Behaviour Intervention Planning
A contract is usually an agreement between the child and caregivers on behaviours and consequences that will follow. For example, "the child agrees to work in class". When they work in class and complete their assignments, they get additional time at the end of the day to work with a friend on the computer. Or a child may be told that they need to control their disruptive behaviours in the classroom. When their behaviours are so disruptive that the interfere with the learning of others, the teacher will signal them to leave the room. If the child has sufficient self control to leave the classroom quietly, s/he will be able to return by the next class. However, if s/he does not leave the classroom quietly, then the next consequence is put into place.
In the first example, the consequences are connected to the positive behaviours. If the consequences are, in fact, reinforcers and properly applied, the positive behaviours should increase over time. In the second example, the consequences focus on negative behaviours and the severity of consequences increases with severity of behaviour. The consequences may work if leaving the classroom reduces natural reinforcers that the child receives within the classroom. It may also work if leaving the classroom is a true punishment. There are a number of potential side effects punishment can cause. To reduce these, it needs to be properly applied and balanced with an appropriate number of positive consequences. Positive to negative ratios of 4 to 1 and 7 to 1 have been reported as appropriate.
Contracts can work well with children who are intellectually and emotionally able to follow through with their part of an agreement. However, there is no value to the agreement if a child is unable to fulfill his/her part . For example, a child with dysgraphia can not fulfill an agreement to complete written work in the classroom regardless of the intent or the consequences applied. Similarly, a child with severe emotional / behavioural disorders cannot fulfill an agreement to behave appropriately in the classroom if the setting triggers survival strategies or the expectations are beyond those that the child can perform given organic disorders or temperament. Contracts in these situations are harmful. The anger and resentment they produce are appropriate given the fact that our actions provide them with no alternative but to be "punished" for who they are.
On the other hand, a team may use contracting with a emotionally/behaviourally disturbed child as one intervention in the Behaviour Intervention Plan. The contracting will have to be in areas that the child can control most times and the consequences small and consistent. This makes contracting a teaching tool. When combined with proactive interventions that remove triggers and with debriefing strategies that help the child learn from his/her failures and successes, contracting may be a way to teach a child prosocial skills and help him/her understand the the relationship between behaviour and outcome.