Behavior contracts are an effective tool for creating clear expectations and promoting positive behaviors in school. Although it may sound drastic, a behavior contract is not as intense as it sounds.

At its core, a behavior contract is a written agreement between two or more parties, typically teacher, student and parent, which outlines specific behaviors, consequences, and rewards in response to those behaviors. There are many benefits to this form of behavior management, and a behavioral contract can be a great step towards improve student behavior in the classroom.

Behavior Contract Templates

What is a Behavior Contract?

A behavior contract is a formal agreement between individuals that outlines specific behaviors and expectations. It is commonly used in educational and therapeutic settings to promote positive behavior and address challenging behaviors.

As a teacher, I know how difficult it can be to address consistent negative behavior in the classroom. You can try all of the classroom management techniques in the book and still have reoccurring issues with a particular student. This is where behavior contracts come in.

By clearly defining target behaviors, rules, consequences, and rewards, a behavior contract:

  • encourages accountability
  • helps individuals understand and meet expectations
  • provides a structured framework for behavioral improvement, based on specific target behaviors

The purpose of a behavior contract is to promote personal responsibility, accountability, and self-awareness, while also providing a framework for consistency and stability. I have seen a lot of positive outcomes when using a behavioral contract. Students typically respond well to clarity and consistency, and a behavior contract promotes that in a way that benefits teachers, parents and students.

Student Behavior Contracts

When to Use a Behavior Contract

Behavior contracts are often used in educational and therapeutic settings, but they can also be applied in personal relationships, workplaces, and other contexts.

  • Student Behavior Must Be Consistently Poor
    In a classroom setting, it can be easy to see the benefits of a behavioral contract and begin to use it at any sign of a student’s behavior slipping. However, behavior contracts should only be used as a last resort, when other, less invasive methods of behavior management have been used.
    As the behavior contract spells out exactly what is expected of the student, it requires evidence that the student has demonstrated consistently poor behavior in school. Behavior contracts are also much more effective when used sparingly by teachers.
  • Consider the Age and Needs of the Child
    Behavior contracts may also be unsuitable for very young students or children, due to how much understanding is required of the concept of rewards and consequences. Personally, I believe second grade and above is a good age to begin using behavior contracts. As mentioned previously, they should only be used sparingly in order to have the biggest impact on a child’s progress.
    Students who have certain learning needs may benefit from a behavior contract that is highly specific and tailored to their particular behavioral habits. It is important to consider a child’s needs before drafting the behavior contract, as some students may be unable to manage their time or avoid certain behaviors through no fault of their own. Be mindful when writing up expectations, and be sure to discuss any considerations with parents or guardians before a written agreement is made.
  • Child, Parent and Teacher Are All Active Participants in the Contract
    It is important to note that behavior contracts should not be used as a way to control others or gain power over them. Behavior contracts are a two-way street and only work properly when used as a clear, written agreement between two or more parties.

Benefits of Using a Behavior Contract for Teachers

  • Clarity Around Expected Student Behaviors
    One of the key benefits of using a behavior contract in school is the clarity it brings to the expectations placed on students. By explicitly stating the desired behaviors with clear behavioral definitions, the contract leaves no room for misinterpretation or confusion.
    This ensures that both parties involved are on the same page and know exactly what is expected of them. Additionally, a behavior contract provides a framework for the student to take responsibility for their actions and make a conscious effort to meet the agreed-upon expectations.
  • Encourages Self-Monitoring Skills
    Another significant benefit of behavior contracts is that they promote personal responsibility and self-awareness. The setting-up of a behavioral contract in itself can be enough of an intervention to deter some students from persisting with negative behavior. In addition to this, when a student is actively involved in the creation and implementation of the contract, they develop a sense of ownership over their actions and behaviors.
    This, in turn, fosters a greater understanding of how their choices and behaviors impact themselves and those around them. By holding themselves accountable to the terms of the contract, individuals learn valuable life skills such as self-regulation, decision-making, and problem-solving.
  • Consistency Creates Success
    Additionally, behavior contracts provide a framework for consistency and stability. In many cases, individuals with challenging behaviors require clear and consistent expectations to help them understand boundaries and develop self-control.
    A behavior contract establishes a set of rules and consequences that are consistently enforced, creating a structured environment that promotes stability and routine. This predictability helps individuals feel secure, understand expectations, and reduces the likelihood of confusion or frustration that may lead to undesirable behaviors.

Behavior Contract Examples

Benefits of Using a Benefit Contract for Parents

Behavior contracts are not only suitable for a school setting, but can also be a very effective way for parents to help their child develop and improve their behavior at home.

