Guest Author - Terrie Andrade
Reasonable behavior and respectful interaction in the home are not always an immediate achievement in blended families. Kids who have been allowed to act-out or shun responsibility in their home of origin are likely to demonstrate, if not escalate, those same patterns in the newly created stepfamily scenario.
Parents who have exhausted the hope of voluntary compliance may soon realize the need for a stricter, more structured covenant to motivate acceptable behavior from their children.
A popular form of transformation being used in classrooms and private homes is the “behavior contract”. A behavior contract is a written agreement that defines the expectations of the person in authority from his or her charges. Essentially, when the expectations are met the individual receives a reward or privilege; conversely, when they are not met, there is typically a penalty or disincentive.
Behavior contracts are usually introduced when a verbal agreement has proven to be ineffective. However, some parents choose to implement them right from the start in order to clearly state their expectations and the consequences associated with their breach. One argument in support of an early contract is to create fair and predictable expectations in an environment of cooperation and mutual goals that does not have the appearance of being punitive.
Whether the contract is implemented as a proactive plan for establishing firm limits and sound structure or is introduced as a correctional or remedial effort, the use of a formal and enforced agreement can afford many benefits. Accountability, self-discipline, responsibility and initiative are among the top character traits enhanced by a successfully administered contract.
Deciding what to include in your contract is best determined by the adult authority in the home. Fair and succinctly articulated rules accompanied by reasonable and enforceable consequences and rewards, is a good place to begin.
If you have several children in your household, it is wise to tailor individual contracts to their ages and levels of responsibility. Areas of problematic behavior should receive specific attention but beware of singling out one child and excluding the others. Involving everyone in the exercise will confirm that it is a family effort and not intended to point fingers or isolate anyone. The parent most actively involved in the day-to-day management of the child is the ideal administrator of the contract.
Where it is practical, the final contract should be the result of compromise and negotiation…taking everyone’s input into consideration. Matters of morality and legality should not be subject to compromise. Keeping the contract short and concise requires prioritizing those areas of most importance and experts suggest they be limited to five expectations and consequences. As circumstances and performance improve the contract can be modified to exclude provisions that are no longer necessary or to add other more significant issues.
Placing a review or renegotiation date on the agreement is encouraged. Matters such as curfew, chores and homework may require a revisit; whereas areas concerning respect, conflict resolution and legality are likely not negotiable. A good evaluation includes praise and identifies room for improvement.
The internet offers many resources dedicated to behavior contracts. They range from customized, personalized creations to the simplest of outlines and generic templates. Some are for sale and others are offered at no cost. Regardless of the amount of guidance you require, you will not need to reinvent the wheel.
If you are dealing with a child, teenager or young adult who needs a structured format for acknowledging the rules of your home, I urge you to consider the kid-contract for increased cooperation and harmony in your family.