Undivided Resources
Using Reinforcement and Token Systems for Behavior

Using Reinforcement and Token Systems for Behavior

Published: Feb. 18, 2021Updated: Jan. 30, 2024

Featured image

As many of us know all too well, getting our kids to participate in non-preferred activities can be incredibly challenging, and often requires reinforcement and motivation. Nobody knows motivation techniques better than an ABA therapist, so we talked to Dr. Faye Carter, regional clinical director of ABA services at STAR of CA — which provides behavioral and psychological services to children, adolescents, and adults.

Dr. Carter tells us that at STAR of CA, they use a token system, where the child earns access to something they’ve agreed on beforehand with the family. This can take many forms, including verbal praise. “If the child can read,” Dr. Carter says, “we’ll use a token economy system and agree on who will use it — us or the parents. There are virtual platforms where kids can see how many tokens they have, or you can design them so the child can see what is being reinforced.” She adds that they also use parent reinforcement: “We’ll text the parents and say, ‘Hey, he’s doing a really good job, can you go reinforce that?’”

You can get creative with reinforcers, such as finding a video that’s of high interest that your child can watch after completing an non-preferred task. “The most preferred thing for most kids is a device, so we create visual schedules that have icons representing what will happen that day and incorporate times when parents can allow device use,” Dr. Carter explains. (More on visual schedules below.)

They also work with parents on extinction strategies. If a child has meltdowns about denied access to a device or an activity, parents need to hold their ground and continue to deny access rather than reinforce the behavior by giving in. “This will help kids get to a point where the behavior is no longer reinforced and they stop engaging in it,” she says.

Create Visual Schedules and Work on Transitions

In Dr. Carter’s experience, visual schedules work really well; at STAR of CA, therapists create visual schedules that include icons of what will happen that day and apply them at different times. For more information about visual schedules, check out our article with tips and resources for creating or purchasing visual schedules. You can also check out this Visual Support System Bundle, which costs $6.99 for a digital download and includes more than 330 editable visuals such as sample IEP goals, schedule boards, self-regulation visuals, emotions and associated behaviors, self-help tasks, classroom routines, and more.

Transitions from preferred activities to less-preferred ones are often challenging, especially for our kids. Dr. Carter says it helps to build routines and consistency around the transition itself, and to describe what’s coming next with a timed countdown (“Okay, five more minutes and then we’re doing X”). This has been echoed by other clinician and therapists; read more about transitions and emotional regulation here.

Read Social Stories for Kids

Social Stories are a great way to introduce new concepts to children of all abilities. One of the techniques used to support children when they struggle with transitioning to less-desirable tasks is to use “first this, then that.” This story (geared toward 1st through 6th grade and available to download for $6) introduces the concept by illustrating that there are tasks a child has to complete first in order to earn rewards. Another story that clarifies this strategy (geared toward younger elementary grades and available to download for $2.50) provides several examples of what children need to complete first before they get their reward.

Try Reward Apps for Kids

There are several apps that can be used for reinforcement and reward systems. Dr. Carter tells us that apps with a gaming element seem to have greater longevity because the child has a desire to keep earning. Here are a few we rounded up:


This customizable app allows parents to create a star chart or a token reward board to give children a visual tool for improving their behavior. In addition, you can upload pictures for tasks/activities that need to be done first and the reward that will follow. It was selected as “best back-to-school app” by Apple for Special Education and by Parents magazine.

Child Reward — Chores, Rewards, and Statistics

This app enables the user to assign different star values to behaviors or actions and provide a reward for meeting the predetermined goal. It also includes a calendar that shows the rewards so the parent and child can monitor progress.

  • Cost: FREE; offers in-app purchases from $1.99 to $4.99 per item
  • Platform: Google Play and iPad


This great app can help children meet therapeutic goals at home through gamification. You and your child use the app to set goals, and the child receives points as the goals are achieved that can be redeemed for fun family rewards. An interactive chatbot provides exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness. The app can be used with or without a therapist; it’s also ad-free and HIPAA compliant.



Create Visual Schedules and Work on Transitions

Read Social Stories for Kids

Try Reward Apps for Kids

Join the Undivided Community to get more resources like this in your inbox



Undivided Editorial TeamStaff

Reviewed by Undivided Editorial Team,

Contributors Dr. Faye Carter, BCBA-D, Regional Director of ABA services for STAR of CA

Promise Image
Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
A Navigator is your Partner at each turn
Every Undivided Navigator has years of experience supporting families raising kids with disabilities or parenting their own. Partner with an Undivided Navigator for a free Kickstart to learn first hand what support feels like!
Expert-driven content, guidance, and solutions.
Member events and office hours with real answers, plus access to our private parents' group.
Priority to begin a free Kickstart of the Undivided Support System with a dedicated Navigator.
“It’s so helpful to have one place that you can go to get many answers.”–Leeza Woodbury, with Navigator Kelly since 2020
*Currently offering Navigator Kickstarts to residents of California