  • Positive Behaviors Lead to a Positive Environment
    One of the key benefits of using behavior contracts is that they provide clarity and structure to both the child and the parent. By clearly outlining what is expected of the child and the consequences for not meeting those expectations, the contract creates a sense of accountability for both parties. This can help reduce arguments and misunderstandings between parents and children, and help to create a more harmonious and positive home environment.
  • Reward Good Behavior, Rather Than Punish Bad Behavior
    Another benefit of using behavior contracts for parents is that they place the emphasis on positive reinforcement rather than punishment. While consequences are typically included in the contract, they are framed as a natural result of not meeting expectations, rather than as a form of punishment.
    Additionally, many behavior contracts include rewards or incentives for meeting or consistently reaching behavioral targets, which can be a powerful motivator for children. These rewards could include:
    a new toy or video game
    a family movie night
    allowing a friend to sleep over
    going out for dinner to the child’s favorite restaurant
    By focusing on positive reinforcement rather than punishment, parents can help to foster a sense of self-esteem and confidence in their children.
    Address Problem Behaviors in a Healthy Way
    Behavior contracts can be a valuable tool for parents who are struggling to effectively communicate with their children. By working together to create the contract, both the parent and the child have a chance to express their needs and desires, and to come to a mutual understanding of what is expected. This can help to build trust and empathy between parent and child, and increase the overall effectiveness of the contract.
    By establishing a clear framework for communication and cooperation, behavior contracts can help to strengthen the parent-child relationship, and create a stronger foundation of mutual respect and understanding.

What is Included in a Behavior Contract?

A behavior contract typically includes the following elements:

  1. The Parties Involved: The contract should clearly identify who is involved in the agreement, such as the student, teacher, parent, or employee.
  2. Target Behaviors: The contract should specify the behaviors that are expected or desired, using clear behavioral definitions. This can include arriving on time, completing tasks or class assignments, behaving politely, or showing respect to others. Try not to include too many behaviors so as not to decrease student motivation. The contract works best when it is limited to around three or four target behaviors.
  3. Clear Consequences: The contract should outline the consequences that will occur if the desired behaviors are not met, such as losing privileges or benefits, receiving a detention or suspension, or facing other disciplinary actions.
  4. Rewards: The contract may also include rewards or incentives for meeting or exceeding the expected behaviors, along with the minimum conditions for achieving such rewards. Rewards can include receiving praise, earning points or tokens, or gaining privileges or benefits such as ten minutes of free time at the end of the day.
  5. An Agreed Timeline: The contract should specify the timeline for the agreement, such as a set period of time or until certain goals or objectives are met. This could be as long or as short as you think, but a month of consistently reaching behavioral targets is typically a good timeline for a high school student who demonstrates negative behavior, and provides enough time to witness genuine student success. For a younger child, a week may be enough to see progress.
  6. Signatures: The contract should require all parties to sign and date the agreement, indicating their understanding and acceptance of the terms.

Middle School Behavior Contracts

How to Create a Behavior Contract

Creating a behavior contract can be a simple and effective process, especially when utilizing a behavior contract template. These templates often include sections such as a title, purpose, desired behaviors, consequences, and rewards. By filling in the necessary information in each section, you can customize the contract to suit your specific needs.

  1. Download a Behavior Contract Template
    To begin, download an appropriate behavior contract template that aligns with the setting and age group you are working with. Whether you are an educator, a parent, or a therapist, there are numerous free templates available online that can serve as a starting point. Each of our behavior contract templates are user-friendly and provide clear guidance, so choose one that works best for you.
  2. Customize Your Behavior Contract Template
    Once you have selected a template, start customizing it by adding a title that clearly reflects the purpose of the contract. This may be something like “Student Behavior Contract” or “Family Behavior Agreement.”
    The purpose section should outline why the contract is being implemented and what it aims to achieve. For example, in an educational setting, the purpose might be to improve classroom behavior and foster a positive learning environment.
    The desired behaviors section should focus on the specific actions or behaviors that are expected from the individual(s) involved. Be clear and concise, using language that is easily understandable. It is helpful to provide examples of both positive and negative behaviors to further clarify expectations.
    The consequences section of the contract details the results or punishments that will occur if the desired behaviors are not met. This could include loss of privileges, extra assignments, or alternative disciplinary actions. It is crucial to establish consequences that are fair, proportionate, and agreed upon by all parties involved.
    The rewards section highlights the positive outcomes or benefits individuals will receive for meeting or exceeding expectations. This can be in the form of praise, privileges, or other incentives that are meaningful and motivating to the person involved.
  3. Review the Behavior Contract with Everyone Involved
    Once the behavior contract template has been customized to fit your specific situation, review it with all parties involved. Discuss and ensure that everyone understands the terms, consequences, and rewards outlined in the contract. Encourage open communication and address any questions or concerns raised.
    Remember, a behavior contract is a dynamic tool that requires regular evaluation and adjustments as needed. This allows for flexibility and growth while maintaining a structured framework for behavior improvement.
    In conclusion, behavior contracts provide a structured agreement that helps individuals understand and meet expectations. By utilizing behavior contract templates, you can create a clear and concise document that outlines desired behaviors, consequences, and rewards. Whether in educational or therapeutic settings, behavior contracts promote accountability, clarity, and improved behavior. 
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TemplateLab October 22nd, 2023
Eleanor Griffiths
Eleanor Griffiths