Token economy systems have been used for decades to positively affect a child’s behavior. For example, when you were growing up, chances are you had a weekly list of chores to do and you were rewarded with an allowance or special treat when you completed your tasks. As an adult, you probably earn frequent flyer miles, get points toward gift cards, or receive cash back for using your credit card. These are great examples of token economy systems in action.
Reward systems are exciting for kids, too. They are powerful learning tools that encourage good behavior and promote independence. Token economy systems provide emotional support and enable task completion by making it fun to check off steps toward a motivating reward. These systems also minimize nagging and frustration for both the child and the parent.
Setting Up a Token Economy System
A token economy system can be set up by using any reward that is appealing to the child. Preschool kids do great with a sticker reward system, while older kids like to earn points toward activities, perks like staying up later than usual, or tangible rewards like playing or buying video games.
To set up a token economy system:
• Start slowly. Make a chart of three behaviors you’d like to put into effect. For best results, one behavior should be something your child does well right now. Add an activity you’d like the child to improve and another one that will challenge the child.
• State the behavior result you’d like to achieve and what the child will earn if they complete the action (example: they will earn one token/sticker/reward point for each day they put away their toys before bedtime). This should be phrased on the chart as a positive, specific action statement: “your toys are put away by bedtime”, instead of something negative and generic, such as “stop being so messy.”
• Vary the amounts earned for each reward. Maybe your child will earn one token for making their bed every day, but they might earn three tokens for doing their homework promptly (and without being nagged). Also, change out one or two of the rewards on occasion to keep the system interesting for your kids.
• Have the child help you set up a list of what their accumulated rewards will earn (for example: “three rewards will let you stay up an hour later on Saturday” or “five rewards earns an hour of playing your favorite video game”. That way, the child is invested in the benefits of getting the reward and will look forward to completing the tasks.
• Immediately give the child the reward when they have completed the task and simultaneously praise their accomplishment (“Nice job on making your bed.”). Positive reinforcement helps instill the behavior in the child’s mind because it connects the happy feeling of gratification with the task the child performed. Use something that will be fun for the child – something like poker chips, raffle-type tickets, pennies, or play coins to make it exciting to get the reward. Additionally, have the child store their rewards in a colorful box or a decorated jar so they can visually see them adding up.
• Have some rewards that aren’t earned via money. For example, the child could earn the chance to stay up later one night or could choose what you’ll make for dinner one evening.
• Keep in mind – don’t use the token rewards to punish the child and don’t take away already-earned tokens if they do something wrong. Instead, use the rewards to tell your child you’re proud of their good behavior.
Apps Support Token Economy Systems
Apps like our Giant Leap app offer convenient ways to set up behavior charts, track the child’s progress and keep a record of the reward points the child has earned. With Giant Leap, parents can customize an unlimited number of charts for each child using personal, meaningful photos that are engaging and add to the fun of earning rewards. Giant Leap also allows parents to update charts inside the app in real time, and lets them print out the charts for use at home or at school.
Token economy systems are most effective when used with something visual, like the kind of graphics that apps can provide. Kids are more encouraged and motivated when they can check off their good behaviors and see their points adding up and a reward getting closer. Additionally, as each a new behavior or task becomes second nature to the child, an app makes it easy to eliminate that action and choose a new one to work on.
Set Up your Reward System with the Giant Leap App
For more information about how our Giant Leap app can be an effective part of teaching children life skills and independence, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.