A token economy is an easy and effective way to improve your child’s behavior at home. It operates on the idea that your child can earn tokens throughout the day by exhibiting the behaviors that you want to see, which can then be exchanged for bigger rewards later on. A token economy can be used for many different behaviors, from getting your child to do their chores or homework to stopping them from hitting when they’re upset. It’s best to keep it as simple as possible so that both you and your child are motivated to follow the token economy you create. You can use just about anything for tokens, including stars, marbles, and monopoly money. Just make sure that your child can’t freely access whatever you’re using as tokens so that they can’t give themselves any extra without earning them.
Here’s how to create your own token economy system:
- Choose a few behaviors to work on at a time. In addition to the challenging behavior that you want to improve, pick a behavior that your child already does well and behavior that just needs some improvement to help provide more opportunities for your child to earn tokens.
- Try to reinforce good behavior throughout the day. If you’re working on multiple behaviors, there should be opportunities to reward your child for doing well in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Waiting until the end of the day to earn a token might be too big of a goal for most children. and can cause them to lose interest in the token economy.
- Choose a variety of appealing rewards that your child can exchange tokens for. Ideally, choose items or activities that you know your child would be willing to work for, and to make them extra desirable, you can limit access to those items/activities except for when your child “purchases” them with their tokens. You can even use activities as rewards, such as going to the park, having a friend over, or staying up an extra hour over the weekend.
- Make sure to hand a token to your child as soon as they earn one. Immediate physical acknowledgment of their good behavior will help motivate them to earn more tokens. It may also help to provide them with a special box or jar to store their tokens in.
- Avoid negative language when creating goals for your child. Instead of telling them what NOT to do, tell them what you WANT them to do! For example, instead of saying “don’t hit your siblings”, you can say “keep your hands to yourself”. That way, you’re stating exactly what behavior you want your child to exhibit and can reward them with a token as soon as you see it.
A good token economy system should motivate your child to do better. That being said, the first token system you create might not be the most effective one. The rewards might be too easy or too difficult to earn, or the rewards that you’re offering simply might not be appealing enough. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a system that works for you and your child. It’s also not uncommon for behaviors to get a little worse before they start to improve. Children can have difficulty adjusting to new discipline strategies, so it’s important to stay consistent and not get discouraged if that’s the case. If you need more information or have any questions, call us at T.E.A.M 4 Kids!
Claudia Grochalska, RBT-BS