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When Praise is Not Enough: Establishing a Token Economy

Posted by Sinead Cowins on February 07, 2017
Are you having trouble with your child? Are they acting out? Do you find that they avoid doing homework, seem to forget about their chores, and generally seem unmotivated? Are you at your wits end because nothing you do seems to be helping? If you answered yes to most of these questions, you may need to incorporate a token economy. 
A token economy is a behavioral change system that uses positive reinforcement to change unwanted behavior. They are based on 3 basic components: The behavior(s) that you want to change, token
A token economy is a behavioral change system that uses positive reinforcement to change unwanted behavior
s or points that can be earned for appropriate behavior, and a list of deferred reinforcements (prizes they can win after a certain number of tokens). Although this may seem like a lot, token economies are quite effective and easy to implement. 
What You Need To Do
Step 1: Choose Target Behaviors  
Choose a few behaviors (targets) that you want your child to implement and be clear and concise about what those behaviors looks like. Specify what will earn your child a token and whether certain conditions must be met before they receive it.
Step 2: Create a Point System
Points or tokens are given to your child for immediate reinforcement after they complete a target behavior. They can be as simple as a check mark on a token economy chart or as complex as poker chips velcroed to a colorful piece of cardboard. Whatever you chose, be sure that it is visible so that your child can use it to self-monitor.
Step 3: Collaboratively Decide on Deferred Reinforcements
The prizes should be based on your child’s likes in order for them to motivate behavioral change. Examples may include: A favorite desert, a toy that your child has been wanting, having a sleep over, or going to the park.
Step 4: Decide How Many Tokens Need To Be Earned Before Receiving Deferred Reinforcement
For a token economy to truly work, your child needs to see a means to an end. There must be a consistent way for them to exchange their tokens for rewards and each time they receive a reinforcement they should receive verbal praise. When first implementing the token economy, the ratio of tokens to deferred reinforcement should be low. As token-earning behaviors and income increase, you should increase the cost of receiving deferred reinforcements and devalue tokens.
Step 5: Execute the Program
Consistency is key in a token economy. There should be no point in the system where a child does not earn a token for completing a target behavior. They also should not receive points when they fail to complete a token task. If there is ever a time when your child does not meet a token requirement, you should restate your expectations in a clear manner and tell them why they are not being reinforced.
Step 6: Watch Your Child Gradually Change
When done consistently, token economies can be very effective. Target behaviors can be added and removed and tokens can eventually be replaced with praise. Your child will learn about the benefits of positive behavior and become the responsible child you always knew they were. 

Topics: Reading, Math, Education, Writing, Mental Math, Children, Attention

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