Behavior Management 101



               We all know that our little angels at times need a bit of direction to manage their behavior. Sometimes just giving them a few minutes of Minnie-Mouse-time (talking allowed only in polite little whispers) is enough to purge them of their pent-up emotions.  Then again, maybe the disruptive behavior is a sign that itıs time to take a break from the ³work² with a fun hands-on activity or game.

GSUSA offers suggestions on Keeping Your Cool When Things Get Hot and how to help girls Make New Friends. GS of Kentuckiana provides Hints for Handling Common Behavioral Problems (go to page 2 and scroll down to #56). The below resources are provided to offer additional support to our leaders in this area.



Troop Rules

               Learning & reciting the Girl Scout Promise and Law is a way to introduce the topic of expected behavior. The beginning of a new Girl Scout year is a good time to have this discussion and have the girls develop a set of their own "Troop Rules" (or review and update last yearıs troop rules).   Many of the rules will be similar to the classroom rules recently addressed by their teachers at school. If the girls have ownership in making the rules, they will more readily follow them.  Display the Troop Rules at each meeting so that itıs handy to refer to should the need arise. Carol Levy, a leader and teacher in Tennessee, shares her philosophy...

                       When it comes down to writing down the rules, try to rephrase them so that they are stated positively.  For example, the kids may say, ³Don't run in the building.ı Your restatement may turn this to ³We always walk in the building.ı It can be difficult, sometimes, but the tone of the list is so much better when stated positively instead of negatively. The kids, too, react well...a list of rules stated like this undermines the tendency to whine, ³We can't do anything!ı I'd agree.. . . on the value of routine. . . doing an opening, using the quiet sign, etc, give the girls cues to deal with. . .


Some troops formalize the girlsı acceptance of the troop rules by making a Readiness/Behavior Contract (scroll down). This idea could be expanded to a Statement of Conduct for extended trips. Some troops have parents sign these as well.


Silence is Golden

               A Talking Stick is helpful during troop discussions to control everyone from talking at once - the girl holding the stick has the floor. Each decorative part of the talking stick had special symbolism in Native American tradition. Other troops have used a bean-bag animal as a talking stick which can easily be thrown around the circle.

               Older girls might like to decorate a troop gavel that the Troop President can use to call the meeting back to order when side discussions get out of control. When it really gets rowdy, leaders sometimes holler ³Hey, Hey² to which the girls shout back ³Ho, Ho², then seal their lips. You could also use the quiet sign that the girls are familiar with at school, or be creative and have a Silent Meeting as Gail Townsend from Nevada describes:


     I remember talking to a Brownie leader several years ago whose girls had become very rowdy at the end of winter.  She was dreading going to her meeting - didn't think she could get through another minute with the girls - when she came up with a really great idea. She decided to have a silent meeting.

     She made lots of signs explaining that the girls couldn't talk - they had to use body language instead. She had the instructions for making things (written and diagrammed) laid out step by step on the tables.   The girls had to make their projects without asking for or getting spoken directions.   At first the girls would forget and talk, but the leader just held her finger up to her lips. Soon the girls were reminding each other. The girls enjoyed the day and the leader said it became a favorite activity for the Troop.

     I really liked her solution.   It accomplished her goal (calm, quiet meeting) and gave the girls an interesting activity they could use over again in many different ways.   It exposed them to the value of being silent, allowed for some self-discovery, introduced the idea that communication could happen without the spoken word -- great springboard for topics like animal communication, body language, or sign language.


Motivate and Reward

               There are a number of methods used to Encourage Good Behavior and Reward Good Behavior. You might like to try something like the Bead Jar or Behavior Candle. Another option is making troop necklaces that girls put on at each meeting and can add special beads as they are earned. Kim from Kentucky shares the method her troop uses:


     I use a poster board chart and have the girls put stickers by their name for attendance, uniform, books, and folder.  There is an extra spot for a sticker if they are caught being good.  They have a chance to earn 5 stickers at each meeting and then some for field trips.  Then, 2-3 times a year they get Scout Bucks for their stickers to use at a silent auction.  They seem to like the responsibility of taking attendance by themselves.


               Some troops have used specially designed play money called Scout Bucks or Troop Bucks, to encourage girls (and even parents) to follow-through with responsibilities by reward good behavior. However, the Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends that you look at this from another point of view:


     Do not use food or money to reward or punish behavior. The statement "I will give you a dollar (a cookie) if you will be quiet until I am finished" is manipulative. Match a. child's behavior with a real- life consequence such as "when you are quiet, you can play with the others."


Amie Trebing in Indiana shares her thoughts on this topic:


     When I got my own troop. . . I came up with an idea that I think teaches them accountability to themselves and to the group, more so than giving them a token reward. I bought a roll of raffle tickets from Staples (I got 2,000 for $3.50) and I decorated a medium sized coffee can (you could use something bigger or smaller depending on the size of your troop and your expectations).

