A token economy, or a token board, is an effective behavior change system that has been applied to various settings. This system uses positive reinforcement to increase the future frequency of a desirable behavior. A token board consists of three components: (a) target behaviors; (b) tokens that are earned for demonstrating the target behaviors; and (c) back-up reinforcers. Token boards can be used across settings (e.g. school, home, or clinic) to promote generalization of skills.
The first step in designing a token board is to identify a list of target behaviors. These behaviors need to be measurable and observable with a clear understanding of what the behaviors look like. Then, tokens and back-up reinforcers can be selected. Tokens can be in the form of points, checkmarks, tally marks, or stickers. Back-up reinforcers, or preferred items or activities, are obtained by exchanging the earned tokens. These back-up reinforcers can include games, toys, snacks, or special privileges. For example, a child earns a sticker every time he picks up his toys. Once the child earns 5 stickers, he may have access to the iPad. It is important that the ratio of tokens earned and the value of the back-up reinforcer “match” to maintain motivation. The flexibility of a token board allows you to reinforce any behavior, use as many, or as few, tokens that are appropriate, and choose tokens that are of interest to the child.
There are several advantages to implementing a token board. It is important to provide immediate reinforcement when a child demonstrates a target behavior. Tokens can serve as this immediate reinforcement while the back-up reinforcer is not readily available. This maintains the child’s motivation to demonstrate the target behavior and earn more tokens. Token boards are also highly structured and consistent. Once a criteria is established, tokens are delivered and behaviors are consistently reinforced. Lastly, a token board can keep a child engaged if the token board is individualized to their interests and they have the opportunity to choose their back-up reinforcer.
The ultimate goal of any behavior change system is to experience naturally occurring reinforcement. Tokens can be paired with verbal praise to increase the reinforcing effect to maintain behaviors after the removal of a token board. It is also important to gradually increase the token requirement in order to receive the back-up reinforcer. Overall, a token board is an effective strategy that reinforces appropriate behavior with the goal of accessing reinforcement in the natural environment.