Time-Out Strategy that Works {and it's not just for toddlers}

Hey, tired momma. I hear you. I know those days. I'm in the thick of them, right alongside of you. Parenting is hard work, for sure. There are certainly great rewards to raising little ones, but there are conflicts around every corner.

I will tell you one thing, though. Ever since we started using the Game Plan strategy in our house, I've (on most days, at least) almost begun to look forward to the conflicts. Not because they're fun. In fact, they can be quite exhausting. BUT, I look forward to them because I know that each one is an opportunity for me to point my kids to Jesus.

Game Plan gives me tangible tools to do that right in the moments when I need them most. And I want to share those tools with you!!

But can you use Game Plan for different ages?

  • What about elementary school kids?
  • What about preschoolers?
  • What about toddlers?

The quick answer is, "Yes!" The long answer is the rest of this blog post (which is also long, so I've done the best I can to break it up into helpful headings so you can skip around to the pieces you need most)...

I've had so many requests for more details on how to put Game Plan into action. My kids have agreed ahead of time to be vulnerable with some of their recent Game Plan moments. This way, you'll get to see how it works at different stages. I'm going to take you down my little line, from oldest to youngest. It's been amazing for me to get to see Game Plan work in very different ways for each of my very different children in their very different phases of life.

To Put Game Plan in a Nutshell, first...

Training up children in the way they should go leading them toward love and to listening and learning is like running a marathon with constant twists and turns. Just when you think you’ve figured it out or gotten a rhythm down, a curve shows up in front of you.

Sometimes, it’s when our little ones disobey that we get the most thrown off course. What do you do when your tactics don’t seem to be working? What do you do when you’re exhausted and you don’t feel like you could possibly handle one more conflict?

Well, let's take a step back and ask ourselves why we want obedience from our children. Why do we want them to be kind? Why do we want them to forgive, to share, to love?

Do your kids know your “Why?” Do you know your "Why?"

Good behavior doesn’t win life. It’s all about the heart. Every opportunity for discipline and training is a chance to lean into our kids and point them to Jesus. The lectures can take a time-out. Let’s dialogue our way to their hearts. 

That’s the Game Plan.

Game Plan is a strategy. It teaches our kids tools that they'll be able to use throughout their lives. It helps them to take ownership of their responses, their consequences, and their hearts.

To Choose Joy Game Plan Time Out Dialogue Parenting

But How Do You Really Use It?

Like I said before, Game Plan works in very different ways for each of my very different children in their very different phases of life. So, I want to walk you through what that really looks like.

But first, I want to tell you one of the most important things about Game Plan:

Wiping the Slate Clean.

When you've finished talking through the Time-Out Dialogue with your kids, erase the board!! Let them SEE what God's kind of forgiveness looks like: a clean slate. There's strategy in the fact that the final question on the Dialogue is, "Is there anything you need to do to make your wrong right?"

It's because, even after your child has asked for forgiveness and received forgiveness, they still may need to follow through with whatever the consequences of their actions are. But, as soon as we talk about what those will be, we erase the board. We show them that when God forgives their sin, He chooses not to remember it again.

And for us mommas (and certainly for all the dads who are using and loving Game Plan, too!), that reminder is as important as it is for our kids. We desperately need to remember how merciful God is. To us. And to our little ones. Wiping the slate clean helps us to lay down any frustration or lingering emotion over what our child did, and it helps us to remember the way God forgives us, too. 

Ok...now for some specifics and some videos. Here's Game Plan in action at different stages...


When we're at home...

At home, when my 6-year-old disobeys, as soon as there's a breathing moment (she has some pretty sturdy lungs when things aren't going her way), I ask her to go get her Game Plan.

With kids who can read and write, you might consider sitting them down in a quiet place on their own to work through their Time-Out Dialogue first. This time alone helps my oldest (who struggles with a pretty strong bent toward anger explosions) to cool off and re-focus.

I ask my 6-year-old, Ava, to work through her Dialogue and find a "Know Your Why" from the Cards to focus on. I usually tell her that she can come to me when she's finished and ready to talk through it.

We'll sit down together and I ask her to read her answers to me. I usually ask the questions, but she sometimes even likes to just read the question to me as she reads her answers. I encourage her as we work through. We've done this so much that Ava even knows enough Bible verses that when she has been disobedient in a particular way, she knows just which "Know Your Why" card she wants to look for. We talk about the verses together, and when we have time, we grab a Bible and look up the additional verses given at the bottom of each card.

