A collaborative, neurodiversity-affirming approach using restorative practice!
Imagine an expectation contract as a written agreement between adults and children. It's not a punitive measure but rather a collaborative effort to establish clear expectations. The contract outlines specific expectations, the consequences of both positive and negative choices, and the rewards awaiting those who stay the course.
Below is a discussion on contracts:
How contracts help: be
One of the key benefits of expectation contracts is their ability to provide clarity. Children navigate best when they know their destination and the route to get there. Expectation contracts set clear expectations for behavior, leaving no room for confusion or ambiguity.
Consistency, control, and predictability
Expectation contracts introduce an element of predictability and control into a child's life, making it easier for them to understand expectations and the consequences of their choices.
Children are often less stressed when rules and expectations are consistent and clear. When they know what to expect, they feel more secure. Expectation contracts create a stable environment where children can thrive, knowing what the expectations are and that their choices will yield predictable outcomes.
Teaching responsibility and accountability
Life is not always smooth sailing; storms are inevitable. Children will face challenges and make mistakes. Expectation contracts provide a framework for teaching accountability and responsibility when those storms hit.
When a child deviates from the agreed-upon expectation, the consequences outlined in the contract serve as a gentle reminder of the choices made. This is not about punishment but about helping children understand the relationship between their choices and the outcomes. It's a valuable life lesson, preparing them to navigate future challenges with resilience.
Expectation contracts are about celebrating the positive. Children experience a sense of accomplishment when they fulfill their end of the agreement. This positive reinforcement, often in the form of rewards specified in the contract, motivates children to continue making positive choices.
These rewards need not be extravagant; they can be as simple as extra playtime, a special treat, or a family outing. The joy and satisfaction children derive from earning these rewards create a positive feedback loop, encouraging them to embrace the desired expectations willingly.
Building stronger adult-child connections
Behavior contracts are all about communication. They open the door for ongoing conversations about values, expectations, and the reasons behind certain rules. By involving children in the decision-making process, parents show that they respect their opinions. This collaborative approach strengthens the parent-child bond, fostering an environment where children feel supported rather than controlled.
The video below discusses how contracts support children with ADHD: behavior contract ADHD
How to use our expectation contracts behavior
Which type of contract to use:
Choosing which contract to use depends on both your child and the target expectation (behavior). All the contracts are designed using the principles of restorative practice; they encourage children to reflect and consider how they might better approach a similar situation or problem in the future.
The problem-solving contract is good for helping children think of new ways to solve the problem.
Consider your child’s understanding of what a contract is. If you feel that your child does not understand the concept of a contract, it is best to use one of the deals.
If you can, it is best to focus on the positive and choose a contract that focuses on this. However, sometimes children do not understand when they have made an unhelpful choice or the impact of it. In these cases, it is important to use one of the contracts with a section for unhelpful choices so that you can discuss why it was not the best approach.
If you feel that your child is more goal- or skill-oriented, it is best to use one of these.
How do I prepare the contract?
Print out the expectation contract that you think would suit your child best.
Print out the Good Choices board and, if possible, laminate it.
If you think that visuals would be helpful for your child, either print some out or draw them. Visual learners may prefer a contract with images, while hyperlexic learners or strong readers may prefer a written one.
Decide on the expectations. Start with small, attainable goals, or initially only focus on one.
Decide on the timeframe of the contract - is it for a day, an hour, week etc. It is best to start small to encourage success within the timeframe.
Consider the rewards. Choose three for your child to choose from. Try to choose things that your child can only get by successfully completing the contract, so that they are special.
Creating the contract with your child:
Introduce the contract to your child in a positive environment where they feel comfortable. Explain the contract to your child. For children who don’t understand what a contract is, it is best to use the deal contract. Offer it as a choice; focus on them having the opportunity to earn the reward if they would like to. behavior contract example
Give them time; they may not be immediately sure if they want to agree to the contract or not. If this is the case, give them a set period of time to think about it.
Create the contract with your child. Together, identify the problem and how you can solve it. Make sure to ask your child for their opinion and include some of their ideas. Remember, that if your child is neurodiverse it is important to consider the neurodiverse perspective. While it can be important to explain unhelpful choices, remember to focus on the positive and begin and end by discussing this.
Allow them to choose their reward and add it to the contract.
If your child can sign their name, both of you can sign the bottom of the contract. For children who are too young to sign, it can be nice to add their fingerprint.
How to use the Good Choices board:
The Good Choices board provides an opportunity to display all the good choices your child has made. It helps them build pride in their choices and consider their actions.
Display the Good Choices board somewhere that your child can see it.
When they may make a good choice of any sort at any time. Praise them and add it to the board.
It is helpful to use the Good Choices board alongside the contract; it will give your child a sense of achievement on the days that they struggle with the contract and help them to persevere.
References: https://www.understood.org/en/articles/download-parent-child-behavior-contracts https://ncse.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/NCSE-Resource-4-Behaviour-Contracts.pdf https://depts.washington.edu/uwhatc/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/EXAMPLE-BEHAVIOR-CONTRACT-FOR-KIDS.pdf https://www.interventioncentral.org/behavioral-interventions/challenging-students/behavior-contracts https://www.theyarethefuture.co.uk/teenage-behaviour-contracts/