Token Economy Systems:How to Set Up a Token Economy System for Young Children and Children with Special Needs

Token Economy System
Token Economy System | Source

Setting Up A Token Economy System

Once you understand the basic concepts underpinning token economies you'll be more than ready to set up a token economy for your own child or children.Follow the steps outlined below for setting up a token economy.

Token Economies for Children

Rewards for Kids!: Ready-To-Use Charts and Activities for Positive Parenting
Rewards for Kids!: Ready-To-Use Charts and Activities for Positive Parenting

Great book as it contains both the advice and the necessary materials (pull-out charts, certificates etc.) to help you put this practical information into place straight away.

 

Select the Target Behaviors

Decide upon which behaviors you are going to target for change.Token economies may be used to either increase desired behaviors or to decrease or reduce undesired behaviors. For the former you will provide tokens for the occurrence of a particular behavior or a desired rate of a particular behavior e.g. Johnny will receive a token for every piece of class work completed. For the latter (when aiming to reduce a target behavior) we focus on reinforcing the absence of a given target behavior e.g. Johnny will receive a token for every 10 minutes in which he refrains from engaging in the target behavior.

Choose the Tokens

You can use any number of different items as tokens when setting up token economy systems e.g. play coins, buttons, beans, marbles or small printed cards or pieces of laminated paper with pictures on them all work really well.You could print off generic token pictures with say a small star or the no. 1,3 ,5 etc printed on them to determine their relative value.

Token Economy Examples: Generic Tokens
Token Economy Examples: Generic Tokens | Source

However, printing off your own little tokens using pictures relating to your child’s favorite cartoon, film, or celebrity characters or special interests is usually a great way to encourage additional interest in a new token economy system.I highly recommend personalizing tokens in this fashion as it takes little additional effort and really does help to gain the child’s initial interest in the system and gives them another reason to be motivated to succeed. This can work particularly well with Children with Autism for instance who tend to have a strong bias for visual stimuli and can become quite motivated in just collecting and stockpiling the tokens for their own sake.

Token Economy Examples

Token Economy Examples: Specific Tokens (Simpsons)
Token Economy Examples: Specific Tokens (Simpsons) | Source
Token Economy Examples: Specific Tokens (Mario)
Token Economy Examples: Specific Tokens (Mario) | Source

Choose the Rewards to be Used with your Token Economy

Choose rewards that your child will be eager and motivated to work for e.g. sweets, a new toy, extra computer time, a trip to McDonalds etc.Different children may be motivated by different things so remain open minded when selecting rewards for your token economy system.A token economy systems works well if you choose a hierarchy of several different rewards with the more desired items being more expensive (costing more tokens).I would also print off a page with images representing each of the chosen rewards on offer with the number of token required for each item printed above or below each image.This way young children can easily see and be reminded of what they're working for.

Decide the Rate at which Tokens will be Awarded

This is what is known or referred to as the reinforcement schedule. E.g. 1 token will be awarded or earned every time a particular behavior is exhibited or for every 2nd consecutive correct response or for refraining from engaging in a particular behavior for a given period of time etc.It is best to initially set the criteria for success at an achievable level for your child as your first goal is to get your child to understand and buy in to the token system.Over time and with success you can raise the bar for success.

Set the cost of your Token Economy's Rewards

Set/Establish the cost of the rewards on offer – How many tokens are required in exchange for the established rewards.There may be some trial and error to get this just right but you should initially err in favor of the child by making the rewards relatively cheap and readily attainable so as to encourage your child’s initial participation with the token economy system.

Set the Format for Exchanging Tokens

Establish when and where tokens can be exchanged for the rewards on offer. Once the token economy system is understood and accepted by the child (and consistently implemented on your part) it will help prevent you being hassled for access to rewards at inappropriate or unfeasible times.

One option is to allow tokens to be traded in at a particular time each evening or on particular days of the week.This can work well once the token system is up and running but in the early days of establishing token economy systems you may want to encourage your child to trade in tokens as soon as possible (for whatever the lowest level rewards are) so as to help speed up the learning process and to help get your child interested and trusting of the token economy system you're implementing.It is also a good idea to have a transparent container (with your child's name labelled to the front) so they can collect and store their earned tokens.


