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

Using Rewards to Promote Good Behaviors

Reward good behavior with tokens.
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A token economy system rewards kids for good behavior. They earn a token for reaching their goal, and then, tokens can be exchanged larger rewards.Token economy systems are one of the most effective ways to reduce behavior problems and to motivate kids to follow the rules.

Although sticker charts work well with preschool-age children, token economy systems work best with older children. Whether you want to get your child to do his chores, follow directions at school, or refrain from hitting when he's angry, reward systems are effective discipline tools.

How Token Economy Systems Work

While you can use a written point system, it's best to physically hand a token to your child whenever he earns one. This provides immediate gratification and reinforces his positive behavior.

You can use pennies, plastic poker chips, marbles, or anything else you think is suitable. Just make sure the tokens are something your child won't be able to access himself. You don't want him adding his own marbles to the ones he's earned from you.

Help your child find a way to store his tokens. If your child creates a special jar or box to keep his tokens in, he'll be extra motivated to earn more.

Make sure your child knows a token economy system is about rewarding his good behavior. It shouldn't be about punishing him when he makes a mistake.

Create an appealing reward menu with a variety of items. Offer rewards worth a variety of point values to keep it exciting. Being able to stay up late might be worth one token but choosing something from the dollar store might be worth 10 tokens, for example.

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 an extra bedtime story. Get your child involved by requesting his input into what rewards he would like to earn.

How to Create a Token Economy System

Sometimes parents create very complicated systems that are hard for children to understand and difficult for parents to manage.

It's important to keep a token economy system simple so that both you and your child will stay motivated.

Choose up to three behaviors to address at one time. Pick a behavior that your child is already doing well, one behavior that needs a little improvement, and one challenging behavior.

Frame the desired behaviors in a positive way. Instead of saying, “Don’t hit your sister” use “Keep your hands to yourself.” State what behavior you want to see so you can reward the good behavior with a token.

You may need to break the day down into smaller chunks of time as well. Then, reward your child for behaving before school, in the afternoon, and then again closer to bedtime. For some kids, waiting all day to earn one token can seem impossible and they will lose interest fast.

Troubleshooting Your Token Economy System

Token economy systems often take a bit of trial and error. Perhaps you made the rewards too easy to earn. Or maybe, your child just isn't motivated by the rewards you're offering.

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.

Sometimes, behaviors get a little worse before they get better. Your child may have some difficulty adjusting to any new discipline strategies that you start implementing. So, make sure you give your plan plenty of time before you make any major changes to it.

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