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Homeschool Behavior Contracts Between Parents & Children

Instructor: Zach Gospe
Behavior contracts are not limited to just traditional school settings; they can be valuable to homeschooling parents as well. Use this resource to help you develop and implement a homeschool behavior contract.

What is a Behavior Contract?

To encourage proper development and maturity, identifying appropriate behaviors for children is important. Like their counterparts in traditional school settings, homeschooled children are developing and figuring out their independence...they just may do their math problems in their pajamas on the couch!

For homeschool families, it is often difficult for children to transition between interacting with their parent as a parent and interacting with their parent as the teacher. Setting up a behavior contract defines the roles of 'student' and 'teacher' and helps children to know what to expect in terms of how their parent will respond to their behavior during homeschool as opposed to other family time.

Homeschool behavior contracts can be written between a parent and child to address the following objectives:

  • Behavioral expectations
  • Supports to help the student be successful
  • Positive and negative consequences

These contracts can be written to proactively encourage desired behavior or in response to a child's pattern of difficult behavior.

How Do I Write a Behavior Contract?

There are many different ways to write a homeschool behavior contract depending on the child's needs and the homeschool environment. Here are a few steps that may help you create one.

Involve the Child

Just like you wouldn't want to sign a contract for a house you never looked at or wanted to buy, children respond better when they are a part of the discussion about things that affect them. From the very beginning, it's important to have the child involved in developing the contract.

Encourage the child to share his or her thoughts and ideas. Oftentimes, you can learn a lot about why a child is exhibiting a specific behavior just from talking to him or her about it. Additionally, children may provide some great insight into how to motivate them during their homeschooling time.

Identify the Child's Needs

A behavior contract should address what the child needs to be successful in homeschool. Think about what types of behavior you need to address in this contract. Are you concerned with setting general behavioral expectations for homeschool or is there a specific subject area, time of day, or circumstance for which you want to address the child's behavior?

For example, a homeschool behavior contract could address the expectations for a student throughout the day or just address how a student is expected to behave during their least favorite subject or while at extracurricular learning activities.

Identify Behavioral Expectations

After addressing the child's needs and purpose for the behavior contract, it's time to define exactly what behavior(s) you would like the child to exhibit. When writing your behavioral expectations, consider these guidelines:

  • Make the expectations personal by using the child's name.
  • Phrase the expectations positively instead of using 'don't' or 'no'.
  • Use vocabulary that the child will understand.
  • Only list 3-5 expectations depending on the child's age and developmental level.

An example of behavioral expectations in a homeschool behavior contract for a girl named 'Sally' could be:

  1. Sally will keep her hands to herself when at the homeschool table.
  2. Sally will listen and remain quiet when directions are being given.
  3. Sally will clean up her area of the homeschool table at the end of each subject.

Identify Supports

After identifying expectations, it's important to think about how you will support the child in exhibiting the behavior(s). If the child responds well to visuals, consider creating tangible pictures, charts, checklists, etc. that will help assist him or her. For example, if the child is having difficulty transitioning from one activity to another, you may want to create a First-Then Board to prepare him or her for what will happen after the current activity.


Example of a First-Then Board
First-Then


For students that respond well to verbal reminders, you may want to develop a short verbal cue to help get the child back on track when he or she is having difficulty. For instance, if a child is having trouble paying attention to directions, he or she may be reminded to listen when you say 'ears on'.

Some children may also need sensory supports or choices, such as sitting on a yoga ball, playing with silly putty, or the opportunity to take breaks, to meet the behavioral expectations.


Sensory play with yoga balls
yoga balls


Identify Consequences

Most people won't go to work unless they get paid. Likewise, children often need incentives to work towards goals. Within the behavior contract, it is important to identify what consequences children will receive when they exhibit the desired behavior(s) and what will happen when they are unable to do so.

To motivate children, think about what they can earn for exhibiting the desired behavior(s). Would they enjoy picking out a sticker when they finished their math work? Would they appreciate 15 minutes of outside play time if they clean up their school area every day during the week?

Conversely, establish a procedure you will use to address behavior that does not meet the expectations in the contract. This should include how you will stop undesired behavior and encourage the child to correct it.

How Do I Implement a Behavior Contract?

Think about these points when implementing your homeschool behavior contract:

  • Ensure that the child understands the contract.
  • Set a date to begin the contract.
  • Display expectations where the child can see them.
  • Provide opportunities for the child to watch the appropriate behavior(s) being modeled.
  • Be consistent in providing supports and consequences.
  • Re-evaluate and modify the contract as needed.

Using a homeschool behavior contract can be beneficial when it involves the child, addresses the child's needs, identifies behavioral expectations, supports, and consequences, and is thoughtfully implemented.

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