In moments when we don't have a lot of time, I just grab the Game Plan Cards and sit down with Ava to find a verse that hits the heart of whatever issue we're dealing with. For example, if she lies when she's getting ready for school and we can't really stop for long, we'll find the "Why We Tell the Truth" Card and read the Bible verses on the back together. Then, I ask her if she's willing to do things God's way, and ask her to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. If there are consequences required for her actions still, I remind her that they'll be happening when she gets home from school.

Here's a little glimpse (from an actual discipline moment earlier this very evening, and in short clips because they were originally recorded on Instagram) of what it looks like, for us, when she comes back out to talk with me. after working through the Time-Out Dialogue and Game Plan Cards on her own:

When we're on-the-go...

Ava also knows the dialogue questions well enough now that she knows to expect them, no matter where we are. When she's been disobedient, she knows that I'm going to be consistent and ask her the questions, one-by-one, with out without the Dialogue sheet. We talk through the questions in the grocery store, we talk through them when we're driving in the car, we talk through them at restaurants. I also like to keep a set of Game Plan Cards with me for this very reason--so that on-the-go, I have a quick Scripture go-to for pointing her heart to Jesus.


With preschoolers, the visual and physical nature of the Cards and the Dialogue can be very helpful, particularly when it comes to the "clean slate" part, but reading and writing are probably not second-nature tools for these little ones yet. My middle child, Avianna, is just starting to learn how to write, so she likes to ask me how to spell the words and try to write them as we talk through the dialogue questions together. She's 4 and a half, and this is a pretty new development.

Using the Time-Out Dialogue

She really likes to doodle on the Dialogue sheet while I write the answers out. I love to let her doodle on there, even if it means I don't end up writing any actual words at all while we talk, because she's getting the idea of what we're doing. She likes to move around a lot, too, and she often dances while we're talking through our dialogue questions (unless I'm asking her specifically to sit). I'm game for whatever keeps the conversation the most productive...and in the messy, crazy, constantly-moving world of parenting, a little dialogue-dance with this kiddo doesn't bother me a bit.

Basic Questions to Ask

I do go through all of the questions with Avi most of the time. She understands the consistency of our process, just like Ava does. If we're in the car, I boil them down to about four basic questions:

  1. Was that God's way? 
  2. What is God's way?
  3. Who do you need to ask for forgiveness?
  4. What should you do next time?

She, just like her sister, has enough Scripture memorized by now that she can quickly remember certain verses that apply to whatever we're dealing with in the moment, and she LOVES to learn new ones. Her most common responses to the, "What does the Bible say?" question are either: "Be kind to one another.." (Ephesians 4:32), "Children obey your parents," (Colossians 3:20), or, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger," (Proverbs 15:1).

Helping your kids memorize Scripture is such an incredible tool for their hearts and their lives! And you know this: they're SPONGES! (If you're looking for more Scripture memory tools, check out ToChooseJoy.com/hidden).

Using the Cards with a Preschooler

I also use the Game Plan Cards with Avi a lot, without filling out the Time-Out Dialogue. We sit down together to find a verse that hits the heart of whatever issue we're dealing with. For example, if she doesn't come when I call her, we'll find the "Why We Obey" Card and read the Bible verses on the back together. Then, I ask her if she's willing to do things God's way, and ask her to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. If there are consequences required for her actions still, we talk about those and then carry through with them.

Here are a few of my dialogues with my 4-year-old in real-life discipline moments with Game Plan:


If you have a toddler, discipline looks different than it does for an older child. Correction and guidance are both much more hands-on. But this is still a great time to start laying the groundwork for dialoguing your way to their hearts.

My youngest is 2. I use the dialogue questions with him, and he responds, but in a very different way than the girls. At this age, his answers are much shorter and far less detailed. We also skip over some of the questions because he doesn't really do the sit-down-and-chat like our girls tend to do. I usually to help him with the answers if he's not responding right away, so that I can keep his attention, and then I ask him to repeat what I said back to me. And generally, I end up boiling the questions down to about four, so that I can really help him get to the point and understand what is God's way and what isn't.

Here's a sample dialogue:

Mom: "What happened?"

Jack: {Grumpy face}

Mom: "You hit Ava with a stick. Jack--say, 'I hit Ava."

