Token Economy System is a method used for behavioral change that utilizes principles of positive reinforcement.
This approach is one of the most commonly used behavior management interventions. So you might be asking yourself, what makes this system so significant? And how can you use the token economy system in different settings?
What is the Token Economy System?
Under this system, the primary goal is to modify behavior using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to a stimulus being introduced to increase the incidence of certain desired behaviors. For example, giving a child a cookie every time they say please and thank you. Although all children can benefit from this system, children with autism and developmental challenges tend to thrive with this approach.
How Token Economy works?
Start out by identifying what tokens can be used. These are things that are small, can be carried effortlessly, and are not easily replicable or available via any other means to the child. For example stickers, play money, colorful poker chips, or any other small attractive looking ‘tokens’ can be used.
Know the desired behavior you are trying to reinforce. Most importantly, be clear on what counts towards a token. When a child starts out, they may not display the behavior at all. When they first exhibit the desired behavior, reward them well with a token. As time goes by, the quantum of tokens they get or the frequency with which they are rewarded must decrease to make it harder to earn. In other words, you are striving for near-perfect behavior as time goes by. This encourages movement to the next level of skill or behavior as the child is eager to earn more tokens.
A backup reinforcer is also a critical component of a well-established token economy. A backup reinforcer is what a child gets to trade in their tokens for. This could be a smaller reward such as access to a book, a toy, or additional time on the playground. This will further drive them to display the behavior you are targeting so that they can earn more tokens.
A word of caution
While a token system can be great and can help build the desired behavior while delaying access to a reinforcer, it takes a lot of discipline on the part of the teacher/parent. A proper token economy system must be set up and this process can be time consuming. You will also need to decide if there will be penalties and if so, how many tokens will be taken away for undesirable behaviors (tokens removed for undesirable responses).
However, if done right, it is a way to instantly reward good behavior since the tokens will be readily available (even if the exchange for their actual desired ‘treat’ occurs later). This approach makes additional goodies or activities available to the child, which they look forward to earning and makes the entire learning experience for the target behavior, a fun one.