Creating Behavior Management Contracts for Kids

Write out your behavior contract with your child.
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You'll likely hear your child say things like, "But everyone else gets to do it!" or "I promise I won't get into trouble." And while those words may sound compelling, giving in isn't always a good idea.

It's hard to recognize when your child is really ready for more freedom. You don't want to give kids more than they can handle, but at the same time, it's important to help them become as independent as possible.

Whether your child wants a later curfew or she is insisting she's ready for a cellphone, a behavior contract can help you feel more at ease.

A good contract should outline exactly what your child needs to do to earn a privilege (or retain the ones she already has). It gives you a structure in which you can spell out exactly what your child needs to do stay safe and show you that she's responsible.

Reasons to Develop a Behavior Contract for Kids

A behavior contract can be a great way to reinforce the 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."

Examples of Behavior Contracts for Kids

Behavior contracts can be handy for grade school kids straight up through older teenagers. Here are some examples of contracts through the ages:

  • 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 phone. His parents develop a behavior contract that says he can earn the money to buy his own phone and pay for his portion of the bill. He will need to complete extra chores each week to earn the money.
  • 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.

How to Make a Contract Effective

Hold your child to the terms of the contract. If he fails to meet his end of the deal, don't give him the extra privilege.

Additionally, 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.

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