How Parents Can Turn Battles of Will into Teachable Moments

Harness the Power of Contracts to Win at Home

Mom, can I get a phone? Can I get a job? Dad, can I be on the soccer team? Drive a car? Play my X-Box? What parent hasn’t occasionally felt overwhelmed by all the questions from their kids? If you’re like me, you want to say yes as much as you can, but know your kids also need to learn responsibility. All too often, you end up in a battle of wills with your children where there are no winners, only survivors.

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We experienced the same conflict in our family. As you can imagine, with six children in the teen and pre-teen years now, we live in that tension between needing to guide our kids and giving them the freedom to grow. Before we began to approach our family as a business, the result was often utter chaos.

The irony is that as a business leader I would never tolerate such chaos in my business. I would never settle for “He said, She said” scenarios, ‘‘You didn’t tell me…” arguments, and all the confusion that ensued.

What my wife and I concluded was this: If it’s important enough to make sure there is no misunderstanding, then use a tool every businessperson knows—a contract.

How Contracts Help Parents and Kids

Using contracts has taken the heartache out of implementing family accountability in our home. We’ve created win-win scenarios where you’re not having to constantly say no. Instead of regularly being on the defensive as parents, we now have the confidence to go on offense and turn battles of will into teachable moments.

We use contracts when our children want to:

  • Take a significant step of responsibility.
  • Get or do something that requires time or money from the rest of the family.

For the Timm family, contracts take the heartache out of implementing accountability because we’ve all previewed the terms, we’ve all agreed to the consequences, and discipline is spelled out in advance.

Think about it: when our children make a mistake, don’t we want to help them learn from it? Yet we’re often too busy arguing over whether or not we were “allowed” to check a phone or whose responsibility it was to remember commitments and assignments.

When we establish clear expectations by using contracts, we are free to focus on helping our children learn from the consequences of their mistakes instead of having to decide the consequences in the heat of the moment. When they do something wrong, I love being able to say, “Hey, look—I feel for you.  This really stinks.  But we had an agreement; we’ve lived up to our end, and you haven’t lived up to your end.” I can put my arm around them, and walk back through it, without shaming or yelling at them, and just say, “I’m really sorry, but this is part of life. We both made this agreement, and unfortunately your end hasn’t held up, so you need to give me your phone. I’m really pulling for you to get it back, but this is where we’re at.”   No fight. No fuss. No chaos. And—to our surprise—no pushback from the kids.

As an added bonus, using contracts in our family has given our children valuable life experience in making binding, written agreements. We adults deal with contracts every day. Yet, how many kids are prepared for what that looks like and what that means? Why not prepare them for the future by making contracts part of their present?

Benefits of Using Contracts with Your Kids

Here are a few ways contracts benefit our family:

  • Give clear expectations of consequences and rewards.
  • Eliminate arguing over who said what. The contract is always available for review in case of confusion or forgotten commitments.
  • Expose children to the real-world consequences of making binding agreements.
  • Minimize the potential for drama over misunderstandings.
  • Reduce the number of times you must say no. Now you can say yes more often — provided they are willing to abide by the terms.
  • Keep us from having to repeat instructions and expectations.

Our kids have so embraced the use of contracts now that they bring us contracts when they want something to demonstrate they can be responsible.

What parent wouldn’t want to create teachable moments like that?

Question:Do you spend your valuable parenting time arguing over who said what? How might contracts help you end the confusion at home and get clarity? You can share your thoughts by clicking here.

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  • Shawn Ippensen

    Mark, love the articles – many have “hit home”. I’ve recently started to introduce contracts with my kids. It would be nice to see some examples/samples of ones you have used. Also, how specific do you get with each one? Are they fairly short-term, or long-term? Again, love the articles. Thanks for taking the time to post them.