View Full Version : Token economy for a 5 year old

08-22-14, 02:16 PM
My daughter and I have both recently been diagnosed with adhd inattentive type. She is eager to learn and eager to please but quick to forget rules and resort to vandalism if not kept occupied and in check all the time. Reward systems work really well to increase positive behavior but I struggle with how to deal with negative behavior. It's hard to get my husband to really "get it" and stick with the system. When her behavior doesn't get immediate feedback all the time it's hard for her to keep track of what's expected and she looses motivation to earn rewards. Plus, my husband either deals out rewards like tv time without any effort on her part or he doesn't deal out anything so what's the point in earning anything.

We've tried negative punishment, meaning taking away priviledges for a while for bad behavior but she just doesn't care. I know that it works best for her to focus on the positive but I also want her to learn that bad behavior also has consequences. I don't want her to get upset or feel bad about herself but I'd rather help her focus on her own power in changing her environment. I think I have a good system in mind and she seems excited about it. All I wonder is if it's too complex for a five year old.

I created a token economy that's explained with a chart that looks like a board game. It's a beautiful picture of an imaginary land and there is a path of gems. When she emits good behavior she gets an actual "gem" to collect in her own treasure chest she has decorated. For each gem she collects she moves one step forward in the game. She and I will agree on how many gems to pay for rewards and place pictures of them next to the appropriate number (in line) of gems. She can then always have a visual explanation on how many gems she needs to earn for each reward and she will have a better understanding of how the economy works.

She will get a daily schedule with visual cues and we will mark in when she is allowed to choose activities. She can either pick activities that don't require gems or cash out gems for more desired ones like tv time. My husband and I will pick what activities she can choose from depending on the circumstances, but she will always have a choice.

I don't want to take away her gems for bad behavior because I know she will be upset and dishearted. Instead I've thought of bringing pirates into the board game. The idea is that the pirates captured her rewards, thus delaying when she can cash them in (like taking away priviledges). She can rescue her rewards with good behavior and earn 1-5 pirate tokens to unlock their chest. She can still earn gems and keep the ones she already has so all is not lost. Thus she is still focusing on her good behavior while learning that bad behavior creates an extra effort on her part.

Behavior that earns gems or tokens will be clearly shown with pictures and bad behavior thatbthe pirates notice will also be shown with pictures. We will focus on three good and three bad behaviors at a time. Good behaviors might be getting out of bed quickly in the mirnings, go to sleep when told and put away toys when done playing. Bad behavior has to be serious to end up with the pirates and might be coloring in other places than paper or coloring books, breaking toys on purpose and hitting the dog.

Is this a good idea? My husband is up for this as it makes it easier for him to follow the same aystem as me and it gives both if us clear guidelines for how to deal with her behavior as well as follow the same schedule, which gives her the structure and visual cues she needs as an adhd child.

08-22-14, 06:31 PM
Token economies work extremely well when they are done consistently and followed through on. That however, is the main problem. I have found that many parents cannot keep this going very long especially if one or both are ADHD.

A couple of things that I have seen work perhaps better for ADHD parents:

Acknowledgements, you can find an essay on this at I have found that this can change more behavior than anything else I know. You don't have to keep track of anything here and can do it as much as you want...the more the better.

(You will also find some other essays there that might give you some more ideas.)

Another one is to get bags of inexpensive toys and hand them out for following a directive in an especially good manner or with good willingness. These are for attitude not compliance and if they ask for it, they don't get the toy. These are not bribes but attagirls for attitude. Part of it is that the child will not know when they get something. Keep them coming intermittently, works better that way.

The thing I think that is important is that if the token system fails then there are other things you can do.

There are a number of token system ideas available. Try yours and see how it works then modify as needed.

Good luck,


Ms. Mango
08-22-14, 06:40 PM
Sounds pretty good to me--I'd like to play! Just trying to think what I'd like my rewards to be (margaritas and vacation days would work for me ;)).

A visual, like a chart, is a really good way to let both the parents and adults keep track and have a positive reinforcement. Not sure how the pirates will go over. Rather than take gems away or show bad behaviors, why not just make it a positive visual presentation? So, she can only earn gems, can't lose them. If her behavior is such that she doesn't earn the gem then she doesn't get one but she doesn't see that negative on the board.

Are you focusing on certain behaviors? Is there a maximum number of gems that can be earned is a day? It might be helpful to pick out the top 5 behaviors you want to work on and award gems for those. Or not. Your ideas are really good, just know that you can always modify the if you need to.