Token Economy and Other Ideas

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August 22, 2015 by 2princessees

Teaching kids right and wrong is part of our jobs as parents. We want our kids to be responsible for their actions and understand that there are consequences to those actions. We all have different methods and reasons for teaching certain things. We definitely are not experts in anyway, but today, I want to share a few ideas that we have used in our house.

Since Big was around two years old, we have had some sort of behavior or reward plan in place at our house. Like most people, it usually starts with a sticker chart for potty training. When you successfully go potty you earn a sticker, and when you get five stickers you get a prize. Then we moved on to the terrible threes….I’m not sure why they are called “terrible twos”, because we all know it happens when they are three. We saw the need for a little bit more complex system.

We have found that no plan works for a long time. The kids get older, their interests change and we need to change with them. We’ve also found that all plans do not work for all children. What works for Big E doesn’t work for Little E. What works for my nephews doesn’t work for us at all. Here are a couple of ideas that we have found and had some success with.

The Basic Marble Jar

That first attempt at a home based system was similar to those I had used in my life as a teacher. You get marbles for doing good things or the right things, and when you fill the jar you get a prize. This worked for a little while, and then the marbles lost their motivating power.

The Deluxe Marble Jar

Then, we developed an even more complex system based on Lalaloopsies which were a favorite toy at our house. The basics are:

  • Complete simple chores to earn buttons.
  • Start each day with 6 choice coins. Lose choice coins when you make bad choices. You can earn them back for showing that you can make good choices
  • At the end of the day if you still have  all six, you earn 6 additional buttons.
  • When the jar is full of buttons (or marbles), earn a prize.

I used blank CD’s to create “choice coins.” The pictures on the choice coins and the chore cards were just printed off the internet. They weren’t even that high quality. They were really just there for motivation.

We even made a travel version of this one. For that one, we just folded over the “choice coin” flap if she lost it (see pic below). When Lalaloopsies weren’t her favorite anymore, we changed the system to Frozen themed using snowflakes rather than buttons.


The Bedtime Game

Around this time, we had to develop some sort of motivation to stay in bed. You know the routine…Put in bed. Kid gets up. Repeat 4 million times. Kid finally goes to sleep.  We researched, errr…scoured Pinterest, and finally found something that we thought might work. Since Frozen was still the big thing at our house, we made our version Frozen themed. The basics are simple.

  • You start with 3 snowflakes (or tokens, or buttons, or marbles, whatever)
  • Each time you get up or call parents back into the room, you lose one of the three snowflakes.
  • Once the snowflakes are gone, then you don’t get anymore.
  • In the morning, each snowflake you have left is worth a point.
  • When you get 10 points you get a prize and the game starts again.


The School System

When Big E started kindergarten, we thought we should streamline everything and adopt a similar system to what the school uses. The whole school uses basically the same plan, so we knew it would be sticking around for a while. Little E will already know the drill by the time she gets there in a couple of years. The basics are:

  • A clip for each child to place on a color
    • blue= outstanding, exceptional, above and beyond what is expected
    • green= great day, everything done as expected
    • yellow= warning, think about it
    • red= stop, consequences
  • 6 marbles were given for blue days, 5 for green days, no marbles for yellow or red
  • more marbles are earned with chores and morning & evening routine
  • prize when the jar is full; work together to earn prizes as a family

We realized early on that working together to earn a prize as a family didn’t work, so we had separate token jars, and we expanded the system even more. In the new system is seen on the right in the picture below. The details are:

  • tokens were earned based on color as above
  • bonus tokens could be earn for completing more chores
  • tokens could be spent on ipad play time or special treats
  • tokens could also be spent on making bad choices like hitting, lying, or disobeying

Left: first “school system” plan Right: expanded version

The Token Economy

While we liked this school system, it got the point that it was too complex. We really wanted something simple. We wanted a system that was very direct, and there could be no argument over what was expected or why a token was spent. We found that token economies can be very cut and dry, which is exactly what we wanted. These are the rules, and these are the consequences. Token economies are not a new idea. Teachers have been using them in some for or another for years. As a former teacher, the idea made perfect sense to me. Basically,

  • Each day begins with 10 tokens which you may keep or spend. There are consequences for spending them.
  • Each token is focused on a particular behavior that you want your child to work on. If the negative behavior occurs, the number of tokens is set in stone. For example, if your child throws a tantrum she loses two tokens automatically. It doesn’t matter how bad the tantrum is or if there is more than one a day. Two tokens for throwing a tantrum.
  • The consequences are clear
    • 9 tokens= warning
    • 8 tokens= time out
    • 7 tokens= loss of privileges
    • 6 tokens=go to bed early
  • Keep track of tokens on the chart on the table. Child removes tokens if they are spent
  • At the end of the day, the remaining tokens go into the child’s bucket
  • The bucket tokens can be spent or traded in for things like ipad time or a piece of candy
  • Keeping all tokens can result in additional prizes
    • all 10 tokens 3x=small prize
    • 3 small prizes= medium prize
    • 3 medium prizes=large prize

Token system (pink box: daily token holder sample)

I said above that no system will work perfectly for every family. You have to do some trial and error, as you can see that we did. It took us a while to figure out what was simple enough to keep up with, and what motivated the kids to do what you need them to do.

Our goal is not to micromanage our kids, but we do want them to be responsible for their behavior. They need to know, just like in the real world, that their choices have consequences. Good choices have good consequences, and bad choices have negative consequences. Right now, we like the token economy because it is so clear cut, and it works for the stages our kids are in right now. They are learning that if they don’t want to go to bed early, the better not lose too many tokens. They are learning a little bit about money (in token form at this point) is how you are able to get the things you want. If you don’t have the money (or tokens) you can’t have it.


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