Updated: Jun 14, 2020
We have all seen reward charts with lists of goals with stickers or check-marks to encourage our kids to complete their chores or homework. But, what if our child is reluctant to get started or can't stay on task to finish the task. What can we use to motivate kids while they are completing those tasks? A token board!
Most kids have intrinsic or internal motivation to complete their work. However, many kids have lower intrinsic or motivation. It could be that their motivation is overshadowed by conditions of autism, ADHD, OCD or anxiety. In cases like this, we need to find an extrinsic or external form of motivation. Studies show that positive behavior supports, which reward kids for doing what is expected, works far better than punishment such as threatening to take away a toy or privilege. Tapping into what motivates your child and giving them something--a token--which represents success, is why token boards work.
A token board is a piece of cardboard, usually laminated, about the size of half a standard piece of paper. It has a place for a picture or the name of a reward near the top and 4-5 spaces near the bottom for the tokens. At home, it may work to lie the board on the table and set the items onto it. But in schools and with active kids, Velcro is used to attach the reward and tokens to the front of the board. For convenience, the rewards and tokens can be stored on the back with additional Velcro spots. In case you misplace or haven’t made one yet, you could use a piece of paper which you write the reward on, and either place tokens or put a check in the boxes. Click here for a template, sample tokens and instructions.
Before your child starts a task or chore, offer a choice between 2 or 3 rewards and say, “What are you working for?” Rewards are simple things like five minutes with a favorite toy, tablet or a few crackers. Put the choice on the front. Then, as s/he completes part of the task, give them a token along with a sentence of praise or acknowledgement. When all the tokens are received, give the child the reward right away. Set a timer if needed, and then start the process all over again until the work for that session is done.
Safety Notice: for children under 3 or if they tend to chew on things, use a dry-erase marker to put a check in the squares. See instructions on Token Board Template.
The goals for token awarding are different for every child, every day and every task. Keep the awarding of a token fluid without a specific standard for the child to receive them. For one assignment that causes a lot of anxiety, more frequent tokens will be needed to encourage s/he to keep going. Then, for other tasks that they know well, you can give the tokens less frequently.
If a child starts to behave poorly, you might be tempted to take away a token; however, this would turn a positive behavior support into punishment.
It is extremely important to never take a token away, even if behavior is extremely negative. Resist that urge at all costs! Ask, “What are you working for?” and point to the token board. Then very soon after s/he continues, give a token and praise to promote their ability to get back on task. Tokens can be motivating pictures small flat items. You can have all five the same, or have the last one say reward on it.
It may feel counter-intuitive, but for children who begins to show negative behaviors or emotions they need tokens more frequently. This is where you give a reward for any possible positive action. For example: I like how you are sitting, great job holding your pencil, or I like how you have been working. Hopefully, the child can regain their composure and confidence during the reward period. If not, you may want to finish the task a little later. During this break, its okay if they go on to do other fun things. In other words, allow typical access to fun things; don’t punish for not being able to complete everything in one sitting.
You got this!
By using these basic token board techniques, you have a tool to guide your child through their work or tasks. I recommend that you err on the side of giving tokens too frequently instead of too slowly. I will continue to share positive behavior supports, as well as, how to modify schoolwork and how to de-escalate an upset child. Please sign up for my free twice-monthly newsletter at www.developmentaltexts.com/contact and I will let you know the resources and blogs that I have been working on.
--Nancy Roop has a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Oakland University. She researched developmental psychology, linguistics and reading education while studying creative non-fiction writing. Previously, she worked with students who have autism for nearly ten years. She founded Developmental Texts and is writing her first book, The Aquarium with Alex the Storyteller. Its about a fifth-grade student who is passionate about writing stories for peers on the autism spectrum: real world, relatable and relevant.
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