Being a parent comes with many challenges and issues to get on top of.

This can be particularly true when your child starts school, especially if they have specific learning or thinking differences.

These differences may make it tricky for them to manage their behavior in school successfully, and they could see themselves getting into trouble for acting out. They may also experience trouble following directions in class or rules laid out by the teacher.

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Behavior contracts can be an effective tool

In this instance, behavior contracts can be a great way to help improve the situation for all involved. These special types of contracts are common across schools now, and you may find your child’s teacher suggests drawing one up. If this does not happen, but you would like one put in place, you could ask for one to be discussed.

But what are they, and how can they help?

What is a behavior contract?

Simply put, it’s an agreement between your child and their teacher. It can also include parents as well at times. The contract sets clear expectations around how your child will behave in school. This is not only in what they are expected to do but also in what behavior is unacceptable.

In addition, contracts like this will usually look at what drives your child’s poor behavior in the classroom/school grounds and what can be done to help them. It is common to see clear, achievable objectives included in these plans. This gives your child something to work towards and a definite idea of where they need to be in the future.

Some behavior contracts may also include things for parents to work on outside of school with their child, as this could help improve their actions in school. As noted above, this is where parents can sometimes be formally included and required to take action.

Rewards and consequences

The last major part of any good behavior contract is clear information about rewards and consequences around your child not meeting their agreed objectives. This is key because it shows your child their actions have ramifications, and means they know what will happen if they stick to the rules or break them moving ahead. It is amazing how quickly a child’s behavior can improve once they know that rule-breaking has real-world consequences or are rewarded for behaving well.

But how can this work in practical terms? If your child forgets or refuses to raise their hand in class to answer questions, the contract you sign might include a target for them to call out less than five times daily. If they stick to this, you could set out a reward they will get in the contract (such as extra computer time). If they fail to hit this goal, you could set out the consequences in the contract (such as losing their computer time for one night).

What form can these types of contracts take?

Although you might not think it, this type of contract can come in a few different forms. This includes:

  • Formal written agreements
  • Sticker charts on the wall
  • Daily report cards to bring home

The important thing to know here is that one type of contract for behavior is not better than another. The key is to find the best type for your child, you as parents, and the school. If you can achieve this, you should find it works effectively to tackle any problematic behavioral issues in school.

Who might be the best candidates for a behavior contract?

Although parents might know these contracts exist and what they include, it’s not always easy to know which students need them. It’s not, after all, something children who only have the occasional problem in class require.

Therefore, as you can imagine, contracts around behavior are best suited for children who experience regular, ongoing issues regarding their actions in school. If you feel your child’s behavior at school needs serious attention, they are a good option.

Although they can be used at any time in a child’s educational journey, they are most common from 2nd grade upwards. This is because children below 2nd grade might struggle to understand how a contract works or what is being asked of them.

It can help kids with specific issues

Children with conditions such as ADHD can find these contracts especially useful, as they help them deal with issues around lack of focus, being impulsive and excess energy. Kids who find it hard to stay organized or complete work on time consistently may also be good candidates. This is because their behavior contract could spell out that they need to improve in these areas and set clear goals to aim for.

Behavior contracts can also be an effective tool for children who struggle with oppositional actions or tantrum-throwing in school. Agreeing on improving their behavior and the rewards/consequences can help them find a more positive way forward.

It is also worth noting that these contracts might help a child meet goals included in an IEP or 504 plan they already have. They could also become part of a more formal behavior intervention plan. However, these types of contracts can be standalone, and there is no need to have an IEP or 504 plan to draw one up.

How will this contract help my child?

Before you consider entering into a behavioral contract for your child, you will naturally want to know how it will benefit them. The main advantages are shown below.

Improved communication between school and home

It’s normal for parents to be present when a behavior contract is agreed upon, and relevant goals are set. This can help keep everyone on the same page and foster excellent communication around your child’s behavior.

Sets out expectations

All children need to have clear expectations explained around their behavior. This contract does just that and shows your child what they need to work on. It also clearly explains how any rewards/consequences will work.

Makes your child accountable

Along with clearly telling your child what is expected of them, this kind of contract also makes them accountable for their actions. This prevents them from trying to pass the buck when they do not stick to it or feel good about themselves when they do. It also means there is no confusion over what is expected of them moving forward, as it is all in the contract.

Helps your child self-manage

A key part of growing up is managing our behavior and acting however we should go without external intervention. As your child is fully involved in the drawing up of the contract, they will know how they should behave and be more able to manage their actions.

Behavior contracts can change if needed

Behavior contracts can be created at any point in the school year and can also be changed. This can be useful if your child shows new behaviors which need addressing or if you find the old plan is not working as it should.

Behavior contracts can help children achieve more

Although their main focus might appear to be addressing problem behavior in children at school, these types of contracts are also about helping kids achieve more. By using them to set out clear goals, expectations, and rewards/consequences, these plans can motivate your child to reach their full potential.