Example of a Full Token Collection Jar

Jar for Tokens, Coins etc.
Jar for Tokens, Coins etc. | Source

Collecting, storing and counting out tokens to see how close a particular reward is can be very motivating in its own right.Here you can use a visual support to help young children to better judge their own progress towards particular rewards e.g. placing tokens into empty circles on a page or up the steps of a ladder etc.

Counting Tokens

Counting Tokens Example 1
Counting Tokens Example 1 | Source
Counting Tokens Example 2
Counting Tokens Example 2 | Source

Observe and Modify the Token Economy System as Necessary

For children with no prior experience of using token economy systems it is usually best that expectations in terms of your child's behavior should start off relatively modest (in order to encourage your child's initial engagement with the system and to build some immediate success) but should be gradually raised over time.

Generally this can be done by reducing the frequency or rate at which the tokens are earned or placing increased or additional demands for the same or similar levels of reinforcement (X no. of tokens for X behaviors etc.) or a combination of the two. With time, the rewards on offer may need to be replaced or added to if your child loses interest in the initial rewards selected.Remember that initially your aim is simply to get the child to understand and buy in to the system in question rather than immediately trying to get as much out of the system/child as will ultimately be possible once the child has come to understand, trust and be effectively motivated by the token economy system you have established.

Once your child has developed some understanding around how the token system operates you should pay close attention to their continued interest in the token system. Children who are motivated by the rewards on offer and feel they are achievable should show signs of interest such as; talking about their tokens or their rewards, looking at or counting up their already earned tokens,being eager to earn and happy to receive new or additional tokens as well as positive changes in the behaviors being targeted etc.If these signs of interest are not present or if their level of interest begins to decline then you will need to modify some aspect/s of the token economy system you're using.

Perhaps they are no longer interested in the particular rewards available or perhaps they are able to access these items through some other means or perhaps too much effort is being required for too little reward or maybe they have just lost faith or trust in the system due to inconsistencies on the part of those managing the token system etc. Whatever the reason, it is critical to the long term success of any such token economy system that you be observant to any changes in your child's level of motivation and prompt at making any required changes or modifications to rectify the situation.Token economies that are limited to a certain number of reward choices will frequently benefit from little tweaks to keep them fresh and motivating so remain vigilint and don't be afraid to make these little changes when necessary.

Top Tips and Reminders for Using a Token Economy System

  • Choosing the right rewards is absolutely vital to your success: - It will ultimately matter very little how perfect or visually appealing your system otherwise is, if the individual is not sufficiently motivated to access the item or activities on offer. It simply will not work and the individual concerned will have very little interest in the token economy system at hand
  • Restrict access to rewards outside of the token economy system: – Generally speaking this is done to maintain the desirability or power of the rewards being used. Whilst this may seem obvious, failure to limit access to the rewards outside of the token system does occur and can definitely interfere with the token system. E.g. A parent establishes a token economy using a variety of the child’s favorite sweets and treats as reinforcers but overlooks the fact that the child already has free access to these same sweets and treats from the kitchen cupboard

  • Yes i'm repeating myself somewhat with this one but it's important:If a token economy stops working it’s time to review and make changes: - This may happen after a period of time particularly if you have not actively monitored and updated the system to maintain high levels of motivation & participation. This most often occurs when the child begins to tire of or be less motivated by the particular reward items on offer and indicates the need to change or add further items to the list of reinforcers your child is working towards (remember the staying power of money[the biggest token economy of all] lies in it’s great flexibility - the wide variety of items and activities etc. for which it can be exchanged) but most simple token economy systems are limited to a relatively small number of reinforcers. Warning signs to note include your child seeming less interested in earning or receiving tokens or indeed less motivated to exchange them than was originally the case. When this occurs it is quite possible that a degree of satiation in relation to the available rewards has occurred and it’s time to change things up

