Gradual Release of Responsibility


When parents discuss the skills and personality traits they desire for their children, they often cite qualities such as independent, responsible, able to make good choices, resilient, and others associated with these ideas. Yet, research in the fields of education and psychology have shown time and again the tough love, authoritarian style of parenting long lauded as ideal does not promote the development of these traits in human beings.


Then, what type of parenting style – or environment in general – does cultivate these ideal qualities? It’s an environment where the parents have a process in place to shift the burden for decision-making and life design to the children over a period of time. In this article we’ll share two exercises to help out in these areas.


The Power of Game Planning


In my coaching practice I utilize the concept of “game planning” across all ages and walks of life, despite it being presented in different fashions for the context. The idea is a simple but incredibly powerful one – incorporate the stages of planning, execution, and reflection into a situation so that space is created for peak performance to occur.


If you were to join me and my two daughters on our walks home after school you would hear a conversation such as this take place.

Me: Alright kiddos, what’s the game plan for this afternoon?

7yo: We have dance today, right? So when we walk in I’m going to take my socks and shoes off, grab a juice box and a Z bar, and watch an episode of One Piece before we have to go.

Me: Where do your socks go?

7yo: I know, I know. The laundry basket.

Me: When are you going to look at your homework sheet, then, if you’re not doing it before dance?

7yo: Okay, I’ll look at the sheet before dance, but I don’t feel like doing it right now.

Me: That’s fine, but understand you might not have time to do anything but HW after we get home from dance?


A game plan is when someone looks at the time they have to plan for, the various factors they have to plan for, and then has to make decisions based on the variables of what do I want to do, what do I need to do, and transactional costs (if I say yes to this then I say no to this). In the example above you can see these variables playing out. And, at the end of the day before bed we do a reflection on what went well with the game plan, where did it go wrong, why did it go wrong, and how can we do it better next time.


With your gamer you can really capture these concepts well. It’s great that you want to play games, but let’s not play games at the sake of responsibilities that have to be accounted for. If so, then negative transactional costs are taking place – if by saying yes to games you’re saying no to homework, sleep, wellness practices, etc.


The Power of Backwards Design


  • What does it mean to backwards design success?
  • Process, process, process
  • Success feeds motivation


Game planning is a great practice for the day-to-day work at continuous improvement. The exercise of backwards design is instead ideal for getting a clear picture of what’s needed for long-term success – and in turn creating a process for gradually releasing responsibility to your gamer.


First, identify a goal or achievement that you and your gamer want to reach. It could be game-specific, such as cutting playing down to 4 hours/week. It could be a wellness goal, such as you and your gamer running a 5K together (do this!!!). It could be involving school/grades such as honor roll or a longer term goal such as admission to a specific college program.


Once you have your goal in mind then you backwards engineer all of the inputs/steps/sacrifices necessary to reach this goal. And, do try to create an exhaustive list with your gamer! Then, ask yourselves how long it will take to reach this goal. Be realistic in this answer or else you could be setting yourselves up for failure. Now, looking at a calendar you should be able to list dates for each of the steps that will involved, and in turn create a process to follow for success! The process is everything. You want to check in on the process weekly and celebrate all of the small and large steps of success along the way. Remember, motivation doesn’t lead to success; success leads to motivation and in turn even greater success.


Wrap up


Putting it all together, you’ll want to create a process for your gamer – and yourself – that will gradually release more and more responsibility to them for their own decision-making and self-reflection. If you’re making all of the decisions for them and have created a punitive environment, then you’ll have no one to blame but yourself if your gamer/child is disengaged and making impulsive decisions, since when will they have ever had the opportunity to experience authentic success and practiced positive decision-making. Letting go of control is absolutely terrifying, and we want to honor that. But, I’d challenge anyone that the transactional costs for not letting go of control is even more terrifying… releasing your children into the world who are wholly unprepared.