How to Use Grandma's Rule of Discipline

Grandma's rule of discipline teaches responsibility.
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Grandmothers sometimes really do know best. Grandma’s rule of discipline is a great way to teach kids that they have an option to earn their privileges. It gives them an opportunity to recognize that they have some control over what privileges they earn and when they earn them. 

How Grandma’s Rule of Discipline Works

Grandma’s rule of discipline involves framing things as an incentive rather than pointing out the negative consequence.

Instead of saying, “You can’t have dessert unless you eat everything on your plate,” Grandma’s rule says, “When you finish your dinner, you can have dessert.” It sounds nicer, gives kids extra motivation and reduces arguing.

Instead of using a formal reward system, Grandma’s rule can be a spontaneous reminder of how privileges are linked to behavior. It gives kids a reminder, “What’s in this for me?” or “Why should I do what you ask?”

You don’t have to offer large, extravagant rewards as an incentive. Instead, remind your child he can have his privileges when he's met your expectations. If he chooses not to do what you've said, he doesn't earn his privilege.

It can be a great way to avoid power struggles as Grandma’s rule makes it clear that kids have a choice in the matter. The results they receive depend on their behavior.

Grandma’s rule of discipline teaches children self-discipline. They learn how to link their actions to the outcomes and it can help them make better decisions in the future.

Examples of Grandma’s Rule

Grandma’s rule can basically work by tying a task to a specific privilege. Here are some examples:

  • “When you’re done with your homework, you can watch TV.”
  • “As soon as you’re finished cleaning your room, you can play outside.”
  • “When you put your dishes in the sink, you can go play 30 minutes of video games.”
  • “When you complete your chores, you can earn your allowance."
  • “When you have your sneakers and jacket on, we’ll go to the playground.”

When Grandma’s Rule Is Most Effective

Grandma’s rule is most effective when you have time to wait for the child to complete the task. For example, if you say, “As soon as you get ready for bed, we’ll read a book,” your child may dawdle. And you might end up reading a book an hour later.

So if you're pressed for time, you might say, “If you are ready for bed within the next 10 minutes, we’ll have time to read a book.” 

It's also only effective when your child really has a choice. Don't say, "When you put on your shoes, we'll go to the store," if you have to go to the store anyway. Otherwise, you'll end up insisting your child get ready.

It's more effective to say, "When you put on your shoes, we'll play outside." Then, don't argue, nag or beg him to get ready. 

When It Won’t Work

Grandma’s rule won’t be effective if you give in to your child. If you say, “You can have dessert as soon as you finish eating,” but you end up allowing your child to eat dessert even though he didn’t finish his dinner, you’ll teach him you don’t mean what you say. Make sure you are prepared to follow through with what you’ve said.

Grandma’s rule also won’t work if you start offering large, extravagant rewards. If you use too many big rewards, your child will come to expect them. Instead, use privileges your child already has or use free or low-cost rewards.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.