Parent-child conflict often stems from a lack of clear communication. A child breaks rules that weren't spelled out properly, a parent levies a punishment that the child doesn't agree with and both parties begin to feud. A parent and child behavior contract helps clear up miscommunication since both parties are involved in creating a document that spells out the type of behavior that is expected, intended rewards and punishments for breaking the rules so everyone is on the same page.
When creating a parent and child contract, it's wise to remember that the contract shouldn't only be for your child. Making commitments on paper tells your child that you're willing to change your behavior to help remedy your relationship. Ask your child for suggestions as to what you'll commit to do for your part of the contract, such as always check facts with your child before reacting to misbehavior, giving trust as long as it's earned and sticking to the contract when it comes to punishment and discipline.
When spelling out the type of behavior that you expect from your child, keep his age and maturity level in mind. A 10-year-old will have different requirements and reactions than an 18-year-old. Avoid making the contract too extensive, instead focusing on five or six core behaviors that you'd like to see. Be specific in your expectations, spelling out requirements so there is little room for interpretation or negotiation. For instance, "Amy must be on time for curfew every night. Upon three nights of missing curfew, punishment will be enacted and the previous curfew time will be decreased by 15 minutes."
Punishment and Discipline
Deciding upon appropriate disciplinary and punishment measures should be a team effort in your home. By involving your child in your punishment planning, a sense of fairness is restored while he better understands the logic behind your punishments. For instance, taking away your child's computer because of low grades befuddles him until you explain that computer time is interfering with study time. Spell out all of your intended punishments within the contract and discuss each one.
A parent and child behavior contract is often seen as an inherently negative document for your child. When the contract focuses solely on behavior and punishment, it can feel as though he isn't being appreciated or heard. That's why spelling out various rewards makes your child more enthusiastic about the contract in general. As always, be specific when detailing rewards, noting how and when your child will be rewarded for good behavior such as acceptable grades, helping around the house and other values that are important to you.
- DrPhil.com: Creating a Contingency Contract for Your Child
- Intervention Central; Behavior Contracts; March 2011
- "Parent-Child Interaction Therapy" p. 461; Cheryl Bodiford McNeil, et al.; 2009