How to Create Behavior Management Contracts for Kids

Write out your behavior contract with your child.
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

It's hard to know sometimes whether your child is really ready for more freedom. There are risks involved in giving kids extra privileges. But, on the other hand, you want to make sure you aren't too overprotective. You may be afraid your child will do something unsafe, risking an accident, injury, or illness. Or, you want to ensure your child maintains healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep even when she wants to have a later curfew.

A behavior contract can help you feel more at ease, whether your child wants her first cell phone or she wants to stay home alone for the first time. It will ensure your child knows exactly what she needs to do to earn another privilege (or keep the current ones). It gives you a structure in which to spell out what your child needs to do to be safe physically and psychologically in this new activity.

Reasons to Develop a Behavior Contract for Kids

A behavior contract can be a great way to reinforce the six life skills your discipline should be teaching. After all, in real life, you need to show you are ready to take on more responsibility before you are entrusted with it. If you ask your boss for a promotion but already aren’t handling the work you’ve got, it’s not likely you’ll be promoted.

A behavior contract also can reinforce to kids that privileges need to be earned. Just because they turn a year older, doesn’t mean they are mature enough to handle new responsibilities. Instead, they need to show you they can handle more privileges by showing responsibility for what they have already.

How to Develop a Behavior Contract

Talk to your child about the privileges she'd like to earn. Ask questions like, “I know you think you are ready to begin driving. How can you show me that you are going to be responsible enough to drive a car?” Then, work together to develop a plan that will help your child show she is responsible enough to handle more freedom.

Get your child involved in developing the contract but stay in control of the process. For example, don’t allow your child to convince you that he should only have to do his homework every other day to show he’s responsible. Instead, hear what your child has to say but make it clear that you have the final word.

To ensure that there isn't any confusion over the terms of the contract, put everything in writing. You can even create an online behavior management contract that establishes an end date and gives your child reminders along the way.

Discuss the positive consequences of meeting the terms of the contract, such as, "You'll be allowed to stay home alone." Discuss the negative consequences as well by saying something such as, "You won't be allowed to have your electronics if you violate the contract."

Leave it up to your child to make good choices. Don’t bend the rules or offer extra chances, or you’ll be defeating the purpose of the contract.

Avoid nagging or trying to convince your child to meet the terms of the contract. If your child isn’t able to follow the terms, he’s showing you he’s not ready for extra responsibilities or privileges yet.

Examples of Behavior Contracts for Kids

  • An 8-year-old wants to get a pet fish. Her parents establish a behavior contract that says when she shows responsibility for completing her chores every day for two weeks without being told, she can earn a goldfish. Her responsibilities will be to feed the fish and with some help from an adult, clean the tank.
  • A 10-year-old wants a cell phone. His parents develop a behavior contract that says he can earn a prepaid phone once he earns enough money to purchase the phone along with minutes for one month. He will need to complete extra chores each week to earn the money. It will be his responsibility to pay for his own minutes on an ongoing basis.
  • A 12-year-old wants to stay up 30 minutes later at night. His mother creates a behavior contract that says that when he is able to get himself up for school independently and be ready for the bus on time every day for two weeks he will be allowed to stay up an extra 30 minutes two times a week. He can pick which two nights but will need to show that he can still get himself up on time each day to keep the privilege.
  • A 13-year-old wants to have his own social media account. His parents develop a behavior contract that says he can earn the privilege of having an account when he can show more self-discipline with his electronics. He will be given two hours per day to use his electronics and if he stops using his electronics when his time is up without reminders consistently for two weeks, he can earn a social media account. He will need to continue to show that he can stick to the time limit or he will lose his privileges.
  • A 16-year-old asks for a later curfew. A behavior management contract is created that says she can have a one-hour later curfew on Friday nights if she shows she can do her homework on time every day, get her chores done and follow all of the household rules for two weeks.
Was this page helpful?