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As a special educator in a public school, I see lots and lots and lots of behavior contracts!

The way I feel about behavior contracts is the same way I feel about Social Stories… They can be very helpful when used properly, but are often over relied upon and can end up being ineffective without important “pre-work” and follow through.

In order to be successful with a behavior contract, the student must have the ability to perform the skill asked of him/her. For example, even if you offered me a gazillion stickers {or dollars}, to join a pro wrestling team…I couldn’t do it. I just don’t have the skill. I might be VERY motivated to get the reward, but if I don’t have the skill, It doesn’t matter how motivated I am. I won't be able to do it. 



Often, we believe students lack motivation, when they actually lack skills. Of course, lacking skills, may then lead to a lack of motivation…after all, it’s hard to be motivated to do something that you are not skilled at or can’t do at all.

But when the student has the necessary skill(s), a behavior contract that is brief, explicit, and lays out the expectation, may be the best approach.

So how do we know?

I am a big believer in the phrase, 

All Behavior Is Communication



When trying to decide what will be the best approach to change undesired behaviors {brief and explicit, or skill building}, we need to do two things;

1. Understand what message the child is trying to communicate and be sure to address that message. 

2. Find out if the child has the necessary skills to do whatever it is we are asking them to do, and if not, teach them the skills before expecting them to do what we are asking.

When you are working with a student who you feel does have the skills, but does not always have the internal motivation to comply to the task at hand, a behavior contract can be useful.





1. Students who are able to engage in the desired behavior most of the time.

2. Students who are “high functioning” but lack motivation.

3. Students who thrive on positive attention.

4. Students who fall apart with criticism/discipline as a motivator.

5. Students who are low functioning and/or are “black & white” thinkers.

Who are behavior contracts NOT good for?

1. Students who do NOT have the necessary skill(s) to do what is being asked

As far as how you know if your student is a good fit for a behavior plan, chart or contract…

Formally, you can do an FBA {functional behavior analysis}. This will help you to identify the function of the student’s behavior, which will drive your decision making. But you still need to determine the skill level of the student {the skill needed to perform the desired behavior}, once you determine why he/she is engaging in the undesired behavior.

Informally, you should do lots of observation, data collection {or anecdotal notes}, talking to the student about their behavior. 


What I like about Behavior Contracts


>They can open up clear and explicit discussion between teacher and student about the undesired behavior(s) and the expectation.

>They can involve the student and get buy in.

>They can be a nice way to address behavior challenges with older students who are not comfortable with reward systems that they feel are “babyish.”

>They can be Quick and easy to develop and use.

So before setting up a behavior contract with a student, I recommend gathering as much information as possible about why the student is not doing what you want him/her to do, to determine whether or not you are dealing with a lack of motivation or a lack of skill, as the primary reason for the absence of the desired behavior. If the child lacks the skill, you will need to teach that skill before a behavior contract can work.


If you feel a behavior contract is right for your student(s), here are 2 for you to try.



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I wrote this Zero Tolerance Behavior Contract for students who are “black & white” thinkers, but are able to do the desired skill, most of the time. A Zero Tolerance Behavior Contract is one that clearly lays out targeted behaviors that are NOT allowed, under any circumstances. 

This Behavior Contract has two options; one has the most common undesired behaviors listed as Zero Tolerance Behaviors and the second option has a blank box for you to add your own behaviors.


If you feel your student(s) need more skill building, you may want to check out my Behavior sets in my shop. These sets help you to explicitly teach students how and why to engage in appropriate Friendship Behaviors.


They include:


Good Friend Behaviors 

Recess Behaviors

Conversation Behaviors

Personal Space Behaviors

Cooperation Behaviors

Problem Solving Behaviors


I hope these sets can help you teach your students the skills they need to be better able to use appropriate social skills.


Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids 


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