If you want to be able to have a reasonable, logical discussion about good behavior with your child, then you should adopt a 30-year-old who lives several states away and calls you every Sunday. Otherwise, you're going to be stuck in a constant battle with your children over privileges, safety, curfew, chores, and grades.
Child contracts can be helpful for any age. Small children tend to whine and throw fits, while teenagers are more likely to argue and sulk. Either way, it can be helpful to have clearly defined rules that all parties have agreed to if you want to avoid an altercation. Here are a few things that all good child contracts should have:
1. Clearly defined requirements. A good contract explicitly states the required behavior without being too lengthy. If too much is required of children, they will battle it automatically, but if the requirements are vague then loopholes can be found and exploited. If you want your child's grades to improve, the contract should say, "Susie will complete her homework and have it checked by Mom and Dad every night before computer or television is allowed" instead of "Susie will work hard to get a B+."
2. Rules that provide explicit reasons. Don't expect your child to follow a contract if it just feels like a list of demands. Giving a teenager a cellphone and then saying "Teenager will only call Mom and Dad" might be asking a lot without giving anything in return. This can lead to lying and concealment. Instead try things like, "Mom and Dad will be allowed to check Teenager's list of calls and contacts to ensure safety and responsible behavior."
3. Give and take. A contract is between two parties, so make sure that yours feels like it's mutually beneficial. If the contract is one concerning the child staying home alone, acknowledge the child's autonomy. Alongside requirements such as "Child will not have friends over," remember to insert things like, "Parents understand that Child has thus far earned a degree of trust, so they will not call every five minutes to check in." Make the child feel that following the contract is a sign of responsibility.
Incentives that include punishment AND reward.Punishment on its own is rarely enough of an impetus for children to maintain their half of a contract. Inserting a reward can work wonders. If you want your child to do chores, insert a little of both with something like "Child will earn a sticker for every day that he completes his chores on time without being asked. If Child gets all 7 stickers that week, he gets to stay up an extra half hour on Saturday night. If Child misses doing chores more than twice in a week, Parents will revoke TV privileges for three days."
5. The Child's input. Kids like to be involved, especially when it comes to the rules of their own life. If they get to have an active hand in creating the contract, they're more likely to follow it. Obviously, they can't have free range, but try to give them choices. If you're making a bedtime contract, you don't want to ask, "What time do you want to go to bed at night?" if you know the answer has to be "8:00 p.m." But you can ask, "Would you like to be able to read a book or sing a song before you go to sleep?" Have the child help you write those small requests into the contract. Then you can point them out as something the child agreed upon if whining and protests start to flare up.
Index of Printable Contract Examples
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