Positive Discipline Using the Token System

Positive Discipline Using the Token System

Finding healthy, effective approaches to gaining children’s cooperation and improving behavior isn’t always easy. This is especially true for kids with behavior problems stemming from attention deficit disorder or other behavior disorders.

One approach that works well is a token system. Kids can earn tokens for good behaviors and lose tokens for misbehavior. Then they can use their tokens to purchase rewards or privileges.

Benefits of the token system

The token system has several advantages over other forms of discipline. First, you can carry it out at any time and any place. So it makes empty threats a thing of the past because you can administer consequences immediately. The token system is also a positive approach and eliminates criticism, yelling, arguing and other ineffective practices.

Getting started

Make a list of the behaviors you’d like to work on with your child, such as using good table manners. If your child is five or older, also make a separate list of problem behaviors you’d like to reduce, such as hitting.

For children under five, use the token system only for reinforcing positive behavior. The frustration caused by losing tokens for poor behavior will not be helpful. Rather, tell your child she will not receive any tokens as a result of the bad behavior.

Next, go through each list and prioritize. Choose only four or five behaviors to work on at a time. Determine how many tokens to reward or confiscate for specific behaviors. Keep in mind the number of tokens assigned to a behavior should fit the severity or difficulty of the behavior relative to others you’re working on.

For example:

Hang up book bag and jacket: Earn 3 tokens

Saying please and thank you: Earn 1 token

Tattlin: Lose 2 tokens

Also, estimate how many tokens your child is likely to earn and lose in a week. Your child should be able to earn enough tokens to pay for problem behaviors. If your child goes into debt, adjust the distribution of tokens accordingly.

Next, choose rewards your child can purchase with the tokens such as a toy or privilege.

Include privileges your child asks for or regularly does and would be devastating to lose out on. Those rewards will be the strongest motivators. Be sure to set guidelines for rewards that require your time or attention. For a trip to the apple orchard, require a two-day notice. For a board game, agree to play within four hours of a request.

Set a variety of values to the rewards, as well, so your child has the option to make frequent purchases or save for something big. Small children require frequent opportunities to purchase rewards to maintain their interest.

Poker chips make good tokens. For older kids, assign different point values to each color.

Finally, when handing out tokens, praise your child. Say you’re proud of his actions or appreciate her thoughtfulness.


If your child struggles to complete schoolwork and turn in assignments, use the token system for this alone. Ask your kid’s teacher to send home a daily report, then reward your child’s efforts. Only use grade-based rewards if your child is capable of achieving high marks without too much difficulty.

Pre-teens may see tokens as childish. So, offer a checkbook ledger for tallying points instead. Have your kid fill in the ledger with the behavior or task and number of points earned. Then immediately initial it to show you’ve approved the points.

Additional Links:

Online Safety for Kids 

Discussing Depression 

Autism Myths