- Step 1
Before you use behavior contacts with kids, decide what behaviors to contract for.
Kids have rules that they know and understand and they receive constant consequences (good or bad) for their behaviors. Not everything will need to be specifically contracted for. However, behavior contracts can be a great tool to use for special situations. If something calls for an extra amount of effort on their part and it is something special, then a contract can be a great motivator.
- Step 2
Write the contract.
Contracts should be written in an if / then format. The "if" part should be very specific, not general. The "then" part should be specific too. However, it should be something meaningful to the child. Let them help choose what the "then" or result of them doing the requirement will be. If they are invested in the content, they feel like they have choices, and the end result is something meaningful to them, then they will be much more likely to fulfill the contract.
Also make sure that the end result is something that can definitely be followed through on. If they work to fulfill the contract and then do not get the reward, it is a safe bet a contract will not work for them again. Therefore, be very careful about contracting for something someone else will have to give them or be involved in. Make sure the contract is something that you personally can follow through with.
- Step 3
Sign and post the contract and monitor it.
The contract should be signed by the child and by the person writing the contract with them. Signing it helps because it makes it seem more concrete and official for kids.
Make sure that the contract is specific about exactly how long it will last (is it for one specific thing or for an action over a period of time? etc.) and how the outcome will be monitored or measured, etc. Then make sure you both have a copy of the contract. Put a copy in a place that they will see it and be reminded about it. When it is completed, put a copy in a place where they can show their pride in completing it.
For younger children (ages 12 and under) plan rewards daily or weekly. For older children, the rewards can be monthly. This is because for younger children a day feels like a week and a week feels like a month, and a month feels like eternity. Remember waiting for Christmas or Hanukkah to come as a child? It seemed like forever!
Also, a contract is a marriage and both parties have to agree. Be sure to get as much input from your child on the contract. Ask them, “What do you think you should have to go for this reward?” and then hold them to it, if you agree. You might be surprised at the amount of effort they are willing to do for what they want.