Quell Cub Scout chaos with these good-behavior techniques

Cub Scout Corner Calm ChaosWHEN CHRIS MINNIEAR, Cubmaster of Pack 998 in Mason, Ohio, was filling in as his son’s Tiger Cub den leader, he tried a simple craft: making Kōnane (Hawaiian checkers) games. The cloth boards the boys made used flattened glass gems as game pieces. Things went well until near the end of the den meeting, when a pair of twins started throwing the glass gems. “Getting that under control was fun,” he says.

Fortunately, the incident happened at the end of the meeting. When he got home, Minniear realized the twins had managed to break every single game piece. Incidents like this taught Minniear how easily the controlled chaos of a den meeting can slip into uncontrolled anarchy.

How can you stop that from happening in your den? Here are some tips from Minniear and Caren Tamkin, a veteran San Diego Scouter who co-facilitated this summer’s Strictly for Cub Scouters conference at the Philmont Training Center.

Know Your Boys
Step one, Tamkin says, is to know your Scouts. Learn what they like and what makes them lose control. When in doubt, ask a parent. Tamkin says she once had a boy in her den whom she suspected of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, although he hadn’t been diagnosed. To get some insight into one boy’s energetic personality, Tamkin asked the boy’s mother to attend a few den meetings.

“She observed what he was doing,” Tamkin says. “She didn’t discipline him or anything, but she did give me some tips to help me.” For example, the boy was able to concentrate much better when he was chewing gum or playing with a pencil, things Tamkin wouldn’t have guessed without talking with the mother.

Establish Some Rules
Early in the Scouting year, establish some simple den rules (e.g., no hitting, no leaving the meeting room, no videogames). Put them on a poster that you display at every den meeting and refer to them often.

Many den leaders involve their Scouts in creating their own code of conduct, which works especially well with older boys. “I found that the Wolves were so black and white in the way they viewed the world that they weren’t really capable of coming up with a code of conduct that was loose enough for our purposes,” Tamkin says. “When they got to Webelos, then they were really good at coming up with a den code of conduct.”

Be Flexible
Of course, rules are not enough to keep boys in line. You need a program that holds their interest and can require a good deal of flexibility.

“I am very big on improv,” Minniear says. To that end, he always has a backup plan he can quickly put into place.

At the same time, he will let activities run long if the boys remain interested. “I’m not going to stop what’s going on if they’re getting some value out of it,” he says.

It also helps to remember that the real value of an activity may not be apparent on the surface. Once, Tamkin struggled to get her boys to make corsages for the pack’s blue and gold banquet. Instead of the boys making them in one meeting, she had to space out the work over several meetings. “It took us longer, and they weren’t as perfect as I would have liked, but that wasn’t the point,” she says. “The point was for all the kids to work together.”

Reward Good Behavior
Tamkin recommends that dens use a marble jar to reward the group’s good behavior. The concept is simple: Get a quart-size jar and a bag of marbles. At the end of each den meeting, have the boys rate how well they followed the den code of conduct. Put one or two marbles in the jar for each rule they obeyed. When the jar is full, treat the boys to ice-cream sundaes or playground time.

Tamkin says the key is to have the den rate its behavior as a group, not to point a finger at one misbehaving boy. Also, she says, “I don’t like the idea of taking something out of the jar [for bad behavior]. I don’t want to get to the negative side.”

Some den leaders prefer to use a “conduct candle” instead, blowing out the candle each time boys misbehave and offering a reward when the candle burns completely down. Tamkin prefers the marble jar because many meeting places ban open flames. Also, she says, “When I did try the conduct candle, they wanted to see how long their hand could stay over the flame.”

Marble jars are safer, but be sure to keep the lid on your jar. After all, those marbles can be just as tempting as Kōnane game pieces.



  1. When I was a Den Leader, I had 3 boys who were bent on destroying our meetings, however, I was bent on having one.

    1. Code of Conduct: The boys made their own rules…amazingly the 3 Cubs were the ones with the toughest rules. I had all the boys signed it to say they agreed with the code and they would keep to it.

    2. Marble Jar: Priceless! We also used the marble jar and it didn’t take long, actually one meeting, for it to work. Everyone wanted to see how long it took to get to the top. It didn’t take long.

