The Home Contract (with Instructions)

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A good home contract is one in which everyone understands the standards, expectations, and responses when standards aren’t met. Think of calling them responses since consequences or punishments aren’t in the spirit of a Home Contract (HC). The essence of a healthy HC it is to give your teen room to move, within the confines of your family standards, and to start practicing healthy decision-making. If your kid moves outside of the boundaries you’ve set, you will come back with a response that has already been agreed upon, and is commensurate with the boundary breach. For example, there is going to be a different response if your kid oversleeps continually than if he smokes pot in your home.

If your teen is living in two different homes, it’s best to have everyone together (both parents or caregivers) to do the contract. The contracts at the different home sites should be as similar as possible, if not the same. If your ex won’t take part in this, then just do your best with the contract at your house.

If you have more than one child in need of a contract, it’s best to sit with them separately, although “schedule” them on the same day since they will definitely be discussing it with one another and you don’t want anxiety to push things out of proportion. It’s also OK to have different rules for different kids. Teenagers are all different, and they should know that you treat them as individuals. This whole “fair” thing is not applicable here since they have different behaviors and personalities and will, therefore, sometimes have different HC’s. 

Here is the way to create, and get the most out of, your Home Contract (HC):

  1. The contract as written is only a template. There might be many things you want to change, take out completely or add to make it fit for your family. Take some time with this and make sure it reflects the situation in your family. Once you’re satisfied that the template is congruent with who you are as a family, print out a few copies.
  2. From this individualized template, create a “parent” HC first. If there’s more than one parent involved, do your best to work together to create a HC that you both agree to. Make sure you’re on the same page regarding responses/consequences and what you can agree to stick to. Again, if you have separate parent households, try and come up with one contract, but if you can’t, try and make them as similar as possible. 
  3. Sit down with your teen and have a direct conversation. Let him/her know that you’ve felt like the rules are being disregarded, or they’re not laid out well, or whatever your situation is. Tell them that, in efforts to make things more fair and clear, you’re going to be instituting a HC, and that s/he will have some say in it, if they choose. If your teen says s/he doesn’t care, then let them know you’ll be moving forward without their input. 
  4. Assuming they’re wiling to try, give a copy of the contract to your teen and ask him/her to fill it out. It’s best to have him/her complete it right then – there’s no reason to wait. 
  5. When your teen is finished, go over each point of the contract comparing your answers to what s/he put down. On a separate blank copy, start to fill in what’s agreed to by both parties. There will be times when you don’t agree, and the parents get the final say because you are the adults. 
  6. Having said that, wherever possible, try to find a place where you can give your teen what they want, but make sure you keep to your standards at all times. For example, can you give up them keeping their room clean? Maybe you can just stick with “no food left in your room” since you get ants, but can deal with them not putting away their laundry or making their bed. 
  7. The goal is to have as few rules as possible, so really be sure about what’s the most important thing to you, as a parent, and make sure these issues are highlighted. Again, try and pick your battles and let go what you can.
  8. Have your teen give you their answers first. This is important for a few reasons. First, it gives them a chance to be “heard” first, but it’s also great because they will often come up with much tougher consequences than you ever would. It’s amazing. It doesn’t mean you need to go with their harder consequence, but it’s good for you to hear their responses and assimilate them into your own answers for the final HC.
  9. Now create one final contract that everyone has (more-or-less) agreed to. Remember, it’s ultimately what you, the parent, need but include their opinions and responses as much as possible.
  10. Now each of you signs the fresh contract. Then make copies with one going to your kid and one going right on the refrigerator or other easily accessible place. This way, if and when a standard isn’t met, it’s easy to go right to the contract to see the response. 
  11. If your kid doesn’t take part in the creation of the HC, they still have to follow it. So, make sure they get a copy and make sure one is posted. 

Home Contracts only work if they’re followed. I’m predicting right now that your biggest issues are going to be when you don’t follow the contract. You’ll tell yourself something like, “Oh, he’s been so good for so long, I’m just going to let this one go.”  Or maybe it’ll be, “I’m tired and don’t feel like dealing with this right now, so I’m just going to follow up on the next one.”  THIS DOESN’T WORK!   Consistency is KEY if you want to see lasting change in your family life. I know this is hard and tiring, but that’s true for most things in life that are worthwhile. Putting in the energy now, will save you SO MUCH time and effort in the future as well as make for a happier home life.

I will also predict that your kid will test this contract quite a bit in the beginning. The longer you’ve been inconsistent and haven’t followed through on consequences in the past, the worse it’ll be. Maybe you’ve grounded your kid before but instead of the seven days you originally said, you only kept them grounded for two days. After all, you made that decision when you were upset and you came to realize that the punishment was too big for the crime. Here’s the problem: Although you’re likely right and you did over-react in the moment, the fact that you went back on your word is something your kid will always remember. So, they know that you don’t consistently follow through and now they’re going to wait and test, test and wait, to get what they want. You need to be ROCK SOLID for now on. The good news is, that now that you have a HC, you’ll no longer be over or under-reacting in moments and then need to change your mind. Instead, you’ll have these solid responses that you’ve agreed to in a calm state, and you’ll just be going back to the HC. 

Use the contract as often as possible. Let’s say your kid comes up and says, “Hey, can I run over to Joe’s house?” Instead of your usual quick “yes” or “no” answer, your response can be, “what does the contract say?”  This type of parenting has many awesome outcomes. For example, is Joe on the list of approved people s/he can see?  Is it already 5:00 and homework hasn’t been done and it clearly says on the contract that there’s no socializing until homework is done?  Is it 5:00, but you eat dinner at 5:30 and it says in the contract that s/he can’t be late for dinner?  No matter what, it’s probably on there. So, get out of the habit of always giving that immediate “yes” or “no” answer and start using the contract.

What this does is push your kid into taking responsibility for his or herself and abiding by the rules. Now it’s your kid making the decision to go (or not go) to Joe’s house. Now it’s your kid analyzing the different scenarios and thinking things through, instead of you doing all that for them. If you stick to this, you’ll find that they stop pushing the boundaries so much because they always get the same response, “What does the contract say?”  It always goes back to them instead of the focus always being on you. Now it’s your kid saying “no” to himself, instead of hearing it from you. It’s a glorious thing when your kid comes to you and starts to ask a question and then stops himself and mutters, “Oh, never mind, I already know what the contract says.”

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Kate Rufener