How to keep my child motivated during the lockdown: token chart or token economy system
Written by Dr. A. Hubert, Pr. R. Delorme, Dr E. Barron, F. Amsellem (CBT psychologist)
Excellence Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental disorders, Paris
A token chart, also called token economy system, can be useful to help your child in becoming more independent, especially during lockdown. It aims at reinforcing good behaviours and diminishing bad behaviours. During lockdown, it can be useful to have some tools to praise your child and to help them in being more independent.
Your child is learning
To teach a new behaviour, it is important to show you child what they have to do. To make it efficient, you have to praise them when they achieve what you asked them to do. Remember when taught your child how to go to the loo: you certainly applauded them or praised them. Thanks to this, your child replicated this behaviour.
Reward can be more efficient than punishment. When you work, you earn money which is a reward to what you have done and it certainly more motivating than your boss’s nasty remarks.
How to reinforce positive behaviour? How to motivate my child to act in a different way ?
You can use the token chart. There are 3 actions and 12 rules to make it efficient.
ACTION #1: CREATE A TIMETABLE WITH DAYS OF THE WEEK
ACTION #2: DECIDE WHAT BEHAVIOURS YOU EXPECT FROM YOUR CHILD
This behaviours have to follow several rules:
1. they must be precise and quantifiable
2. they must be explained in a positive way
3. they must be explained simply
4. they must start with “I”
5. there must not be too many objectives
6. start with easy objectives
7. they must be adequate to your child’s age
Rule n°1. Be as precise as possible, to make sure that your child understand the instructions. Vague or subjective instructions will not give successful results. Avoid “I am quiet”, “I am nice”, “I am calm”
Rule n°2. Explain the instruction in a positive way. Instructions given in negative sentences show the behaviour you do not expect and can reinforce it. For example, do not say ‘I must not let my dirty clothes lying on the floor” but say ‘I must put my dirty clothes in the basket”. Do not say “I must not beat” but say “I keep my feet and hands for myself”
Rule n°3. Make the instruction as simple as possible for both parents and child. If an instruction is too complicated like “I put on my clothes by myself”, it may not work. It is better to give step-by-step actions like “I put my shoes on” “I put my underwear on”.
Rule n°4: Instructions should start with “I”. It is important to make your child active in the change of behaviour. Ask them to participate with you in deciding the objectives they must achieve. They are new objectives that everyone at home will achieve to make the lockdown easier.
Rule n°5. Not too many objectives. There is a limited number of objectives that a child can achieve depending on their age.
Rule n°6. Start with easy objectives. Starting with easy objectives to achieve allows your child to build up self-confidence. It is important to give them simple instructions. Make a list with your child of the behaviours you would like to see. Classify them from the hardest to the easiest, or from the most important to the less important. Start with the easiest or the least important, or with behaviours your child is learning.
Rule n°7: Instructions have to be adequate to your child’s age. It is not always easy when they have siblings. The youngest try to do the same as the oldest. As they can experience frustration when they fail at trying to do like their sibling, they get angry. Be vigilant! If your child does not read yet, you can use pictograms instead of using words.
ACTION #3: PRAISE YOUR CHILD’S SUCCESS
When an objective is achieved, praise your child “Well done!”, “I’m proud of you”
In the evening or in the morning (at a specific time in the day), you can give your child a point if they achieved their objectives (it can be a sticker, a circle written on the board, a token that they can put in a box). This would be a second praising for their achievement.
Rule n°8: Decide the size of the reward. Usually, rewards can be divided in small, medium and big reward
Rule n°9: Decide when to give your child their rewards
Usually, parents and child debrief at the end of the week on the number of points the child has earnt. According to the number of points collected, the child decide to use them immediately for a small or a medium reward or to save them for the big reward.
For the very young children, the reward system should apply on a daily basis, because a week is too long. Especially during the lockdown, it might be more efficient to use the reward board on a daily basis, as children can find days long and can have difficulties controlling their demands.
Rule n°10. Decide the list of rewards
Avoid food or money as a reward. 1 point is not equivalent to a 1€ coin or to a piece of chocolate.
The reward must be appealing to your child and must not be accessible all the time. If they are already allowed to play video games during 1 hour, adding 5 minutes will not be motivating enough.
Here are some examples of reward you can apply during lockdown: privilege prosocial activities rather than buying stuff. Most of the time, children want to spend more time with their parents (although it might be slightly different during lockdown).
Example of small rewards:
- help cooking with parents
- take their breakfast in bed
- ask their parents buy the favourite dish
- choose a meal
- colour with specific pens
- listen to music
- watch TV alone
- avoid chores
- play a game with one of the parents
- call a friend
- play a video game
- play a computer game
- play with the pet
- play piano
- play for an extra time
- read before bedtime
- raise the music sound
- talk for a longer duration on the phone
- take a bubble bath
- watch television for a longer duration
- go to bed later
- to be told or read a story
Example of medium rewards (they can be mostly saved and used after the lockdown)
- play video games with friends
- go to the cinema
- invite a friend for a sleep-over
- watch a film
- go to the restaurant
- buy a book on the Internet
- buy a magazine online
Example of big reward (they are saved and used after the lockdown)
- adopt a pet
- buy a piece of clothes, a game …
- go on holiday camp
- go to see a show
- decorate their room
- be a member of a sport team
- be offered sports material
- be offered a piece of clothes
- subscribe to a magazine
- participate in a course or a chosen activity
- travel with parents to a chosen destination
Rule n°11: Change of objectives
Do not change more than one objective at a time and change an objective only once it has been achieved during 15 days in a row.
Rule n°12. Add a BONUS line on the chart
It corresponds to behaviours that you want to praise but that are not written on the chart.
For example: ‘it is very nice of you to have hoovered today, so I give you a bonus point’. This is like a random reward (a bit like lottery!).
IN CASE OF FAILURE, WHAT SHALL I DO ?
- If the instruction is not achieved, do not give a punishment but ignore. You can say “remember the board. Repeating the instruction too many times is like paying attention to your child’s misbehaviour. This can paradoxically lead to maintain the undesirable behaviour.
- Do not change the rules. If your child shows misbehaviour, do not take points off! If your child has done something wrong, there can be an answer to this misbehaviour but it must not be associated with the reward chart.
- Think about what might have caused the failure: is the instruction too difficult? Too vague? Misunderstood? Unattractive? Too many instructions?
- Read again the 12 rules to make sure you did not miss any
And do not forget to PRAISE YOUR CHILD every time they achieve the instruction. They will be proud of themselves, so will you. This should help you to minimize anger and oppositional behaviour during the lockdown.