The Family Contract

The Family Contract

Perhaps one of the most effective consequence and discipline tools is what many call the “family contract.” Basically, the family contract involves discussing and putting on paper the expectations and agreements about certain behaviors or issues in the family. The family contract helps kids discipline themselves.

You will find that the clearer you are with the issues and consequences, the easier it is to manage a family contract. Don’t go overboard and make their entire lives a family contract, or you will lose the powerful results of the contract. Focus on behaviors and their attitudes will follow. Keep your contract simple; and whenever possible, have your children help create the family contract, because they will support what they create.

I’ve included here two sample contracts, so you can see what I’m talking about.


Issue: Sloppy habits at the dinner table

Expectation: Good table manners

Positive Consequences:

  • A general feeling of happiness and contentment
  • After a week of good table manners, a special treat or dessert
  • After a month, an art project or special weekend outing to celebrate the victory

Negative Consequences:

  • No TV for the evening
  • Go to bed a half-hour early
  • No phone privilege for the weekend


Issue: A failing grade (you have already tried other methods to bring up the grade)

Expectations: Raising the grade to a C with zero-tolerance for not turning in homework

Action steps:

  • Teachers sign weekly progress report.
  • Teachers sign daily homework assignments.
  • You will have a daily homework check-in with Mom after school and with Dad at the end of the evening.
  • You will have a weekly check-in time with Dad about school, grades and attitude.
  • You may choose to be in the school play. If you do not choose to do the agreed-upon schoolwork, then you are choosing to take yourself out of the play. (This is called reality discipline.)

Positive Consequences:

  • Teachers will not have to sign the daily homework sheets.
  • After a C grade, we will not need to have a weekly progress report.
  • If the grade is an A or B, then we celebrate with a new outfit or special event.

Negative Consequences:

  • We have a meeting with the school counselors and teachers.
  • We suspend phone or weekend privileges.
  • If nothing else works, then we consider homeschooling or changing schools.

I know one dad whose son was caught ditching class. After the son had ditched for the second time, the dad sat with his son in class for two weeks. His son never ditched again! This is a bit harsh for some families, but clear and expressed expectations of behavior are a must.

A family can use contracts or understandings similar to those just described, but regardless of the method, children do better when they have a crystal-clear understanding of what is expected and the consequences of not following through. A chart of family rules and a discipline checklist are two other tools that some families use to help their kids and themselves work on constancy.


Each rule should include the following:

The rule: _________________________________________________________________

The reason for the rule: _______________________________________________________

Negative consequences: _______________________________________________________

Positive consequences: _______________________________________________________

Tip: If you decide to use a list of family rules, narrow it down to 10 or fewer so that everyone can easily remember them without carrying around a legal textbook!


Here is a tool for you to help you think through your response to your child’s behavior:

  1. The behavior I want changed is: _____________________________________________.
  2. How might I be feeding, or enabling, the problem behavior?
  3. Will I give the child a choice or is the behavior a must?
  4. My clearly stated rule is: __________________________________________________.
  5. The consequences are: ___________________________________________________.
  6. My follow-through will be: ________________________________________________.
  7. Will I be consistent, no matter what it takes?


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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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