If you haven’t had a discipline issue at a den meeting, you haven’t yet had a den meeting. The Scouts have been promised a good time, and they’ve been restrained at school all day. They are ready to cut loose!
First manage your expectations. A successful den leader doesn’t expect a meeting to be a solemn affair, conducted like a visit to the library, with an occasional “Shhhhh” at an offending noisemaker. Our founder, Robert Baden-Powell, described Scouting as a game with a purpose. His books are filled with noisy, raucous games meant to be engaging and educational. This is how the program was originally designed.
Second, understand the program. The Cub Scout Program is designed around adventures. The word “Adventure” evokes images of Huck and Tom rafting down the Mississippi, or a Superhero facing down villains. Not a single boy of any age would describe an adventure as a noise-free enterprise. Don’t be dismayed when they are noisy; this probably means you’re doing something right!
Thirdly, PLAN, PLAN, and PLAN some more. Plan for at least twice what you think you’ll need, and always have an alternate ready. This is never wasted effort. If you don’t use it this week, set it aside for another day. It will come in handy when you need it the most. Make sure the activities are age appropriate to avoid frustration.
Finally, know your boys. Each den takes on a distinct personality. Some demand non-stop action; some prefer to go slowly and savor. Let them guide you; after all, it IS their program.
When things go wrong, don’t overreact. Sometimes the best course of action is to overlook and redirect attention. Use the PIP method – Praise in Public; Punish in Private.
If one-on-one attention is called for, utilize a den chief. This will allow the den leader to maintain focus on the den while also meeting the needs of the individual scout.
Beware the rewards trap. There is nothing wrong with rewarding good behavior. But don’t get trapped into never expecting good behavior unless there is a reward involved. The ultimate goal is to help our Scouts see living the Scout Oath and Law as a desirable outcome.
The toughest lesson of all for adult leaders is to vow never to sacrifice a den for one boy. As much as we hate to admit it, this program is not for everyone. If you have exhausted your arsenal and nothing is working, talk to the family. Ask them to partner with you for the success of their Scout, and set a reasonable expectation for improvement. If the Scout is making everyone miserable due to poor behavior, it might be time to ask the parent to take a few weeks/months break until such time as you can expect improvement.
The How To Book has some great ideas on boy management, such as the use of Den Doodles. Check it out!
Remember: if you’re not having fun in Scouting, you’re not doing it right!