Picture this: It’s the end of the school day, you’ve gathered up your girls and ushered them to your meeting space. You have some troop business to cover, a fun activity planned, and a healthy snack to round it out. You have about an hour and a half with your girls until their families come to pick them up—it’s a bit of a tight squeeze to get everything done, but still seems doable so long as everyone stays on task. You start off with an icebreaker, but then things start to go off the rails. Girls aren’t listening, supplies are flying all over the place, and some troop members begin bickering. Timeout! How do we get back on track? Good thing you have some group management tricks up your sleeve—let’s explore.
Create a Troop Agreement
You’ve probably heard it a million times before: The best way to manage behavior is by setting clear expectations. That’s because it works! Research shows that this is one of the best tools we can use as troop leaders (and parents) to help kids understand how they’re expected to behave, and what will happen if they don’t follow through. When you’re upfront about what is and isn’t acceptable, girls know that everyone is working from a shared and common language. The rules for Aisha are the same as the rules for Quinn.
We recommend that troops draft a troop agreement during the initial meeting, but it’s never too late to make one. Remember that this agreement is for the troop, so it should also be created by the troop. Phrase rules in a language that everyone understands. Some Daisies might pipe up, “In our troop, we should respect each other,” but then stare at you blankly when you ask them what the word “respect” actually means. Instead, break down vague concepts into concrete actions. For example, instead of “We should respect each other,” girls can agree to “Take turns talking.”
Post your troop agreement in a prominent place and take a few moments at the start of each meeting to review the house rules with your girls.
Set Up a Schedule
Though it may not seem like it, kids thrive on routine. Think about a regular work day for yourself—you know when you have to leave the house, what you need to bring with you, and what tasks you need to complete once you get to your workplace. Generally knowing what happens next frees up mental space to think about other things (Let your creativity and problem-solving skills soar!). Our girls are the same way. A routine gives them a sense of security, and as an added bonus, also cuts down on how often you have to answer when snack time is.
At the beginning of your troop meeting or field trip, share with your girls a rundown of that day’s activities (e.g., reciting the Girl Scout Promise and Law, badge activity, snack, then closing with a friendship circle). Of course, things will not always run on schedule, so flexibility is key. The activities might go past the allotted fifteen minutes, but girls will still be comforted from meetings that follow a general structure.
Get Their Attention
When things get a little too noisy or you need to transition to another activity, use an attention getter to re-center and refocus girls. The Girl Scout Quiet Sign is a common and useful attention getter, but like the troop agreement, work together to come up with one or two attention getters that girls will understand means, “Time to listen!”
Here are a few examples your troop could use:
Troop leader says: “One, two, three, eyes on me!”
Girls respond: “One, two, eyes on you!”
Troop leader says: “Mac and cheese!”
Girls respond: “Everybody freeze!”
Troop leader says: “Waterfall!”
Girls respond: “SHHHH!”
Sometimes It Just Doesn’t Work
Troop agreement? Check. Schedule? Check. Refocusing tool? Check. Chaos? Check. Sometimes, despite your best efforts and preventative measures, things will still go awry. That’s okay! There will be meetings where the stars align and there will be times when you leave the meeting space and think, “I survived.” Your girls will likely not remember that things didn’t work out perfectly—but they will remember that you tried, that you showed up, and that you were there for them. In the end, isn’t that what matters most?
Lily Yu – Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time by leading her daughter’s Daisy troop (who’s more excited to work on petals and Journeys—it could go either way!). In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family.