Sometimes we behave in a way that not everyone likes. While most students can control this, kids and teens don’t find it that easy.
Whether it’s because they don’t understand the harm they can do or just because they like to wreak havoc, many young people don’t behave properly and teachers and parents end up desperately trying to make them change. .
But change doesn’t just happen. Intervention is necessary and therefore one of the best techniques to change the behavior of children and adolescents is the contingency contract. If you would like to know more about this useful tool, we invite you to continue reading.
What is an emergency contract?
An emergency contract is an agreement concluded by several parties and which specifies a behavior to be observed. Typically, these parties are usually a child and an adult, whether one of their parents, a legal guardian or a teacher, although it is true that there are cases in which this type of contract with adults can be used, as is, for example, in couples therapy.
This agreement defines behavioral expectations which, if met, will involve some kind of reward. Contingency contracts, which can also be called behavioral contracts, they are part of behavior modification techniques, resulting from classical and operant conditioning. The purpose of this tool is that whether it is a child, adolescent or adult, this behavior change will be applied in positive reinforcement.
What do we mean by positive reinforcement?
One of the keys to operative conditioning is positive reinforcement. This consists of offering the subject a positive stimulus each time the latter performs desirable behavior. In this way, the person, whether it is a child or an adolescent, he will see being rewarded as a positive consequence of his behavior with some sort of advantage. This reward can be something material, like being able to use your favorite toy, or something more experiential, like being able to go out with friends.
Positive reinforcement is key of the contingency contract, because if we do not use it, it will be very difficult for the child or adolescent to achieve the behavior we want them to do. That is why, when trying to establish this type of agreement, it is very important to take into account the objects or experiences that could motivate the subject to which this type of contract is to be applied. Not everyone is motivated by the same thing.
It should also be understood that activators must be administered in an appropriate manner, taking into account the notion of time of the subject to which they are applied. For example, a young child needs to be rewarded immediately after performing the behavior we wanted them to do. however, a teenager may delay the reward a bit. The important thing is that the individual can see that the reward is the positive consequence of his actions.
How should it be applied?
After seeing the definition of the contingency contract and what is meant by positive reinforcement, it may seem very easy to apply this type of behavior modification technique. However, it is not all that simple. When using this type of technique, it is very important to try to meet a number of requirements, otherwise the emergency contract will fail miserably.
First, the contract must be drawn up in writing and signed by both parties. This may sound like overkill to young children, but the truth is that it will make them feel like they are doing something really serious and will try to be stubborn in sticking to it. Also, by leaving it in writing, it is recorded which two parties have reached. It is very important that the contract has been agreed upon by everyone involved, so that it appears to be a fair thing and that everyone’s opinion is taken into account.
The behaviors to be achieved under this contract should be understood by all parties, written in a simple and straightforward style, even for adolescents and adults. All behavior in abstract terms should be avoided. The idea is that no free interpretation is given. For example, a very clear behavior would be to “do homework after lunch” when it would not be appropriate to update something like “be up to date”.
Affordable behaviors should also be established in the short term, which can be organized in such a way that they are steps towards a bigger goal. For example, it would not be acceptable to put something like “get good marks on all exams” if the child fails. It would be appropriate to start with something like “study this term’s exams one week in advance”.
As already mentioned, all behavior must involve some kind of consequence. Ideally, these are the desired behaviors that always have some kind of positive reinforcement, whether they are pleasurable situations or desired objects. These reinforcements must be proportionate to the stages and the progress made. If the child or adolescent advances, but little, it is better to give him moderate reinforcement.
As with any contract, it is very important that both parties comply with what has been agreed. This, which may seem obvious, is a little complicated not for children or adolescents, but for their parents who sometimes, for fear of being too strict, go through tolerance and give the prices without being. For this to work, you have to be consistent, in order to show the other party that you are going for it for real.
Advantages of the contingency contract
As we have suggested throughout this article, the contingency contract is not just about children. It is also applicable to adults who, for one reason or another, adopt behaviors that they wish to modify or omit. This means that this tool can be applied in contexts of all kinds, from school to home, including prisons, businesses, therapeutic groups …
What there is no doubt is that, applied to childhood and adolescence, it can become a great ally of teachers and parents desperate for the education of their students and children. This reward system, as long as it has been planned based on the rules mentioned in the previous section, it can become a powerful tool to ensure the healthy development of the youngest.
On a personal level, this technique improves communication and understanding between the parties involved, as well as the practice of their empathy. It also helps increase their motivation to behave well as they know that somehow they will be rewarded with something they love.
- Cantrell, RP, Cantrell, ML, Huddleston, CM and Wooldridge, RL (1969). Contingency contracts with school problems. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2 (3), 215-220. doi: 10.1901 / jaba.1969.2-215
- Mann RA (1972). The therapeutic-behavioral use of the contingency contraction to control a behavior problem in adults: weight control. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 5 (2), 99–109. doi: 10.1901 / jaba.1972.5-99.