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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