Let us face the hard truth: Cub Scouts have a natural affinity for chaos. Not only are they easily led into it, but they love it. In fact, the more out of control the situation is, the more Cubs like it. If you ask a Cub Scout whether he enjoyed a chaotic pack or den meeting, he might say “yes.” If you ask the attending parent the same question, you will likely get the opposite answer. Sadly, if parents think meetings are out of control, they will be likely to not attend or keep their Cub home the next time. So, if a Cub leader is not a schoolteacher, trained in the art of classroom management, how does he or she maintain an appropriate level of control to accomplish the goals of the meeting, while at the same time allowing the Cubs to have fun?
Here are some tips that will help:
- Set expectations before the meeting.
There are several ways to come up with these rules for behavior. At a first den meeting, get the boys to make their own list of behavior rules. These might include rules such as “no talking when a leader is talking” or “no running around the room.” For pack meetings, the Cubmaster should communicate rules that suit the formality of the situation. At a minimum, this should include no talking while a Cub or leader is talking at the front of the room. Put these rules on a slide or poster that is shown at the beginning of every meeting. Realize that the type of activity may dictate what is expected. During a game, the level of noise will naturally be louder than during the presentation of a den skit. Most Cubs will naturally realize what is appropriate, but the leader should quickly step in when behavior is out of line with what is expected.
- Once you make a rule, enforce it.
If you choose to ignore impolite or disruptive behavior once, you have nullified the rule you made. In a Cub’s mind, a rule that is not enforced is not a rule at all. If a Cub sees another Cub violating a behavior rule, he will be the next one to break it. Don’t beg or plead for appropriate behavior; require it. Use the Cub Scout sign to get attention on a regular basis. Don’t resume the activity until everyone is quiet, including parents.
If you are a Cubmaster with a high tolerance for Cubs chatting in the background, realize this behavior may not bother you, but it might greatly bother others in the room, including Cubs. Allowing Cubs to talk over others also teaches bad manners. Do your best to run an orderly meeting so that everyone can enjoy the activities you have planned. Enlist an assistant to help with keeping order if that is not your strength.
- Communicate behavior expectations to parents and den leaders.
Parents value order and reinforcement of good manners. If you let parents and leaders know what you expect in terms of behavior, they will help you achieve it. If you are having trouble with a particular Cub’s behavior, explain the problem behavior to the parent and enlist his or her help to develop solutions.
Remind parents that siblings attending meetings must follow the same behavior rules as Scouts and should be attended at all times. Seat parents and leaders behind Cubs at pack meetings and let them know you expect them to intervene when Cubs fail to meet behavior expectations. A leader at the front of the room cannot be expected to monitor and control the behavior of a large number of Scouts.
- Get focused attention of Cubs before starting a meeting.
Wait as long as necessary to ensure Cubs are quiet and listening before starting the meeting. Never start a meeting over the chatter of Cubs who are not paying attention. If you don’t start the meeting with their attention, you will likely fail to gain it during the rest of the meeting. Use a formal ceremony (such as a flag ceremony or recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance or Cub Scout Promise to start the meeting, because it will draw the focused attention of Scouts and set the appropriate tone for the rest of the meeting.
- Plan some high-energy activities in the middle of your meeting.
Boys thrive on activity and they crave some amount of chaos. For den meetings, include a high-energy game that gets boys outside, when weather and conditions permit, and involves physical activity. For pack meetings, include cheers or group games when Cubs can collectively be loud. Boys don’t like being quiet all the time, so allow for planned chaos. How much chaos is too much? If you can’t conduct the activity in a somewhat organized fashion, it is time to pull back on the reins. Help the boys realize they can’t have fun if they don’t cooperate and listen to instructions.
- End your meeting with a focused, quiet activity.
Always close a meeting with a quiet activity, such as announcement time, Cubmaster’s or Den Leader’s Minute, or a ceremony to refocus attention. If you follow the suggested Cub Scout meeting template, it will have the right balance of activity and quiet. Make sure every meeting has a definite end.
- Require Cubs to give full attention when another den or Cub is presenting.
At a pack meeting, the Cubmaster and other leaders should ensure a den or Cub making a presentation has the undivided attention of the Cubs watching. Don’t rely on the den making the presentation or that den’s leaders to help with this. Likewise, in a den meeting, the den leader should ensure Cubs are polite to each other, giving other Cubs their full attention during presentations.
- Use positive reinforcement whenever possible.
Phrase rules in a positive way. Instead of saying, “No talking while the Cubmaster is talking,” say, “Listen when the Cubmaster is talking.” Focus on what Cubs should do instead of what they should not do. Rather than calling down the Cub who is making too much noise, offer a reward or praise to the Cub who is sitting and listening quietly. (Hopefully, you can find one).
If you are having control issues, use a Good Behavior Jar: Drop in a marble or piece of candy each time the group is polite or when you observe a Cub showing good manners. At the end of the meeting, if the jar is gets to the “great behavior” mark, offer a reward to the group (a small piece of candy, perhaps) to take home. You can take a piece of candy out of the jar if behavior does not meet expectations. A Cubmaster or den leader can designate a behavior monitor (volunteer den leader or parent) to come forward during the meeting to put a token in or take a token away, depending on the behavior of the Cubs. Make it fun by giving the monitor a decorated hat to wear. If you have a parent who is complaining about too much chaos during meetings, appoint him or her to be the monitor, making the parent a partner in the solution.
Following these guidelines will put you on your way to having happy parents, happy leaders, and productive, fun meetings.
Kimberly Cook is a veteran Cubmaster and den leader, having previously served as den leader, Asst. Cubmaster, Pack Committee Chairman and Cubmaster for packs in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and Homewood, Alabama. She currently serves as Unit Commissioner and Vulcan District Membership Chair for the Vulcan District, Greater Alabama Council.