The Contingency Contract Technique: How It Works

Sometimes, children and adolescents have inappropriate behaviors. To change these behaviors, we must intervene. With a contingency contract, that purpose can be achieved.
The Contingency Contract Technique: How It Works

Last update: 27 March, 2021

On many occasions, children and adolescents behave in a way that’s not appropriate. When they’re younger, this happens because they don’t understand what’s wrong with what they’re doing. When they’re adolescents, it’s usually to get attention or create chaos. These behaviors need to change, and for this, the contingency contract technique is quite effective.

This technique can also be used in a classroom that’s chaotic, especially if the students lack motivation and the teacher’s instructions aren’t being respected.

Do you have a hard time changing some of the inappropriate behaviors that your children display? The contingency contract technique can be useful because, in order to modify behaviors, we need to intervene in them. If you want to know more about this tool, please continue reading.

What is the contingency contract technique?

This technique consists of drawing up an agreement or contract between several parties. It can be between one or more tutors (parents, teachers, etc.), and the person in need of discipline. This agreement reflects the behaviors that we expect of them, and if they’re honored, they’ll obtain some positive reinforcement.

The Contingency Contract Technique: How It Works

This technique falls within the behavior modification techniques that derive from classical conditioning and instrumental conditioning. With it, we seek to change the inappropriate behaviors in children and adolescents through positive reinforcement.

What is positive reinforcement?

In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement is key. This consists of giving a positive stimulus after a conduct or behavior that we want to establish is carried out. The reinforcer has to be something that the person likes and finds enjoyable. It can be something physical, like ice cream, a favorite food, or a toy. It can also be something emotional, like a compliment or encouraging words.

Before giving positive reinforcement, you have to know in advance which reinforcements are the best for each person. What motivates a teenager (going out with friends, sleepovers, etc.) won’t be the same as what motivates a child (toys, playing with parents, etc.).

Therefore, the reinforcement has to be personalized to each one according to their needs and tastes. This reinforcement must be given properly, otherwise, it won’t work. Therefore, it must be given immediately and consecutively after the behavior takes place. If it’s not done this way, the strategy won’t work.

How to carry out the contingency contract?

The contract must be in writing and both parties must sign it. It’s also important that everyone involved is in agreement with this contract, keeping things fair and not forced.

What basic rules must you take into account to carry out the contract?

  • The behaviors that we want our kids to achieve must be clear and simple so that children and adolescents can understand them. For example: “do your chores”, “make the bed”, “place the dirty clothes in the right place”, etc. You have to avoid writing vague things like “behave.”
  • You have to structure the behavior step by step in order to make it easy to understand for children and adolescents. For example: “studying for next week’s Language test” instead of “pass the whole course.”
  • The consequences have to be clear as well, and you have to focus on the positive reinforcement that they’ll get if they carry out the behaviors included in the contract.
  • Positive reinforcements have to be pleasant situations or things for the kids. There has to be variety and consistency, depending on what they were able to achieve regarding the conduct we expect. That is, if they take large steps, the reinforcements will be greater than if they take small steps.
  • It’s important to be consistent and have a commitment when reinforcements take place. If they behave accordingly, they’ll receive reinforcement and, if not, there must be no reinforcement. This is essential for the technique to be effective.
  • It’s essential for children to see the contract as something serious and worth respecting. Otherwise, the children will see it as something unfair and won’t take it seriously.
The Contingency Contract Technique: How It Works

Regarding the technique of the contingency contract…

You can apply the contingency contract technique in many contexts: at home, in educational centers, in academies… If you handle and apply this technique properly, it will increase the level of understanding between both parties and, in addition, it will increase the motivation the children feel toward changing their behaviors.

Ultimately, the little ones will be responsible for their actions and will be more proud and confident of themselves when they get the reinforcements for carrying out the behaviors stipulated in the contract.

You can use this technique if your child has any behavior problems. However, if it doesn’t work, you should go to a professional for guidance.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.