Behavior contracts: What you need to know

At a glance

  • A behavior contract is a written agreement between your child, your child’s teacher, and often you.

  • Children can have behavior contracts whether or not they have an IEP or a 504 plan.

  • A behavior contract can help kids improve their self-monitoring skills.

Kids with certain learning and thinking differences may have trouble managing their behavior at school. If your child often gets in trouble for acting out or for not following directions in class, a behavior contract could help. Your child’s teacher may suggest one. Or you could bring up the idea to the teacher if you think it’d be helpful.

Here’s what you need to know about behavior contracts.

What is a behavior contract?

A behavior contract is an agreement between your child and your child’s teacher. It often includes you, too.

The contract outlines expectations for your child’s behavior. It lays out any specific behaviors your child struggles with or is working on, along with goals for those behaviors. Ideally the goals will be attainable but still challenging.

It also outlines the rewards and consequences for meeting or not meeting goals.

For example, if kids have trouble remembering to raise their hand in class, the contract may include a goal that they call out less than three times a day. If handing in homework is a problem, the contract might specify that kids turn theirs in at least 90 percent of the time.

If your child follows the terms of the contract, your child gets a reward that’s spelled out in the contract. For example, a reward could be extra computer time. And a week of good classroom behavior might mean a family movie night at home or a weekend sleepover.

Behavior contracts can take many forms. They may look like formal agreements, or they may be sticker charts. They may also include “daily report cards” that your child’s teacher gives your child. No one form is better than another. What’s important is for the contract to work well for your child.

Who’s a good candidate for a behavior contract?

A behavior contract could benefit any student who needs to improve their behavior at school. It could be helpful for kids with , who can have issues with impulsivity, inattention, or hyperactivity. A behavior contract may work well for children who have trouble with organization and completing work. They could also be helpful for kids who often throw tantrums or for those who have oppositional behavior.

If your child has an or a , a behavior contract could help your child meet any behavior goals that may already be part of that plan. Or a behavior contract may follow a and be part of a resulting behavior intervention plan.

Behavior contracts tend to work best for kids in second grade and above, all the way up through high school. Kids younger than second grade may have trouble understanding how the contract works and what’s expected of them.

How can a behavior contract help your child?

A behavior contract can be an effective tool for many reasons. Here are some of the benefits:

It can improve communication between home and school. Ideally, your child, their teacher, and you will be present when the behavior contract goals are set. The school social worker, psychologist, and/or behaviorist may also attend that meeting. This keeps all of you on the same page.

It can make behavior expectations crystal clear. The behavior contract spells out specifically which behavior(s) your child needs to focus on. It also explains how rewards and consequences will work.

It can motivate your child to self-regulate. Your child is involved in the process of making the behavior plan goals and choosing their rewards. That can make your child more invested in achieving those goals. This “buy-in” can help motivate kids to improve their and self-control skills.

It can make kids more accountable for their actions. Even the word “contract” sounds formal. And a behavior contract is a written agreement, which makes it easy to go back to if there’s any confusion. (This can help if your child says something like, “Oh, I forgot that was in there.”)

It can provide valuable feedback for your child. Typically, each day the teacher or you would go over with your child how the day went. So every day kids can talk about and reflect on what they accomplished and what they could do better.

It can be used (and adjusted) over time. A behavior contract can be created any time during the school year. You don’t need to wait for an intervention or an IEP meeting. Once a contract is created, it can be changed at any time, as long as you, your child, and the teacher agree to the new terms. And if a behavior contract is working, it can continue from year to year if everyone is on board.

Key takeaways

  • A behavior contract can help make kids more accountable for their actions.

  • It can be created or changed at any point during the school year.

  • Having a behavior contract can create opportunities for kids to reflect on their behavior, which can help them improve skills like self-monitoring and self-control.


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