I never had a Gramma. They both died long before I was born. But I like the iconic stereotype of the cute old lady with wit and wisdom. I like the idea that Gramma knows best.
Gramma’s Law is based on a typical dinner time event, where a child doesn’t want to eat their peas. All of the adults have had a go at solving the problem. Brother makes fun and laughs at not being able to eat peas. Dad reasons, Mom pleads and Grampa commands that eating commence. All to no avail.
Gramma saves the day by telling the child, “If you eat some peas, you can have some dessert.”
This is a transactional solution. If you do A, I’ll do B. It is calm, clear, cooperative, contingent, and rewarding.
Calm. It’s a business deal. It’s a promise. It is a rational presentation of options. There is no anger or emotional blackmail. The proposal de-escalates the conflict.
Clear. Gramma is not vague. Her rule is very direct. It is not “you’ll be glad you did it.” Her offer is straight forward.
Cooperative. Notice that both parties must agree to the terms and conditions. This is not a one-sided agreement. Both sides are committed.
Contingent. The reward is given only if the desired behavior is performed. There is an assumption of resource control. The child can’t say, “No problem. I’ve got a stash of Oreos in my backpack. I can get my own dessert.” The reward only happens if the behavior occurs.
Rewarding. It assumes the child wants dessert. In real life, the obvious follow-up question is “What’s for dessert?” Rewards have to be rewarding to the receiver. Even if the dessert is the greatest chocolate cake ever baked, it would not be rewarding to a child who hates cake.
Try It On Fluffy
Let’s apply Gramma’s law to you and your dog. We’ll let the dog go first.
Fluffy The Dog is a good companion and smart. Fluffy is also friendly; so friendly that all of your visitors leave with paw prints on their shoulders.
You want her to sit down when someone comes to and you instruct her to do so. But there’s a problem.
First, Fluffy doesn’t speak English. She can distinguish some sounds from others but they don’t make sense to her.
Second, Fluffy is smart: like you, she doesn’t work for free. She is willing to sit on command but she has her terms. It must be a mutual deal: she will do something for you if you do something for her.
Fluffy is also willing to work cheap. You can start her off on a dog biscuit, negotiate her down to a half a biscuit, and even lower her wages to zero if you smile and pet her. But it is still a deal.
Try It On You
We are not substantially different from our pets. We are willing to work cheaply for those we love. But we don’t want to be taken advantage of. We want the relationship to be reciprocal.
The key part in Gramma’s solution is contingency. IF we do A, we get B. Reward yourself for exercising but only after you do it. I have a friend to walks to the ferry dock to get his daily paper. He only gets the reward if he does the work.
Rewards are easy if you remember Gramma. It is a simple If-Then agreement.