We need to have many strings to our bows as we try to guide our children towards appropriate, socially acceptable behaviour that gives them the best foundations for life. An important one of these is the use on Token Reward Systems. Token systems avoid the sense of injustice a child may have when he has been punished. It also makes use of the natural inclination in all people to increase the frequency of the behaviours that get a positive reward. Reward actually has a much stronger influence to change behaviour than punishment does!
There are many different types of Token Systems; but they all rely on the same basic psychology: reward the behaviour you want to increase. I believe that it is also important to add to that some reflection of each day's behaviour and love and support throughout.
You can use a picture of an apple tree and your child pastes his "apples" on the tree; or let him fill a jar with large pasta pieces which he earns through his behaviour; or you can have a star chart which lists the behaviour and your child pastes his star next to each one as he achieves it. I prefer the last method because it allows you and your child to see exactly which behaviours he is doing best in and gives you and opportunity to discuss with him how to increase the number of tokens he gets.
BELOW IS MY RECOMMENDED STRATEGY FOR SETTING UP A TOKEN SYSTEM
1. BRAINSTORM: write down all the behaviours that you find troublesome.
2. SELECT behaviours that you want to INCREASE in frequency (no more than 5-6). These behaviours should be clear actions that are easily identified and by doing them, your child is automatically being “better behaved” and showing a “good attitude”. – You cannot easily quantify attitude and therefore it leads to areas of possible disagreement when reward tokens are given. As the frequency of the desired behaviours increases, it automatically reduces the frequency of poor attitude and some of the negative behaviours on your brainstorming list
will fall away. Choose behaviours that it is easier for him to control; once he has managed these and has earned and spent many tokens, you will change the list slightly and add the behaviours that are more difficult for him (see # 11 below).
3. MAKE A LIST (use drawings or pictures from magazines for the younger child who cannot read). Leave space next to each behaviour for tokens to be pasted.
4. SHOW THE LIST TO YOUR CHILD, display it in a place he sees often.
EXPLAIN that he will get a gold star or token every time he does the behaviour and that he can use these to “buy” SPECIAL REWARDS.
5. LIST THE SPECIAL REWARDS AND THEIR COST IN TOKENS. Examples of special rewards:
i. Special time with Mom or Dad to play a game (up to 20 mins max – you cannot promise more time because of the chance of outside demands on your time; and a brief, fun time with no outside interference is of greater value).
ii. A friend to come and sleep over for a night.
iii. Watch a video or special TV programme.
iv. A small toy
v. An ice cream
It is also a good idea to have one very special reward, which cost a lot of tokens and can be saved up for. Examples of these would be:
i. A trip to the Aquarium / movies / a special play park…
ii. A special toy that your child has really expressed a desire for.
6. Each time your child does one of the things on the chart, HE EARNS A TOKEN. But it is not feasible to give the tokens and paste them immediately, so you TELL him and PRAISE him immediately and he gets the tokens in a special CEREMONY AT BEDTIME.
7. The BEDTIME CEREMONY: Each night, after story time, when your child is about to go to sleep, you both examine his token chart and review the behaviours of the day. As you look over the list of behaviours that earn tokens, you praise his successes and give him tokens to paste. For those behaviours that did not manage to get tokens, you simply say: “never-mind, I’m you’ll have another chance to do it tomorrow. Remember, every day gives you a chance to do everything and to get lots of tokens”. If he has had a particularly bad day and earned very few tokens, say: “I can see you had a bad day today. We all have bad days sometimes. Don’t worry, I’m sure that you’ll have a better day tomorrow – let’s see how well you can do tomorrow”. Remember to always praise success, let him feel really great when he earns tokens. Remember also, that this is the end of the day, a time to reflect on behaviour over the day in a calm and compassionate way – you and he both want him to earn lots of tokens.
Let him know that you are there to support him in trying to earn them. Never give tokens that have not been earned and never allow him to manipulate you into giving them because it wasn’t his fault that the behaviour didn’t occur. There should be no sense of blame; it simply is: tokens for behaviours on the list (just like a contract worker will get paid when a job is done. Regardless of the reasons the job was not done, there may be no pay without the work done).
8. During the evening review, let him look at what he is saving his tokens for. Let him make decisions about some he may want to spend and check with you how many he still needs to earn.
9. At any time during a day, if he wants something that is on his rewards list, he can check with you if he has enough and then spend the tokens. SPENDING TOKENS is done by circling them to show that they have been spent. Do not remove tokens – they serve to show both you and your child how well he has done and how he is improving.
10. When your child wants to buy special time with you or has enough tokens for a special outing, he and you must agree on a time that suits you. You cannot drop everything and rush to take him on an outing and you cannot promise to do it and then renege because you have other commitments. Agree on a specific time and day and then diarise it to make sure it is not forgotten. Only circle the tokens as “spent” when the reward actually happens.
Instead of having tokens which he pastes on his chart, you can use large pasta shell which he places in a big jar. He takes out pasta shells and gives them to you to “buy” his rewards (like money and shopping).
Once a token is earned, do not take it away for bad behaviour. If your child feels that earned tokens are easily lost to bad behaviour, he will lose interest in trying to earn them and you will lose a very useful tool in helping him learn to control his own behaviour. Therefore deal with “bad behaviour” using “time-out” or withdrawal of other privileges that are not mentioned on the reward list.
11. After about a month or two, you and your child will notice that he is easily getting lots of tokens for certain behaviours. It’s now TIME TO MAKE SOME CHANGES. Look at the behaviours on your first “brainstorm list” and check what still needs to be given attention.
i. Tell him that you are very proud of how is growing up and controlling his behaviour.
ii. Tell him that you would like to help him with some other behaviours that you know he still finds difficult. You want to reward him for all the effort he has to put in to get those behaviours in order.
iii. Tell him that instead of earning as many tokens for the easier ones, he can earn fewer because they are not so difficult; but then he can get extra because he can now have the new behaviours on his list as well.
Try this system and you will be thrilled to discover that, not only does it improve your child's behaviour; but you and your child will no longer be at loggerheads over those behaviours that normally drive you crazy. Instead of having to nag or reprimand, you can sympathise with his difficult days when he can't manage to earn tokens and praise him for the times when he
does. Your role as a parent changes from the "disciplinarian" to the "guide and supporter".
By: Sharon Stansfield BSc(OT)