“Grandma’s Law” – The Premack Principle

iStock_000000184386SmallBy: Jeremy Cole

Every day, we all have to do things we don’t want to do before we can have a reward or reinforcement.  We have to clean our houses before we have company over; we have to change our oil in our vehicles if we want smooth running transportation; we have to put in those hours of cardio if we want to keep looking physically fit.  If you notice the trend here, we have to first put in the work, then gain our reward.  The same is true for the students we serve.

The Premack Principle, also known as “Grandma’s Law” is a behavior intervention used across the ABA world.  It works very well when properly implemented.  The key is finding a reinforcer valuable enough to evoke the desired behavior.  The “Grandma’s Law” part refers to the old Grandma demand we’ve all probably received that goes something like, “first eat your broccoli, then you can have your ice cream”.  Each of our kids respond to reinforcers unique to the individual.  Finding a valuable reinforcement for completion of homework tasks when the child comes home from school can relieve some in-home stress for parents.

The key is providing the demand with “first-then” language.  Suppose your child really struggles with math and upon presentation of math tasks engages in challenging behaviors.  It may be helpful to present first-then language before presenting the math task.  You may say, “first, do 5 math problems, then you can have 3 minutes on the iPad”, (or whatever reinforcement is appropriate for your child).  Doing this type of intervention is a tested and effective antecedent manipulation to prevent challenging behaviors from occurring.

Again, a reinforcer assessment will be key before implementing this with any of our children to pair the most valuable reinforcer with the lowest preferred task.