A token economy system is a popular and effective classroom management tool, but it can also be used at home. With very little setup, token economies can increase desired behaviors and take some of the emotional struggles out of parenting a child with special needs.
What is a Token Economy?
A token economy is a system that rewards target behavior with a chosen token, chip, sticker, or check mark. Those tokens can periodically be exchanged for items or activities that are motivational to the child. If you have ever had a job, a token economy is just the same. You go to work and meet an expectation in exchange for money. The money, which has no value on its own, can be exchanged for things you want.
Supplies Needed for a Token Economy
Tokens: Anything that is visible and can be counted can be used as a token. Poker chips are an easy choice, but it can be tickets, stickers, play money or any other item of your choice. Tokens should be portable, so that they can be awarded anywhere.
A Way to Keep Track: Children need a way to keep up with their tokens that is consistent
A Behavior Target: A list of the desired behaviors and the tokens that will be rewarded must be clearly listed and explained to the child ahead of time. Most parents find it easier to choose a handful of behaviors to focus on when setting up a token economy.
Items for Exchange: An exciting menu of options that appeal to the child is the key to success for this type of program. Create a “store” of choices for which the child can exchange their tokens. These do not have to be material items. Choosing the dinner menu, staying up late, or going to the park can all be choices for exchange. Get your child involved in choosing the rewards they would like to earn.
Tips for Setting up a Token Economy
- Choose a handful of behaviors to address, but do not overwhelm your child by trying to correct everything. It is beneficial in the beginning to focus on a behavior where the child excels so that they can get the feeling of succeeding with the system.
- Frame the desired behavior in a positive manner. Instead of “don’t complain during dinner” use “keep a cheerful attitude during dinner.”
- If the child is struggling to earn any tokens break the task into smaller chunks and reward more frequently.
- Reward the proper behavior immediately by handing out a token. Instant gratification is ideal for kids who are struggling with delayed consequences.
- Change the system as the child improves their behavior. Give tokens more sparingly and make rewards more costly to wean your child away from the token economy.
But, Does it Work?
Research shows that token economies are very effective for kids who have been resistant to all other types of intervention. The immediate delivery of a tangible reminder of good behavior keeps children motivated and helps them to stay focused. Because the rewards can be varied, kids are also less likely to get bored with the system. The greatest benefit is the flexibility of the system. If it’s not working quite right, don’t give up entirely. Tweak the system by adding rewards or breaking tasks down into smaller chunks for faster success.
Resources for Creating Your Own Token Economy
Token Economy Set Up Kit by Sasha Hallagan
Car Themed Token Economy by Nicole Caldwell
Monster Themed Token Economy by Making Model Students