I could be wrong, but I think I first started musing on contracts based upon ideas presented in Horse Sense for People
or maybe the Monty Roberts book I enjoyed more The Man Who Listens to Horses. Either way, the idea of contracts or deals is presented in many different parenting forums.
I want to start again with the caveat of how thoroughly I have come to appreciate the differences among kids. There are many children who would find this approach much too wordy, drawn out, or process-focussed. I never would have dreamed how much of successful parenting is based on a solid comitmtment to improve and lots of trial and error with your own kid. So, these are the aspects which I have found to be key to a successful contract, in my experience with my six year old.
1. It states the factual issues including all the relevant perceptions.
2. It includes a plan for both "yes" and "no" actions
3. It is developed with the child and agreed to by both parities
4. It is changeable, but not mid-issue
So, lets look at an example. I started using these around age 3. They were simple, like this one which dealt with water play during hand washing that was getting way out of hand. I hadn't included perceptions at this point and he was new to reading so we couldn't use too many words, but we developed the plan together and this worked really well.
OUR BATHROOM DEAL
1. One pump of soap or hand cleaner and little water
2. Hands low in sink, water stays in the sink
3. Red hand towel for little messes
I think we even posted this on the mirror for awhile. Contracts became much more useful though when we were dealing with different perceptions. For example, this was an example in progress for developing a bed time contract:
Going to Sleep Discussion
- We are worried that toys are making it hard for Cameron to get to sleep.
- We are worried that toys are getting broken.
- A toy bin
- Wolf picture off the wall because it's too scary
- No alcohol in the room because that would make me so energetic that it would wake me up and make me punch everything in my room.
6:30 PM Cameron in his Room = Lots of playing in the room and getting more sleepy. No toys outside room and no playing in bathroom.
8 PM All toys in the bin, time for reading or resting
8:15PM Sleep Rules, no more awake noises
We will get a timer for Cameron.
Ideas- lights out, sound machine, door closed... we'll discuss more.
We wrote down everything and spent lots of time with direct eye contact, working together to figure something out that would be positive for both of us. (I have absolutely no clue where the alcohol comment / conclusions came from, but we agreed that we wouldn't put alcohol in his room?!?) The picture had some wolves on a snowy hill which he'd never mentioned before, but the point is that we were on the same side. It wasn't an exasperated tone, it was a searching for solutions session.
It's probably been almost a year since we've used contracts because we just sit down and have the discussions now. They were such a valuable tool though for when he needed to see the issues, choices, and feel heard. He certainly would try changing the bedtime contract at bedtime and we'd assure him that we'd be glad to discuss a different contract the next day. Usually, he was still happy, but it was adjusted a few times over the year (I think the times were shifted almost immediately).
So, if you have a young, highly cognitive, processing-happy child, this could be an awesome tool for you. If not, I would guess this is a tool that would be valuable for all older children at some point in the parenting process. I've really been impressed with the power of sitting down and writing both feelings and ideas, sitting side by side, enjoying problem solving together :)