When your child consistently misbehaves in certain situations – maybe she throws sand at the park or he bolts away from you at the mall – consider putting them on a contract. A written agreement that’s properly drafted can help shape positive behaviour, motivate your child to try their best and teach self-responsibility. Here’s how to draw up and use an effective behaviour contract.
What is a Behaviour Contract?
It’s a written deal between you and Sally that clearly outlines the expectations of how she should behave during a defined period of time. The contract also states what awesome reward Sally gets if she fulfills her contract and what the consequences are for not holding up her end of the bargain.
How to Develop a Behaviour Contract
1. List the Behavioural Expectations. Decide on one or two behaviours (more can be overwhelming) to target. Rather than noting the negative behaviours you don’t want to see, write down the replacement (positive) behaviours – make them very specific and achievable – Sam is expected to have. You can also include pictures to increase your child’s comprehension. For example, if the goal is to stop him from throwing sand and pushing kids at the park, the behaviour expectations could be:
- I kept the sand in the sandbox
- I kept my hands to myself
- I used my words to communicate with kids
- I listened to Daddy
NOTE: Effective behaviour contracts should only have 3-5 points.
2. Determine Duration. On the contract, list how long it’ll be in effect. Start with short amounts of time to encourage compliance and show your child that there really is something great coming after her hard work. For example, if the goal is to end bolting at the mall, go there for only 5 to 10 minutes with your first behaviour contract. Incrementally increase the amount of time as your child gets used to working with this system. Remember, the contract is in place to reward positive behaviour. Therefore, going for short durations of time at the beginning sets up your child for success.
3. Collaborate with your Child about Reinforcement. Provide Sam with several options – ones you know he’ll love – of the rewards he could earn for fulfilling his contract. From that list, let Sam pick what he’s working for and write it down on the contract. Keep in mind that reinforcement does not have to be a drain on the pocketbook – inexpensive ideas include 10 minutes of mommy-time after dinner, reading a favourite book, colouring, bubbles or swimming at the local pool – and the size of the reinforcer should match the difficulty of the task. For instance, if it’s extremely difficult for Sally to keep her hands away from other children at the park, then the reward should be large. If she typically has more success cleaning up her toys, then her reinforcement can be smaller.
4. State the Consequences. Sally definitely gets a prize if she fulfills her end of the deal, but what happens if she doesn’t? Clearly write down the consequences. It’s preferable to simply withhold what she was working for; however, if the negative behaviours are extremely persistent, then the consequence could be the absence of the reinforcer as well as the removal of something else enjoyable, such as playing games on the computer or TV time.
5. Include a Rating System. Beside or under every behaviour expectation, have the words Yes and No. Decide how many Yes’s your child needs to get their special treat; write that condition on the contract. For example: 3 Yes’s = A Slice of Pepperoni Pizza. 3 No’s = No pizza and No TV.
Put the Behaviour Contract to Work
Before you implement it, review the written agreement with Sam so he’s sure of the expectations, time frame, rewards and consequences. While in action, have the contract in a visible place, and if he is about to misbehave, non-verbally point to the contract as a reminder of expectations. Give your child frequent praise for having the positive behaviours listed on the contract.
When time’s up, review and rate the contract with your child. Be sure to deliver the reinforcement quickly or be steadfast with the consequences.
If you use contracts consistently (for example, every outing where the target behaviour occurs), changes in behaviour should happen almost immediately, providing your child is motivated by the reward. If she loses interest in the prize or she keeps failing to earn it, then the contract will not be effective. In that case, renegotiate the reinforcer and, if they’re proving to be too hard to achieve, tweak the behaviour expectations. You may also want to include a bonus reward to increase her motivation.
NOTE: Stop using the contract when Sally is able to regularly and independently complete the task with appropriate behaviour. Also discontinue it if either of you aren’t able to consistently meet the terms of the contract.