How to Use a Token Economy at Home

Written by Cassy Davis, RBT

A token economy is a behavior change system in which children earn “tokens” for engaging in a specific list of target behaviors. The tokens can then be traded in for preferred reinforcers, such as your child’s favorite activity, item, or edible. According to John O. Cooper, “Effectiveness depends to a large extent on the effectiveness of the backup reinforcers (the item that the child trades their tokens in for).” This means that in order for the token economy to be effective with your child, you need to make sure the reinforcer that your child can earn is motivating enough to get your child to engage in the target behavior. Many studies have been done on token economies and have found that “A functional relation was established between the onset of the token economy and the reduction of the behaviors.” This means that the target behaviors of children have increased when using a token economy.

To create a token economy, you must first determine the specific target behaviors you want your child to engage in. The expectations for the target behavior should be predetermined, concrete and should not change while your child is working for tokens.  The predetermined target behaviors depend on the individual child but some examples could be cleaning their room, keeping their hands to themselves or following directions. Target behaviors should be both observable and measurable.

Once the target behavior is determined, you will need to create a token board. There is no need to run to the store and spend money. Token boards can be made with supplies you have at home! There are all different ways to make token boards, depending on the child's age and interests. Here are a few examples:

In the box where it says “Princess is Working for…” You could either write the name of the reinforcer or place a picture of the reinforcer. Once your child earns 10 tokens for engaging in the target behavior, they trade in their tokens for their reinforcer! Posting the token board on the refrigerator or somewhere that it can always been seen is a good visual reminder of what they are working for. Your child will be more motivated to earn tokes when they can see the progress they are making. When your child engages in the target behavior, you immediately deliver a token and verbal praise.

Another type of token economy that can be used is a marble jar. Marble jars work the same way as a token board, but the child earns the reinforcer once they earn a predetermined amount of marbles. Remember, if you have a large jar, you don’t have to fill the entire jar. Below is an example of a jar you could use:

Token boards can be used to earn a daily reinforcer and/or a weekly reinforcer. The daily reinforcer should be something smaller than the weekly reinforcer. The daily reinforcer will help your child see that when they engage in the target behavior, they will be rewarded and their positive behavior with be reinforced. When starting out using a token board or using a token board with small children, it is important to start with a limited number of target behaviors and tokens. If your child needs to get 25 tokens to earn the iPad and it takes them 7 days to do this, your child may realize that the reward is not worth the effort.

Should a child be able to lose tokens if they are engaging in inappropriate or negative behaviors?  Cooper, Heron and Heward (2007) make it clear that a response cost should be saved for those major undesirable behaviors that call attention to themselves and need to be suppressed quickly. Remember, token economies are about positive reinforcement and reinforcing and recognizing your child for positive behaviors.

Some things to remember when using a token economy:

  • Always pair the token/reinforcer with verbal praise.
  • Make sure to follow through with giving the child the token and reinforcement. If the child is not consistently receiving tokens they will lose interest in the token economy.
  • Start small! Try to pick achievable target behaviors, a limited number of target behaviors, and target behaviors that your child has the prerequisite skills for.
  • Do not keep the reinforcer the same every day/weekly! Children can easily become bored with certain items and will become less motivated to earn tokens. If you can’t think of ideas, ask your child what they want to earn/work for.

If done correctly, token economies are an easy effective intervention strategy to increase positive behaviors while decreasing negative behaviors. 

 

Sources

Cooper, J. O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (2014). Applied behavior analysis. Edinburgh gate: Pearson educational international.

http://www.educateautism.com/token-economy.html

Token Boards are from : https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/FreeDownload/Token-Boards-The-Princess-and-the-Train-Autism

Marble Jar from - http://wolfelicious.blogspot.com/2012/07/caught-ya-positive-reinforcement.html