Author Avatar

Issue 471 – January 19, 2016

I’m on a brief vacation at the moment, so I prepared this in advance. I’ll be back next week to answer questions, help solve problems, and guide you to finding what you’re looking for. Meanwhile, here are some insights that may be useful to Scouters and Scouting youth leaders alike.

Brett Novick, educator, public school counselor, and adjunct university instructor recently wrote an article for the “New Jersey Education Association Review” (see January 2016 issue) titled “Dealing with Behavior Problems…13 Strategies.” While Mr. Novick’s strategies were, as you’d expect, classroom-focused, there are things we can learn that will serve in the Scouting environment as well. So I’ve “translated” several of his key ideas into troop and patrol meetings for you. These are a combination of Mr. Novick’s work and a few of my own thoughts on youth behavior and how to handle situations…

TALK CAN BECOME “BLATHER” WAY TOO FAST. You only have a certain amount of verbal ammunition. The more you speak, the less effective that ammunition becomes. Keep your comments brief and to the point. If a consequence is involved, warn (only) once and then do it. (HINT for SENIOR PATROL LEADERS: Go online—it’s not in Scout Handbooks any longer—and find “silent signals;” then teach them to all Patrol Leaders who in turn teach their patrols; then use ‘em!)

AVOID MIRRORING YOUR TROUBLE-MAKER. When someone’s having a tantrum keep in mind that he’ll reflect your reaction. If your own emotions are escalated, the tantrum escalates. Instead, remain calm and repeat the identical (and short) mantra without changing a single word (e.g., “Sit down and stop talking”) to avoid getting into a power struggle or being drawn into an emotional vortex.

DO “DO” – AVOID “DON’T”. When we provide direction, we have two choices: negative (“Don’t do that…”) or positive (“Do this…”). When you tell someone what not to do, you’re not providing information on what to do. You might think, but he should know what to do—but he really doesn’t unless you tell him what’s expected. When someone’s angry, upset, or displaying non-constructive behavior, being direct and speaking in the positive is your best bet.

WOULD YOU REALLY WANT PIZZA EVERY SINGLE NIGHT? We often wonder why behavioral contracts and rewards stop working. It’s simple: If the same “reward” is given time and time again, eventually it loses its meaning; the scouts simply become inured to it and, ultimately, bored. It becomes ho-hum. So it’s better to have a stockpile of rewards instead of same old…same old.

ANGER HAS TWO TIMETABLES. Although your “problem Scout” may look like he’s settled down, he may still be seething inside. Expecting him to instantly “straighten up and fly right” can be a mistake. Give him at least 15 to 20 minutes to cool down—both physically (external) and emotionally (internal)—before expecting him to rejoin an activity or conversation.

IF A SCOUT’S BEEN REMOVED FROM AN ACTIVITY—ALLOW HIM TO REJOIN THE GROUP QUIETLY. When a Scout returns to your patrol after an anger-laden episode, he’s likely to be embarrassed and believe that “every eye will be on him.” Breaking your conversation or activity to acknowledge his return will only confirm his fears and possibly trigger a fresh outburst. Better to simply continue doing what you’re all doing and allow him to quietly slip into the activity at his own pace and comfort level.

ANGER CAN BE A “COVER”. Often, the trigger for angry behavior or speech runs deep…often there’s an underlying emotion that anger is used to cover over. Appreciate that your “problem Scout” may have personal, family, or school problems that run much deeper than whatever he’s now doing to vent this. You’re not a professional, so you don’t want to play “amateur shrink.” But you can give him the time and space to at least settle himself down, in such a way that he doesn’t feel “punished” for the problem(s) he’s try to cope with (unsuccessfully at the moment).

SCOUTING’S ABOUT CONSEQUENCES—NOT PUNISHMENTS. In Scouts, we don’t “punish”—we leave that outside the door at troop and patrol meetings and outings. But there can definitely be consequences, and it’s important that these fit the action that caused the problem. If, for instance, a Scout has caused a dust-up that cost a meeting or activity 15 minutes of “settle-down” time, then that Scout “owes” 15 minutes of constructive time (can be putting away the chairs and such after the meeting’s done, or cleaning up the campsite if he made a mess of it—but he never NEVER “drops and gives you twenty pushups”!).

OWN THE PROBLEM—OWN THE SOLUTION. Some feel that the moment a Scout misbehaves, it’s instantly time to get his parents involved. Not so. And besides, parents can’t be expected to act as you’d hope if everything they’re told is second- or third-hand. So, got a problem at a troop meeting? Then contain it and deal with it right then and there.

(I frequently receive letters about how to deal with a Scout who caused a problem “at our camp-out three weeks ago.” Folks, that ship sailed. If it wasn’t dealt with on the spot, at the camp-out, and resolved before everyone came home, it’s simply too late—game over. Time to move on…)

YOURS EARS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR TONGUE. More often than you might imagine, simply taking a Scout aside and asking him, “What’s going on…what’s troubling you?” and then LISTENING WITHOUT COMMENT can go miles toward helping. Think about it: Where else but in Scouting can a boy or young men be actually listened to instead of getting wall-to-wall orders on where to be, what to do, and how to do it?

Instead of finding ways to “ding” a Scout (“You used the wrong knot,” “Where’s your neckerchief slide?”…you know what I mean) let’s find ways to reinforce the positive. Let’s complement our Scouts for getting stuff right!

Along these lines, sometimes we set Scouts up to diverge from the truth. “Did you do that?” is a loaded question. The Scout’s smart enough to know that, if he says “yes,” he’s in deep do-do; but if he denies it, he might have a chance of wriggling out of your confrontation with him. So if you know he “did it,” tell him and then agree on a consequence that’ll set things right (or at least keep things in balance).

So there you have it… Nothing particularly novel, all pretty down-to-earth, and all good reminders of some fundamentals that are sometimes too easily skipped over in the heat of a situation, or in the course of our meetings and outdoor weekends.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 471 – 1/19/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

Comments are closed.