  • Honor the token system: - In order to maintain your child’s trust as well as the integrity and power of the token economy you’re using you must faithfully adhere to it. If there are pre-conditions to exchanging tokens these must be pre-established from the beginning. For instance if one of the rewards on offer is a ‘trip to the cinema’ and you know that you’re only free to facilitate this at the weekend then it should be agreed upon before tokens are earned that ‘cinema trips’ for instance can only be purchased for or at these particular times. Likewise if getting a ‘takeout pizza’ is one of the reinforcers being used and you are only happy for your child to have ‘fast food’ once per week you must either set the token economy system up so that there is a pre-condition of only being able to ‘purchase’ this particular reinforcer X times per week/month or that it is not possible to earn sufficient tokens to make more than one such purchase per week etc. If your child has the requisite number of earned tokens to purchase a given item and you have not set pre-conditions about when or how often such purchases can be made you must honor the token economy system in place and then subsequently introduce any such modifications if needs be. To do otherwise would be equivalent to going into a store with a ‘fistful of dollars’ and being told your money’s no good here at this particular time – you’d pretty quickly stop shopping at that particular store

  • Find a balance:- It’s important to ensure you find a balance between what will work for your child and what you as parents or carers are comfortable with: - You don’t want to set up a system that could potentially result in your child’s good behaviour leading to your financial ruin or bankruptcy :-)

  • Be consistent and be prepared to undergo the pressure of your child’s manipulations (like you don’t already) :- Just as you mustn’t fail to honor whatever system you establish you mustn’t undermine it either. If it costs 10 tokens for a particular item and your child attempts to haggle with you and succeeds because you decide to acquiesce ‘just this time’ you open the gates for further similar attempts and put yourself on a slippery slope. You want your child to learn that the system (which is flexible to change remember) is what dictates the parameters of how things work and not their pleading, tantrums or emotional pressure. Trust me, Kids can be very clever at manipulating and finding loopholes in token economy systems which they have thoroughly bought into – be warned and be prepared :-)

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Responsibility Chart With 90 Magnets
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Magnetic Responsibility Chart With 90 Magnets

Visual and appealing materials.Particularly helpful for teaching younger children both what's expected of them and what's in it for them, which is how you'll really motivate that good behavior.

 

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Comments 4 comments

Winterfate profile image

Winterfate 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

I can't believe that no one has commented on this hub yet! :/

Well, time to remedy that!

This is a pretty indepth article into a topic that will be helpful for many parents. Getting children to do chores and what-not is pretty hard without motivation. The token economy system seems to be one of the better ways of positive motivation. Rewards are better than punishment, after all. :)

Voted up, useful and interesting!


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 3 years ago Author

Thank you very much indeed Winterfate.To be honest i've been a little surprised by that myself.A lot of experience, time and effort went into this one so it's great to get some positive feedback. Better late than never :) Thanks for the votes too, always appreciated.


Holid 23 months ago

Exceladlent blog you have here but I was curiadous if you knew of any disadcusadsion boards that cover the same topadics disadcussed here? I’d rellay love to be a part of comadmuadnity where I can get advice from other knowladedgeadable indiadvidaduadals that share the same interadest. If you have any sugadgesadtions, please let me know. Many thanks!


Rob Winters profile image

Rob Winters 22 months ago Author

Thanks for comment Holid, I'm glad you liked it. If you're looking for more information on related topics you should look into 'Positive Behavior Support' or ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis). These should provide you with the principles, strategies and theory behind behavior change. With regards to forums or discussion boards, it's best to find ones that are most specific to your areas of interest. It can take a bit of trial and error but you want to find forums etc. that are very active and well moderated (you'll only learn this by visiting them a few times). Discussion boards can be very useful as parents and carers etc. have, of necessity, often become experts in particular areas and topics that relate to their children and loved ones. Likewise, you should be careful in that people's knowledge maybe somewhat limited as a result of their narrow focus, and you can find plenty of unqualified, misleading or partial information, albeit well intended. After reading about behavior principles and strategies etc. you may have better luck finding active discussion boards focused on specific disorders or conditions (Autism, OCD, ADHD etc. whatever your area of interest is). They'll tend to be bigger and more active sites, and within them you'll usually find discussions on what people have tried and what works etc. Thanks for reading, and good luck.

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