     At the next meeting I explained to them that we were going to try something different. I gave them each three tickets and explained to them that they got these tickets for following the troop's rules. If they broke one of the troop's rules, I would take a ticket. If they lost all three tickets, I'd call their mom or whoever was picking them up and explain that they needed to go home early. BUT. . . at the end of the meeting, if they had any tickets left, they could put them in THIS coffee can, and when that coffee can got filled up we'd have a Troop Treat.

     This worked really well. I liked the fact that it held them accountable to themselves (they had to go home if they lost all their tickets) and accountable to the group (if they kept all their tickets they were that much closer to the Treat). It accumulated over time, so it taught them about working towards a goal. . . but there was a mini-payoff at the end of each meeting when we deposited our ticket and checked to see how much fuller the can was. I thought the best thing about it was that by giving them tickets upfront, they understood that I expected them to be good and that I understood if they had a little bit of trouble, but too much trouble and they had to go home.

     I think the thing that I liked the best is that we had two little girls who just really had a hard time behaving. Some of the girls who were really well-behaved initially didn't like interacting with them, but I saw as we used the tickets that the good girls would say (and mean it), "Way to go!" when they kept their tickets and they all started working together more.

     Anyway, if you have considered Brownie Bucks but dislike the concept of paying girls to be good, and you like my idea, feel free to steal it!


Promote Safe Risk-Taking

GSUSA tells us that ³as an adult advisor, you have a unique opportunity to create the space where girls can test different behaviors. . . One way advisors can help girls is by creating a space where it is OK to take risks. It needs to be a place where girls can try and fail and be supported. It must be perceived as non-judgmental.²

Leaders can promote safe risk-taking by:

  1. ³Being proactive about asking girls what they are feeling and whether those feelings stand in the way of trying things. Then help girls brainstorm ways to overcome perceived obstacles.
  2. Not judging, threatening, lecturing, or issuing orders. Instead engage girls in the work of establishing guidelines for responsible behavior.
  3. Realizing that to girls, feeling safe refers to more than just physical space. Safety can mean feeling protected by adults. Create a network of adults girls can go to for support.
  4. Taking emotional injury seriously. Teasing and gossiping cause girls anxiety and should be addressed by adults. Don't assume girls will work it out on their own.²


Extra Leader Support

               When poor behavior within your troop gets you stumped, You Can Handle Them All offers advice, or read the Leadersı Survival Kit to help you through a rough patch.

               Another option is to consult with a professional. I invited the school counselor to my troop meeting during that difficult 2nd grade year.  He led a discussion and conducted a number of activities to help the girls realize how hurtful words can be, and to practice wording positive responses. We leaders were then able to refer to the activity and practice what was learned when issues arose.

               IALAC (I am Lovable and Capable), The Fence, Anna Banana, Ginger Girl, Susie Story and the Josephine Doll are therapeutic stories/activities that help girls understand the affect of unkind words and behavior. The following team building games might be something to try: Cooperative Games, Team Building Games, or Mix It Up activities.

Stevi, a leader in Arizona, shares the below idea that was helpful in getting the girls to open up and share their feelings. A Warm and Fuzzy Time can be a great stress buster and may perhaps offer the opportunity to resolve issues within the troop (as well as have some meaningful discussions).


     Our troop bought a pillow for each girl -- about $2 at the time, a regular cheap bed pillow. Then we had each girl go out and buy 1 yard of material that fit them -- we had horses, cats, dogs, cartoon people, fruits/veggies (co-leader -- I had sheep), flowers, peace signs. . . all different. Anyway, we hauled in our sewing machines and sat 4th & 5th graders on our laps and helped them sew up a pillowcase. We stuck the pillows in and sewed the cases shut. Now, we were lucky, we were meeting at my church and we had a tall metal cabinet to hold our supplies. We got a couple of those big plastic bins and stored the pillows in them on top of the cabinet.

     The last 15 minutes of each meeting was what I called warm and fuzzy time. . . I'd pull out the pillows, everyone would grab theirs, and we'd make a circle on the floor -- lying on bellies and we'd talk. Sometimes it'd be stuff to finish a badge (Becoming a Teen kind of thing), sometimes it'd be planning, sometimes I'd give them all markers and put a piece of poster board in the center and ask them to write down what makes a good friend.

     In those talking times, I found out one of the girls was adopted, one shared about her mom having breast cancer and how she was scared, one's parents thinking of divorce, who had started their period, who liked what boy at school, and tons of silly stuff too. They weren't all serious, but somehow, lying on your belly with your favorite pillow seemed to make talking easier.  .  .  worked for us.


