In our last post we learned about Motivation Systems as part of the Teaching-Family Model. In this post we are going to focus on the necessary components of an effective motivation system. Motivation systems are all about “function”, not necessarily just “form”. It is the mechanics of the motivation system, not the point card itself that makes the difference. Functionally a motivation system needs the following components to be effective:

  1. Incorporation of the basic learning theory principles
  2. An individualized approach that is developmentally appropriate for the youth
  3. A strengths-based approach that teaches skills specifically related to the youth’s presenting problems at the time of placement
  4. A powerful privilege package that is readily available and meaningful to the youth

Incorporation Learning Theory Principles

Teaching Family Model Motivation SystemsThe primary goal of a motivation system is to reinforce acceptable behavior, correct unacceptable behavior, and most important, teach new skills. This is done by positively reinforcing positive behaviors (earning points/tokens) and providing a response cost (losing points/tokens) in response to behaviors. Positive reinforcement strengthens youth behavior; a response cost reduces the frequency of inappropriate behavior. Points must be given immediately after the behaviors for maximum effect and faded out over time to facilitate internalization. At last but not least, a youth must put forth effort in target skill areas to earn privileges (the principle of contingency). These simple rules of implementation make motivation systems powerful and meaningful to the youth.

An Individualized Approach

Younger children are more visually oriented and have fewer writing skills. They may learn best from something visual, colorful, and simple to interact with. Systems that the children can interact with are most effective. The systems must be simple, fun and easy to implement using simple tokens like stars, stickers, coins, tickets, etc.

Pre-adolescents are learning spelling and math and usually have developed specific individual interests. They may learn best from a system that they can create reflecting their talents and interests.

Older adolescents are often self-conscious and may be embarrassed to let others know they are dependent on a system to help them learn. They may learn best from something small, discrete, and more sophisticated.

A Strengths-Based Approach

Motivation systems are most effective if they build on a youth’s strengths. This is accomplished by incorporating some of their natural talents and interests when identifying strategies and privileges. It intentionally creates “buy in” from the youth that helps the youth succeed.

A Powerful Privilege Package

A powerful motivation system should be a combination of “basic privileges” earned as a package each day, and “special” privileges which are purchased with extra tokens and/or “banked” points. The special privileges are individualized for each youth and must be something they are willing to work for (outings, activities, special events, material things, time with friends, etc.)

By including these 4 necessary components you can create an effective motivation system for all youths. We hope you found this article informative and we will be writing on this topic again soon.

Over the next few weeks we plan to expand on the topic of Teaching Family Association Motivation Systems. Feel free to subscribe to the Teaching Family Services Blog to be notified of future articles, such as Sample Motivation Systems. If you’re in the process of implementing motivation systems at your facility and need effective training materials, please feel free to visit the Motivation Systems section of the Teaching Family Services Store to download Motivation Systems materials.