The back to school contract

Make a contract with your kid:

  • Involve your child in the entire process to make sure they have buy-in. Talk about why you want to make an agreement, what the agreements will be and what will be the rewards and consequences for the agreement.
  • Be clear about what's negotiable and what's not negotiable.
  • Make sure all the parents or key adults are aligned and on the same page.
  • Follow through, follow through, follow through because they will test you to see if you really mean it.
  • Know that by following through you build that love, trust and respect again. If you don't, then you'll create an even worse situation than you had before the contract.

    The purpose of a parent/teen contract is to set clear consistent boundaries and agreements with rewards and consequences that are meaningful and appropriate to your teen.

    There are three important steps to any parent/teen contract:

    1. The process of putting it together - who you are in the process and how you include your teen
    2. The content of the contract itself
    3. The follow through in the family over time
    Step 1: Putting the contract together
  • Let your teen know that you want them to succeed and to support them you want to put together a contract that they will sign along with both parents/adults involved in parenting.
  • Ask them if they want to be included in the process of drafting the contract or if they want to review the draft and have a conversation once you have written it out, then follow through on your agreed process.
  • Decide which points are negotiable and which are not before you discuss it with your teen.
  • The adults involved in the parenting must be aligned with what's in the contract or the process will not work. This can be challenging in itself, but it's critical.
  • Make sure you are fully committed within yourself to everything you have written in the contract, so that you can follow through with consistency and integrity.
  • Leave room for negotiation so they are included in the process. One of the negotiation points that can be meaningful for them are the rewards for success.
  • Once everyone has agreed on what is in the contract, print a final draft, have both parents and the teen sign it and give everyone copies.

    Step 2: The content of the contract

  • The content of the contract needs to outline the behavior and/or actions for success, the consequences for not following them and the rewards for success.
  • The behavior and actions for success as well as the rewards and consequences need to be appropriate to your teen and the challenge they are going through. Focus it on the positive actions and behaviors that are needed for success.
  • Include what you will do and commit to as parents to support your teen.

    Step 3: Following through

  • Integrity and consistency will make or break your contract agreements and your relationship with your teen. Following it consistently will build relationship and trust and move you to breakthrough around the challenges you've been experiencing. Inconsistency or changing the rules/agreements after the contract has been signed will break trust and respect and make the situation worse than it was before you started.
  • It's almost a sure thing that you will be tested. It's your child's job to test you. They want to know if they can depend on you and on themselves to carry this out. So don't take it personally, just stand by your agreements, restate the contract, show it to them again if needed and leave it at that. The less emotional and more matter of fact you can be about it, the better the outcome will be of the process.


  • Parents can improve their relationships with their kids by using coaching skills like these three: 1) asking open and powerful questions, 2) truly listening and 3) designing an alliance with your child via a contract.
  • Very often the kind of question you might ask your child is "Where were you today?" or "What did you do today?" Those questions are just about things and don't usually open up a meaningful conversation.
  • Learn how to ask open and powerful questions. These questions elicit responses around the child's feelings, what they are dreaming about or what they want out of life. Open and powerful questions could include: What's the most exciting thing that happened today? Did something happen today that really surprised or inspired you?
  • Parents need to understand that sometimes they won't always get a response and that is okay. Give kids the space and respect to answer when they feel like they are being connected to and heard. After some time, they will answer.
  • Most parents think they are listening to their kids, but instead they are actually: making judgments; reacting to whatever the kids are saying; thinking about what they are going to tell them to do
  • When this happens, the kid shuts down. Then, as soon as the parent starts talking, in the kid's head they just hear blah, blah, blah, blah. They don't really hear what's being said.
  • Parents that use coaching skills listen with an open mind. Hear your child's words and the energy behind the words. Really connect with them and listen to them. Don't be thinking about anything in your own mind. Just be there for them and hear what they have to say. Breathe, listen and take it all in.
  • One of the most important coaching skills you can use as a parent is "true listening," which establishes open communication and trust. The only way to do that is to listen, hear who your child is and what they have to say. What you're doing is showing love, respect and trust-and those qualities are at the core of any successful relationship.

    Co-active coaching courses:

  • Really understand and believe that your kids are naturally creative, resourceful and whole.
  • How to use the three different types of listening skills, which will immediately improve your relationship with your child.
  • How to set ground rules for relationships.
  • How to let your curiosity improve your relationships.
  • How to manage your emotions and reactions to benefit your relationships.
  • How to develop and trust your intuition.

    Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael:
    Phone: (415) 451-6000

    FREE parenting seminar:
    Tues., Sept. 9th from 7-8:30pm. It will focus on contracts/agreements between parents and kids and give concrete information on how to hold each other accountable, and design an alliance the benefits both interests.
    4000 Civic Center Drive, 5th floor
    San Rafael, CA 94903

    Guidelines for Contract Agreements Between Parents and Teens
    By Sabrina Roblin

    About Karen Kimsey-House:
    She has worked with numerous parents who benefited immediately by applying coaching skills in their communications with kids. She is one of the authors of "Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and Life".

    About Sabrina and Matt:
    They are a great example of how a contract helped motivate through high school. He was struggling as a freshman and was almost kicked off the water polo team. This June he graduated with good grades and was captain of the team. Now Sabrina and Matt have a contract for college, which he starts in September. Simple contracts can also work for younger kids.

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