Words Can Heal

               The following essay is from an archived Words Can Heal newsletter:


     "Females are often considered more verbally communicative. This can be a double-edged sword. A person who uses words more to express his/her feelings tends to be more nurturing; mothers, caregivers, and teachers can build up their charges' self-esteem with encouraging words. But words can also be used negatively; many girls excel at destroying another's self-esteem with embarrassing remarks or pointed barbs. In fact, studies have shown that girls are more likely than boys to hurt others with words. 

     Although most of us look with disapproval at the class bully - the boy who terrorizes other boys with his fists - the girl who ridicules or shuns other girls may well be the most popular girl in the class. This is ironic, because the damage inflicted by words is far more insidious than the damage inflicted by fists, for several reasons:

-  Most people look down on physical violence, but verbal violence, especially when it is witty, often elicits approval and admiration.

-  Physical wounds are obvious. They are easily treated by a parent or the school nurse. Wounded feelings are usually concealed, so that even the most well-meaning parent or teacher cannot help.

-  Physical wounds usually heal within a week or two. Damaged self-esteem can last a lifetime.

-  A child can keep himself out of harm's way by keeping his distance from the class bully. Distance, however, does not hinder the harm that can be done by words. Ridicule and shunning thrive over the telephone and e-mail. There is almost no way to protect oneself against it.

-  The damage inflicted by words is subtler. Therefore, the problem is less likely to be addressed and dealt with by school administration and staff.

     If you are a girl, or teach girls, or have daughters, consider this: The emotional wounds that girls inflict through their words hurt more than those caused by any knife. A girl who uses her verbal skills for cruel ends is like drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa. All the beauty of the Mona Lisa can be destroyed by two strokes of a magic marker. So, too, a girl's self-esteem can be obviated by just a few mean words directed at a classmate or erstwhile friend."


               Have your girls take the Words Can Heal Pledge and review The Top Ten Tips - Healing Words for Kids and Teens, which will offer guidance on how to deal with teasing, gossip and other big issues.  These are just two of the many resources available in the free Words Can Heal Family Kit.

               Revisit this topic during No-Name Calling Week in January. ³No Name-Calling Week is a week of educational activities aimed at stopping name-calling and verbal bullying in schools.²


Donıt Laugh at Me

            ³Operation Respect is a non-profit organization working to transform schools, camps and organizations focused on children and youth, into more compassionate, safe and respectful environments. Founded by Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary, the organization disseminates educational resources that are designed to establish a climate that reduces the emotional and physical cruelty some children inflict upon each other by behaviors such as ridicule, bullying and-in extreme cases-violence. Toward this end, Operation Respect developed the Don't Laugh at Me (DLAM) programs . . . Thanks to the generosity of The McGraw-Hill Companies, and other supporters, Operation Respect disseminates the DLAM programs free of charge.²

            ³The four one-hour Campfire Programs are organized around the following Donıt Laugh at Me themes and can be easily adapted for day camp settings, or other large or small camp gatherings:

·   Being You, Being Me, Being Us (Theme: Expressing Feelings)

·   I Care, You Care, We Care (Theme: Caring, Compassion, and Cooperation)

·   Words That Hurt, Words That Heal (Theme: Resolving Conflict Creatively)

·   Together We Can (Theme: Celebrating Diversity)²


Girl Scout Links

               Activities could be tied to the Caring & Sharing try-it, Healthy Relationships badge Creative Solutions badge, Conflict Resolution IP, or Understanding Yourself & Others IP. Parts of the GS Safety Award could also be applied.

               If interested in the below council-own program, contact the council first for permission and ordering information


Learn about GS of Coloradoıs nationally recognized Bullying Prevention Program called Power Up. Revisit this theme on Stop Bullying Day in May. Details on my Themes for May webpage.


Special Situations

               Itıs also important to consider that a girl might be acting out because of a medical condition such as ADHD or a hidden stress factor in her life. Review the girlsı Health History forms and keep open communication with your parents to so that you are aware of any special situations. By doing so, you will have the opportunity to be sensitive to the circumstances and adjust your response to the girlıs inappropriate behavior accordingly. Read more about understanding girls with ADD/ADHD at Understand Me, a GS Bronze Award project by Carly, a Girl Scout in Oregon, and her mother, Liz Ripke.

GSUSA offers Ten Tips for Helping children Deal with Stress and Helping Children Cope with Grief (pdf documents). Therapeutic Stories by Dr. Nancy Davis might be helpful should girls be dealing with a traumatic event. ³Guatemalan children tell their worries to dolls and place them under their pillows. According to legend, the dolls take their worries away.² By making Girl Scout Worry Dolls girls might be better able to deal with their feelings.

Guidelines are also available for leaders who find themselves Working with Girls with Disabilities, Serving Girls with Special Needs (book on clearance), and want to learn how to help Girls with Disabilities Enjoy Outdoor Activities




Updated August 2009