Using Token Economies to Help Manage Behavior

By Eileen Bailey

Parents of children with ADHD often use token economies. These types of behavioral modification programs can help in targeting specific behaviors, using positive reinforcements to increase wanted or appropriate behaviors. Token economy programs allow a child to “earn currency” immediately and then trade that currency for some type of reward later on.


The benefit of such a program is the ability to give a child immediate feedback on their behavior. Token economies can be implemented at home or at school, enhancing incentive programs that may already be in place.


Token economies can be relatively easy to implement and effective, but can be time-consuming and expensive. They should never, however, cause a child to be deprived of basic needs. Food, shelter, bedding and reasonable opportunities for leisure and exercise should be allowed to all children, these should not be taken away as punishment.


Selecting Target Behaviors


In order for a token economy to be most effective, parents must choose a few behaviors to target. Choosing one or two specific behaviors in the beginning can increase the chances of this type of behavioral modification program to succeed. Once your child has succeeded in changing a behavior, you can change


In addition, the wanted behaviors should be specific, concise and clear. For example, if your child is not handing in homework, your target behavior may be “turning in homework on time.”  Be clear on exactly what behavior will allow a child to earn a token. If he or she hands in homework a day late, will they still receive a token or does the homework need to be handed in on time? The more specific you are on your expectations, the better a token economy will work.


Choose the Type of Token


Tokens can be as easy as check marks on a chart, stickers, play money or poker chips. The idea of a token is to be able to provide immediate feedback and therefore need to be visible and attractive to the person receiving the token. For example, stickers or check marks on a chart may be motivation to a young child but may not hold any motivation for an older child or teenager.

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