How to Implement a Token Economy the Right Way
In order to modify or correct behavior in children, you can use psychological techniques of conditioning, such as a token economy. In this article, we’ll provide you with the basic notions so that you can implement a token economy in an effective way. This technique is ideal for involving children in the correction of their own behavior in an active and direct way.
What is a token economy?
A token economy is a behavior modification technique based on operant conditioning. More specifically, it focuses on positive reinforcement. It consists of rewarding points to children each time they behave in a certain way. And, when they accumulate a specific number of points, they receive a prize. In other words, they are rewarded for their consistency.
The purpose of this technique is to raise levels of motivation and reinforce the positive behaviors that we want to see in our children. It works because children receive immediate positive reinforcement (points), which increases the likelihood that they’ll repeat these behaviors in the future.
Parents and educators often use the token economy technique to encourage children to carry out tasks that require autonomy and responsibility. These same tasks are often difficult to instill in children by means of discipline. We’re talking about actions such as the following:
- Sleeping alone.
- Going to bed early.
- Picking up and putting away their toys.
- Brushing their teeth.
- Making their beds.
- Completing their homework and other school tasks.
What’s more, this technique allows for the evaluation and registration of the advances that children make over the course of its application.
How to implement a token economy the right way
The procedure that you should follow to implement a token economy the right way is the following:
- Define the behavior that you want to see in a positive way.
- Select the rewards or reinforcements that you’ll offer. You should agree on these rewards with the child, and they shouldn’t always be material items. For example, doing an activity he or she likes, playing a certain game, going somewhere special, etc.
- Determine the number of points or stickers a child must earn in order to obtain a prize. At first, it’s a good idea to negotiate this number with the child.
- Elaborate a point system. Create a table, in the form of a calendar, with a white box under each day of the week. This is where you’ll mark the points or stick your stickers. Make sure to leave this calendar in a spot where your child can easily see it.
- Reward your child’s positive behavior using points or stickers. Each time your child displays the target behavior, you’ll place a sticker in the day’s box. Each sticker represents one point. At the same time, you should verbally congratulate the child (compliments, praise, etc). And, of course, don’t forget to offer some sort of gesture of affection (hugs, kisses, high fives, etc.) and pay attention to your child.
- Give corresponding rewards or prizes. When children obtain the predetermined number of stickers, they should receive the reward you agreed upon beforehand.
- Gradually reduce the frequency of reinforcers as positive behavior increases.
It’s important for children to be aware of the entire procedure so they know what you expect of them and how things will work.
When should you cease to use a token economy?
You should stop using a token economy when children display the target behavior on a frequent basis. When this starts happening, it’s best to progressively decrease the frequency of rewards and prizes until you eliminate them completely.
Keep in mind that you should never remove social rewards like praise, affection, and attention. You should always recognize and value your child’s efforts. What’s more, over time, your child will perceive other achievements, such as feeling more grown-up, feeling a sense of satisfaction, etc. This will motivate him or her to continue performing behaviors that involve autonomy and responsibility.