your child change one or two behaviors at a time. At this time you will initiate a contract between you and your child, but you will need to be prepared to change and compromise, as in order for this written agreement to work, both parties need to agree – not just sign it.

Logical consequences can be both positive and negative. If a child should change their behavior and comply with the contract, there should be some sort of positive consequence. Talk this out with your child and write it out on the contract.

Do the same for a logical consequence that is given if expectations are not met. Writing out the consequences while putting together the behavior contract will help you remember what they are as time passes, and remind your child as they are striving to meet expectations.

Once a parent using a behavior contract once or twice, they understand that they are a powerful discipline tool for their parenting toolbox. The written agreement between parent and child makes expectations clear and allows kids to succeed at meeting their parents expectations more readily.

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