Recently, I was asked about the efficacy of using a token system to teach a child with autism. This question led me to research the latest studies and share some of my beliefs. Over my 20 years of working with children, I have rarely implemented a token system. Not because research has proven the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, but because my experience has underscored the value of building and promoting intrinsic motivation among children.
In this article, I won't delve into the details of implementing a Token System but rather focus on the benefits of teaching children that working hard feels good in and of itself. I still consider Token Systems a valuable tool for achieving fast and effective behavior change, but they may not be sustainable over time, across various settings, or easy to implement.
I support the idea that a sense of accomplishment is rewarding in itself, and this is my definition of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive or natural inclination that prompts an individual to engage in an activity or behavior for its inherent satisfaction or enjoyment, rather than for external rewards or incentives.
Our children are inundated with the idea of external rewards. The increasing exposure to electronic devices has exponentially reinforced the notion of immediate rewards. We are educating children to rely on extrinsic motivation to perform because they expect something from the outside. Therefore, my vision and mission are to teach children to play and enjoy playing. Fostering intrinsic motivation increases engagement, enhances learning, improves problem-solving skills, and greater overall well-being.
Here are a few strategies that work well in promoting intrinsic motivation:
1. Offer Choices: Allow children to make choices about their activities and interests. This autonomy can foster a sense of ownership and motivation. For example, let them choose what book to read or which extracurricular activity to pursue.
2. Create a Supportive Environment: Provide a nurturing and supportive environment where children feel safe to explore and express themselves.
3. Foster a Growth Mindset: Teach children that effort and persistence are essential for learning and growth. Emphasize that mistakes are opportunities to learn and improve, rather than failures.
4. Set Realistic Expectations: Set achievable goals and expectations that match the child's developmental stage and abilities.
5. Connect Learning to Interests: Relate learning to the child's interests and passions. For example, if a child loves animals, use animal-themed books or activities to teach various subjects.
6. Provide Intrinsic Rewards: Encourage the intrinsic rewards of the activity itself. Ask questions like, "What did you enjoy most about doing that?" or "How did it feel when you accomplished that task?"
7. Avoid Excessive External Rewards: While external rewards can be motivating, reserve them for situations where they are necessary.
8. Offer Challenges: Present children with age-appropriate challenges that encourage problem-solving and critical thinking. These challenges can help build intrinsic motivation as children see their own progress.
9. Celebrate Achievements: Celebrate a child's accomplishments with praise and recognition for their effort and perseverance.
10. Create a Positive Learning Environment: Foster a positive atmosphere that promotes a love for learning.