Blended Families Part 10: Behavior Contracts
In last week’s post, “A Plan for Successful Step-Parenting,” we talked about beginning to plan for more effective step-parenting, starting with better communication between you and your spouse and working on a “behavior contract” for each child when age appropriate. Today we’ll talk about how to have a family conference and introduce the behavior contract to your children. We’ll also discuss how to get older children and teens to use a “think paper” to examine their own hearts and actions. (By the way, “behavior contracts” and “think papers” are great for all families, not just blended ones.)
Last week I said that many parents in blended families (and all families) spend too much of their time putting out fires and dealing with bad behavior. Let’s look at our two parenting verses again:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6.4).
Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart (Col. 3.21).
More than merely dealing with bad behavior, parents should be instructing their children in right ways of living and responding. Rather than just trying to control their behavior, we should be teaching them to control themselves. “Bringing them up” means helping them understand how to live under God’s authority and gain a desire to please Him.
Last week I introduced a “behavior contract” as a tool that can be useful in that plan.
Remember, God gives us clear instructions. He spells out how we should live and the consequences of disobeying Him (Gen. 2.16-17; Deut. 28; Gal. 6.7-8). We should do the same for our children so we don’t exasperate them with unclear expectations and inconsistency.
I suggested you start by making a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each child, list character qualities that need to be developed, and come up with appropriate rewards and consequences. From those lists you can work with your spouse to develop a behavior contract for each child.
Example for a 15-year-old boy:
Notice, rewards are not always material things. Remember, the goal is to learn to live under God’s authority with a genuine desire to please Him.
Introducing the Behavior Contract to Your Children
Once you and your spouse have worked up a behavior contract for each child (you may have to simplify it for younger children), sit down as a family. If necessary, confess your own failures to be consistent, provide clear expectations, or any other way that you have sinned against them.
Let them know that you have confessed your failures to God (providing you have) and that you have a plan to change with His help. Explain the goal of parenting and that you will answer to God for your faithfulness in this area. Take a few minutes to pray as a family. You may want to read Ephesians 6.1-4 together.
Then meet with each child and review their lists of strengths and weaknesses. Spend as much time praising them for their strengths as you do talking about their weaknesses. Explain the behavior contract and go over each item.
If the child has some suggestions to which you can agree, make those changes. But this is not a negotiation, you are the parents and you are not required to make changes that you don’t believe are beneficial.
Post the contract in a prominent place and take a few days to teach and implement it before beginning the consequences. When it’s necessary to give consequences, remind the child that consequences result from their choices. Forgetting is not an excuse. Consistency is key. It’s not the severity of the consequences, but the certainty of correction that brings results.
A behavior contract makes expectations clear. It eliminates, you-never-told-me and other excuses and provides stability because children know what to expect.
It also functions as a commitment on your part to follow through with discipline, helps prevent living by your emotions, and allows both parents to apply the same consequences and rewards.
Over time you will want to review and revise the contract.
Think papers are another useful tool and can be incorporated into behavior contracts when age appropriate.
The purpose of a think paper is the give older children and teens a chance to think through where they went wrong and identify ways they can grow and change. Answers should be thoughtful and thorough.
- Describe in paragraph form the circumstances surrounding the incident that led to this discipline. What provoked you?
- Describe how you handled the situation. What did you think, say and do? What was your part of the problem?
- What does the Bible say about what you thought, said and did? What was more important to you than pleasing God?
- Name everyone who has been affected by your choices and state in what way they have been harmed, displeased or disappointed.
- List two ways you could have handled this situation in a manner that would have pleased God.
- What do you need to do to correct what you have done?
- Give three things you will do to try to prevent another sinful response should this or a similar situation occur again.
Next week in “Blended Families Part 11: Dealing with Ex’s,” I’ll talk about working to improve relationships with the other parent so you can better co-parent the children and how to respond biblically when they aren’t willing to work with you.
*Some information for this post was developed from a Bible study by Jeff & Amy Baker.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson
Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard
Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
How to prepare your children for being in a blended family
Damage control—healing the mistakes
Dealing with in-laws and out-laws
Helping your child be part of the “other” blended family
Dealing with Ex’s
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