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Parenting Contracts

Parenting contracts are “contracts” (not legally binding) between parents and children that establish the terms of the parent-child relationship.  These contracts are not for all families:  typically, families that are verbal and structured and have children aged 5 or older are best suited for use of parenting contracts.  If you think a parenting contract may be right for your family, read on for more information.

Parenting contracts need not be lengthy documents, and they don’t even need to be worded seriously or professionally.  They do, however, need to cover the basic topics that are relevant to your family.  These topics probably include at least the following:

*parents’ age-appropriate basic expectations of each child (i.e., that each child cleans his/her own room at least once weekly; loads and unloads the dishwasher daily except on holidays and days when the child is away from the home for the entirety of the day; openly communicates about things that s/he wonders about or that may be concerning to him/her; communicates disagreement in ways that are not disagreeable, such as yelling, cursing, using disrespectful words or gestures, or refusing to comply with parental directives; etc.)

*ramifications if the parents’ basic expectations are not met (i.e., a verbal redirection on first occurrence, a verbal redirection with a benefit temporarily taken away on second occurrence, etc., with progressively more restrictive ramifications on subsequent occurrences . . . and allowing for more restrictive ramifications on earlier occurrences if the basic expectation that was not met was not met in a flagrant manner, such as when the child not only does not clean his/her room but throws a food fight in the room as well, thus leading to a mess of nightmarish proportion)

*children’s basic expectations of each parent (i.e., that each parent applies clear and consistent rules with the children; gives consideration when a child holds an opinion that differs from the parents’ or asks for a benefit not previously granted; maintains open communication about things that may be concerning to them on subjects that affect the children; communicates disagreement in ways that are not disagreeable, such as yelling, cursing, and using disrespectful words or gestures; etc.)

*ramifications if the children’s basic expectations are not met (i.e., a verbal redirection on first occurrence, a verbal redirection within the context of a “family meeting” on second occurrence, etc.)

Parenting contracts should not express or imply that children (individually or collectively) are peers to their parents.  Parenting contracts must specify that, ultimately, the parents must make the decisions that they believe to be right, and the children will need to follow their parents’ directives.

Parenting contracts should specify the period of time they are intended to cover.  As children age, parenting contracts will need to be re-drafted to cover the changing nature of those parent-child relationships.  It is, therefore, recommended, that parenting contracts be valid for a period of 12 to 18 months.  In the final months of any parenting contract, parents and children should meet to negotiate the terms of the subsequent parenting contract.

Parenting contracts should be signed by all parties to the contract:  each parent and child.

Once a parenting contract is in force, it should be posted in a central location for family members.  Then, when one party to the contract perceives that another party to the contract is not complying with the terms of the contract, the parties can refer back to the contract, discuss the perception that expectations were not met, and handle whatever ramifications are warranted under the circumstances.

This may seem too cut-and-dried for your family.  However, keep in mind that parenting contracts do not need to be worded professionally or seriously.  So, you can craft your family’s parenting contract in a manner that expresses your family’s personality.  Consider the following excerpt from the parenting contract of a humorous family:

“Children are expected to get ready for school in a timely manner.  If a child is dawdling and running late, Mom will feel rushed to drive that child to school in a timely manner.  That is disrespectful to Mom.  Therefore, for any such dawdling child, the ramification for this unmet expectation will be as follows:  Mom will don her fuzzy bunny slippers, robe, and shower cap, and walk the dawdling child to the front door of the school, loudly kiss the dawdling child goodbye, and utter an affectionate parting sentence that will include an embarrassing term of endearment such as snuggle-bunny, giggle-fritz, or sweetums.”

Creating and following a parenting contract can be fun (see paragraph above), it can help parents and children understand what each party expects of the other and the ramifications if those expectations are not met, and it can increase communication skills among all parties involved.

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