Behavior Management: Behavior Contracts


This is a series of seven blogs to help teachers, parents and therapists bring students under instructional control so that teaching can occur. The components of the series are

  1. Behavior Management: An Overview
  2. Behavior Management: Bribes or Rewards – The Fundamental Question
  3. Behavior Management: Praise and Encouragement
  4. Behavior Management: Activities as Reinforcers
  5. Behavior Management: Point Systems
  6. Behavior Management: Behavior Contracts
  7. Behavior Management: Why it works

Working with Adult Students

With older students and adults, the implementation of behavior management procedures changes. With many adults, the chance to become literate, or to earn high school credits or to improve a specific skill necessary for further training is sufficient reinforcement to work hard.

Sometimes older students did not elect to sign up for training, it is imposed on them by an outside agency as part of some external arrangement. These students can be unmotivated to attend, to be punctual, to do the necessary work or to complete assignments. In most cases, failure to accept and fulfill the terms under which they were originally sent for training leads to consequences that come far too late in the program to be effective reinforcers. Only as the negative outcomes are staring them in the face do these students decide to buckle down and work. Usually, by that point, the situation is almost hopeless. It is usually a simple case of too little, too late.

To nip such occurrences in the bud, we write contracts with certain older clients if we have any indication that there may be a behavior issue. The contract specifies clearly the behaviors that we expect them to engage in. Many of these conditions are specified by the sending agency as part of their agreement with the client. Often times, the outside agency has these expectations for the student, but has not written them into a signed contract. The contract also specifies what the teacher will do for that student in return for their cooperation.

Both parties read and discuss the contract to be certain that everyone is on the same page. Then both parties sign the contract and copies are provided to all stakeholders. The contract is reviewed as needed and can be amended with the mutual consent of the tutor and the student.

When Contracts Go Bad

If there is a violation of the contract, the student is informed of the violation, and provided with an opportunity to rectify the situation. Further violations result in additional meetings, additional reviews and eventually a forced choice by the student to decide if they are or are not willing to comply with the contract that was agreed upon mutually and signed by them.

Typically being made aware immediately of any departure from the terms agreed to is sufficient to keep the student’s behavior within acceptable limits. Once the student begins to experience success, the contract often becomes superfluous. In other cases, it leads to a student leaving the program, but at least with the full knowledge of why they have chosen to no longer attend. Contracts are especially useful in the early part of a remedial program when the student has had little chance to experience significant success. The longer the student is engaged in the program, the less likely that the contract is needed.


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