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Create a Token Economy System to Improve Your Child's Behaviors

Using Rewards to Promote Good Behaviors

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Create a Token Economy System to Improve Your Child's Behaviors

A token economy system provides children with positive reinforcement.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A token economy system is a type of reward system that can provide a great incentive to help children of all ages learn to manage their behaviors better. Although sticker charts can work for younger children, older children can be motivated with token economy systems. Whether you want to get your child to do his chores, manage his behaviors at school, or get his homework done without having to nag him, reward systems can be an effective discipline tool.

How Token Economy Systems Work

Choose up to three behaviors to address at one time. It can be helpful to pick a behavior that your child is already doing well, one behavior that needs a little improvement, and one behavior that your child is struggling with. Reward your child with a chip or token whenever you see the desired behavior.

It's best if you can physically hand a token to your child whenever he earns one. This provides some immediate gratification and reinforces his positive behavior. Help kids find a way to keep track of their tokens. For example, help your child decorate a special box or can to store his tokens.

Allow your child to exchange the tokens for rewards. Keep your child motivated with an appealing reward menu with a variety of items. Offer items with a wide array of point values so children can either exchange their tokens for smaller rewards immediately or save them up for a larger reward. Build excitement by talking frequently about what your child is hoping to earn what he wants to spend his tokens on.

There are plenty of rewards that don't cost money. They can include things such as picking what to eat for dinner, going to the park, or getting to stay up later. Get your child involved by allowing him to give input into what rewards he would like to earn.

How to Create a Token Economy System

Keep the reward system simple. Sometimes parents create very complicated systems that are hard for children to understand and difficult for parents to manage. Don’t try to address more than three behaviors at a time.

Also, try to frame the desired behaviors in a positive way. For example instead of saying “don’t hit your sister” use “keeping your hands to yourself.” State what behavior you want to see so you can reward the good behaviors with positive consequences.

You may need to break the day down into smaller chunks of time as well. For example, “keeping your hands to yourself before school” and if the child manages to avoid fighting with his sister before getting on the bus, he earns a token. For some kids, waiting all day to earn one token can seem impossible and they will lose interest fast.

Token economy systems are one of the most effective discipline tools. If it isn't working to change your child's behavior, don't give up or get rid of the reward plan altogether. Instead learn strategies to overcome the most common problems with token economy systems. Often, just a few small changes can make a big difference in helping your child change his behavior.

Common Concerns about Giving Kids Rewards

Sometimes parents are concerned that reward systems are actually bribing their child. There’s a difference between a reward and a bribe. Rewards are given after the behavior. Bribes are given before. For example, a parent rewards the child by saying, “You did well keeping your hands to yourself. Here’s a token.” A bribe would be a parent who says, “Here’s a token, now please keep your hands to yourself.”

We live in a world where we are all motivated by rewards. Most people go to work to earn a paycheck. Rewarding kids for their hard work is the same idea.

The other most common concern from parents is that they should not have to reward their child for things they should be doing anyway. It’s important to keep in mind that kids sometimes need extra help with certain behaviors. A reward system is a tool to help fine tune those things that need some extra attention.

Also, you won’t have to use the reward system forever. Usually the rewards can be replaced with praise in just a few months. Once the child has mastered a new skill, they won’t require ongoing rewards for it.

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