Parent-child contracts: Do they work? Are they worth the time? Are they good for your relationship with your child?To answer those questions, let’s start with reality in your home. Does it sound like this?
“You’re grounded for a month!”
Perhaps you’ve yelled that at your child when they broke one of your rules. However, by reacting in frustration without thinking it through, you’ve actually created an even bigger problem. Out of angry emotion, you have given your child an excessive consequence to their misbehavior, and you and I both know that a month is a long time to be grounded. It’s very likely that after a few days or a week or two, you may unground them. The problem with this type of parenting is that you are left appearing arbitrary and impulsive as a parent. You do not always mean what you say and say what you mean.
Acting out of your emotion does not always produce the best behavioral results in your kids. It may make you feel good to vent in the moment, but often you end up reversing course or regretting your impulsive ultimatum.
One way to avoid that is to make a contract with your child. Contracts are proactive agreements made between parent and child. They state the expected behavior and also the consequence for violating the contract. Contracts may also state specific rewards for obedience.
A contract is basically an agreement with your child. Another word to describe it is that it’s a promise between two people. The child promises to obey while the parent promises to hold the child accountable.
If the idea of parent-child contracts appeals to you, here are a few guidelines:
- The contract should clearly state the boundary or the behavior that is expected.
- The contract should clearly state the consequences of disobedience. This enables a parent to discipline and correct a child out of a relationship rather than rashness.
- Don’t overuse contracts. Be picky about using them. Pick an issue where your child struggles to cooperate. For instance, if they are constantly forgetting to do their homework or are making a habit of breaking their curfew.
- The contract should allow you to put the responsibility on the child for both making the right decisions and also for knowing the consequences in advance for disobedience.
- Contracts allow parents to teach responsibility in advance. They also keep you from overreacting in the heat of anger or disappointment. Contracting in advance avoids severe relationship conflicts if a problem arises.
An example of a parent-child contract:
When you come in on time, you have the privilege of ____________________________________. But when you come in late without getting permission, then you will suffer the consequence of _____________________________________________.
Keep it simple, clear and precise. Both parties should sign it and then keep it in a prominent place where it reminds them of the agreement they made.
It can be hard to agree with your child about things like homework, cell phone use, chores, or curfews. But when you both agree to something in writing, it takes away the guessing game for your child and negates your reason to get angry. Let the consequences of breaking the agreed-upon contract do the disciplining for you.
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