Contingency Contract

Contributed by Cassy Davis, MAT

Recently I wrote an article, “How to Use a Token Economy at Home.” A token economy is a behavior management strategy used to increase target behavior and decrease unwanted behaviors. Typically, at the clinic we use token boards with our younger children. One behavior management strategy used to increase target behavior and decrease unwanted behaviors of older children and even adults is called a contingency contract. Contingency contracts or behavioral contracts are documents that specify a contingent relationship between the completion of a specified behavior or task and access to a reward. In order to use a contingency contract, the individual signing the contract must have a sufficient verbal repertoire so that they can verbally discuss and negotiate the terms of the contract.

There are three major components of contingency contracts; the description of the task, the description of the reward and the task record.

1. The task is broken down into four components that must be written down.

  1. Who – The contract needs to state who will perform the task and who will receive the reward.
  2. What – The task or the behavior that the person must complete.
  3. When – The contract must identify when the individual should complete the task (example – everyday, only on Fridays or by a specific time such as 3pm on Tuesdays)
  4. How well – This part of the task description is very important! This part of the   contract identifies the specifics of the task and can be used as a checklist to help the person completing the task identify what all must be done in order to receive the reinforcer.

2. The description of the reward is also broken down into four components.

  1. Who – This component identifies who will judge the task completion and who             controls the delivery of the reward.
  2. What – The what is the reward!
  3. When – This part identifies when the reward can be received.
  4. How much – This component states the amount of reward that can be received.

3. The task record is the place on the contract to record task completion. The task record creates a visual for recording task completion and can be reviewed as often as necessary. By being able to visually review the task record it will help the person remained focused and stay motivated to work towards the reward.

Below is a simple sample contingency contract that shows the three main components.

To begin developing a contingency contract the child and parent must have a meeting. During the meeting, the child should be given an opportunity to give their input on the various components of the contract. The child should feel that the contract is fair and that it is something that they are collaboratively developing with their parent/teacher/therapist. The child should not feel like the contract is a document created by the adult and being imposed on them. During the meeting, the parent/child discuss the document and come to an agreement on each component and subcomponent of the contract. The contract must be fair, clear and positive.

In order to determine if the contract is effective or not, baseline data must first be taken on the target behavior. Baseline data is data that is taken on the target behavior before any interventions have been put in place. After baseline data has been taken and contract has been agreed upon, written down/typed up, and signed by all parties involved then it is time to implement the contract! Once the contract has been implemented and data has been collected on the target behavior you must compare the baseline data to intervention data and evaluate the effectiveness. If the contract does not appear effective, the contract must be modified, rewritten and data will then be tracked again.

To determine why the contract was not effective you should consider the following things: was the contract written in clear language that is understood by both parties? Did the contract require too much effort and too delayed of a reward? Was the reward appropriate for the specific individual? Was the individual unable to engage in the target behavior? In order for a contract to be effective, there are some guiding contract rules that should be followed. The reward should be given immediately after contract is complete. Finally, it is important to reward accomplishments of the individual and not punish failures. The goal of a contingency contract is to use positive reinforcement to increase the target behavior.


Cooper. J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd. ed) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson EducationInc.