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The Token System

We've always tied privileges (like watching TV solely for entertainment) to our kids' responsibilities. The idea was that when they'd done what they needed to do for the day, they could watch TV or play a computer game or go outside for a boffer sword battle. They didn't always see the relationship, though, and sometimes whichever child wasn't permitted to have a certain privilege until he or she finished an assigned task insisted that it was simply unfair.

Now we have the token system. Various tasks are assigned a value based on how difficult or unpleasant the task is and how long it takes. Various privileges also have token values, based on how limited a particular resource needed for the privilege might be. For instance, a multiplayer game of Starcraft takes up the use of two PCs, so that costs more tokens than any single player game or watching TV.

Our tokens happen to be flat glass marbles that we normally use during roleplaying games as counters. I've heard of other people using poker chips in a similar fashion. Different colors have different values —clear purple tokens are 1s, solid yellow are 10s, solid greens are 20s, etc. Each child has a special container for his or her tokens —we converted plastic boxes that formerly contained basmati rice and then had the kids decorate them so that each one is unique.

Each morning, the kids take their task cards and look through them. Throughout the day, as they complete a task they trade the card in for the token value of the task on it. When they want to use a privilege, they come and turn in the appropriate tokens to me or Sam and get started.

While we'd already come up with our list of things that need to be done while creating our card system, the token values are still being adjusted as we get a better idea of the time required for each task. And while we have a lot of things on the privilege list, we're still working on that too. For instance, we don't limit the kids' reading time at all, and they all get PC time each day to check their email. We expected that things like a family outing to see a movie would be valuable to the kids —but Katie requested the addition of an hour of total solitude as a privilege. Staying up late is on the list, although it's only allowed once a week per child.

The token system has actually turned into a discipline tool. Instead of getting angry when one of the kids is disrespectful, they're fined tokens. If they don't do one of the things they're expected to do (like getting up on time, remembering to brush their teeth, etc.) it costs tokens. Of course, if they do something above and beyond what's expected, they get extra tokens as a reward. Since a lack of tokens translates directly to a lack of privileges, it's eaiser for the kids to see that, for instance, backtalk isn't a beneficial thing for anyone.

Last updated September 3, 2001