Jack: {Head down} "Hit Ava."

Mom: "Was that God's way?"

Jack: {Blank face}

Mom: "No, Jack. Hitting people is not God's way. Say, "It was not God's way."

Jack: {Head down} "Not God's way."

Mom: "That's right. And you hurt Ava when you hit her. You need to ask her for forgiveness. Jack, say, 'I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?' to Ava."

Jack: "I sorry, Ava. Give me?" {Ava forgives him}

Mom: "Yes, Jack! That's God's way! And do you know what else is God's way? Hugging and giving high-fives. Because God made our hands for love, not for hitting, right? Can you give Ava a hug or a high-five?"

Jack: {Gives his sister a high-five}.

Using the Cards with a Toddler

The Game Plan Cards are very helpful with little ones like Jack, as well, but more more my own reference and ability to keep speaking the truth to him in love. When he disobeys, I make sure I'm ready with a verse from the Cards that hits the heart of whatever issue we're dealing with. For example, if he doesn't come when I call him, I go to the "Why We Obey" Card, just like I talked about doing with Avi, and then I read the Bible verses on the back to him, or just say them to him without the card.

With toddlers, it's great to have a handful of specific verses memorized (the Cards are full of great ones to choose from, or you can look ahead and have certain Cards marked and ready, especially Cards like, "Why We Obey," and "Why We Are Kind" at this age) so that you are able to speak the truth over them in short-attention-span toddler moments. So, like I said, I read or say the verse. Then, I ask him if he's willing to do things God's way, and ask him to apologize and to ask for forgiveness. At this age, this is more about creating patterns that will go more deeply into his heart as he gets older and I stay consistent. If there are consequences required for his actions, I explain why we need to do what we're doing, based on the verse we just talked about, and then carry through with them. And then we move on and play!

The end. Not too bad, right? You have to be willing to put in the time to dialogue with your kids. Even the littlest ones.

I'm praying that all of this will help you use dialogue questions and God's Word more easily in your parenting, whether you use Game Plan or not. But, if you'd like an extra guide for dialoguing and tangible tools for knowing the "Why?" behind God's way, I would love for you to check out Game Plan! 

More About Game Plan:

•    The Dry-Erase Time-Out Dialogue

The dialogue offers seven questions to use in discipline and training that aim for the heart. You can talk through the questions with your child and write their answers down with a dry-erase marker, or have your child take some quiet time to write them out on their own, depending on his or her age. When your child asks for forgiveness, there may still be consequences that need to be carried through, but you get to take a cloth and literally wipe their “slate” clean, to show them (and remind yourself) that God's kind of forgiveness brings a fresh start. A black fine tip dry-erase marker is included. 

•    The Game Plan Cards

Pocket-sized for parenting on-the-go, these 2.25x3.5" card sets include 42 cards on a nickel-plated ring. 

The same seven questions from the Time-Out Dialogue are included here, along with helpful tips for reaching further and additional questions to guide you in your conversations with your children. The dialogue questions are followed by thirty “Know-Your-Why” cards so you can help your children understand what God's way really is. Behaviors and attitudes are given on the front of each card (i.e. "Why We Are Kind") and coordinated verses to teach your kids the biblical reason behind the behaviors you expect from them are on the back of each card.

These compact resources are portable so you can hang them in your kitchen, hook them to your keys, tuck them in your purse or even your pocket, and have those dialogue questions and easy access to the truth behind your “why’s” right with you when you need them.

With thirty Know-Your-Why Bible Verse cards in the set, you can easily turn Game Plan into a family devotional. Try focusing on one card each day for a month: look up the "see also" verses, discuss heart attitudes and life change, and even work towards memorization.

  • Game Plan was designed with children ages 2-12 in mind, but creates useful dialogue that is helpful for all ages.
  • Please be sure to erase your Time-Out Dialogue promptly after each use. Writing from dry-erase markers can become difficult to erase if left on for too long.

10% Off in the Shop

You can take 10% off of your purchase in the To Choose Joy Shop from now through December 19th. Enter code: ALMOSTCHRISTMAS at checkout.

David Whiting says, "Lectures are easy. Dialogues are hard, but they're effective." And that goes for all ages. 

-What questions do you still have about applying the Game Plan concept in your home? I'd love to help if I can! Please let me know what's on your mind in the comments below!

-If you have Game Plan, what has been most helpful to you and your family?