    3. Gathering Activity: I found a gathering activity that required physical movement, like basketball, helped them get out their energy and were better prepared for our meetings. The boys also knew they could lose their basketball time if they didn’t stop when the time came to begin our meetings. They never lost their basketball privileges and many went on to play basketball in HS.

    4. It is all about the boys…
    a. Remember who they are
    b. Remember their abilities
    c. Remember it isn’t about you, the adult.

  2. When making rules, I found it was best to make them in a positive manner instead of a negative manner. So, instead of “no interrupting” our rule is “only one person at a time talks”. Instead of “no leaving the room” our rule is “only leave the room with permission from Akela”. Instead of “no hitting” our rule is “keep hands to yourself”. So, instead of telling them what they can NOT do our rules tell them what they can do. It seems to work for my Den.

  3. I think of it as our job to engage the boys, not discipline them or make it their job to behave. Start meetings with an engaging activity or craft and you have the momentum started in the right direction. Keep the meeting moving and ENTERTAINING for them. The best planned meetings are always the ones where the boys are best behaved. Plus, find ways to engage the parents – assign jobs or roles, daw them into activities – because I find it is the socializing and distracted parents who can disrupt the meting by sendig the wrong signals to the kids and not paying attention to their children. We have been using “circle time” with the cub master, where kids sit in a circle on the floor and parents are asked to stand behind their own scout. And its been very effective on kids and parents!

    • I agree with this observation. However, the difficulty arises when a lone Cub scout seeks to destroy the flow of an engaging activity you’ve prepared (like the twins in the story who threw and broke the glass beads). Generally these kids don’t stay in Cub Scouts for long but don’t hesitate to suspend children who ruin it for the others.

  4. As long as you have two-deep leadership, one should be conducting the den meeting and organizing the activities. The other (which is what I do), follows these 5 rules:
    1) Don’t kill the boys
    2) Don’t let the boys kill each other
    3) Don’t let the boys kill you
    4) Don’t lose them.
    5) If you have them long enough, you’d better feed them.

    Yes, boys will be boys. I just make sure that they’re not getting hurt or getting too distracted. It’s just a part of my personality, and it seems to work. (Think of the movie “The Pacifier”.) 🙂

  5. When I was a Den Leader (Tigers through Bears)I too used the marble jar. We would start the meeting by rewarding each Cub with a marble for coming to the meeting, a marble for being in uniform, a marble for bringing their book, and a marble for bringing their parent. We gave each boy a film canister filled with the appropriate number of marbles for that meeting. If someone really went crazy, it was the parent’s duty to remove a marble. At the end of the meeting the Cubs would dump their marbles into a medium size pickle jar, that they decorated. When it got filled, the Den went out for Pizza. In a three year span, I had all my parents attend the meetings, the boys in the assigned uniform (Pack T-shirts or full uniforms for Pack functions), and they remembered to bring their books. The key to this is the parents. Remind the parents that they are a part of their son’s adventure in Scouting and we all want the boys to have a grand adventure.

    • Thanks! Love your idea about the grand scheme of things! We have a large group of Webolos, 12 that consistently come, and 3 of those 12 are really rowdy and can get the others going in no time. The marble jar sounds great and I hope we can implement it well and that it is well received. Thanks for your ideas!

    • Nice idea about the marbles. However – cub scouts are learning independence. Den leaders should be suggesting to parents to drop off and not hang around. I always say they are welcome to stay but encourage them to leave. However, there must be another adult (2 deep) so they can rotate who stays.

      • I’m not a fan of having parents leave. One of the big focal points of scouts is having the parents involved and engaged with their boys in the scouting experience. We want parents sticking around and eventually helping out! That’s even featured in the new program recruitment materials; that scouting isn’t a drop ’em off kind of activity, it’s about being involved with your scout.

  6. Two questions from a new Assistant Tiger Cub Den Leader:

    1. How late do your Tiger Cubs meet? Ours meet at 5:30 on Den nights, and 6:30 on Pack nights. I’m concerned that 6:30 is too late.

    2. Related to the first question, is a snack essential for controlling the chaos? I believe so, but we have some food allergy issues in the Pack that are driving some parents to want to steer completely clear of issues around managing snacks.

    • I didn’t correct poor behavior. I’d stop and say “Oh man, I really like the way Kameron is sitting quietly! Kam, would like to come up to pick a prize from the treasure box?” The kids would then compete to see who could have the best behavior. Too often, the kids that do what is asked are neglected for the ones who cause problems. By shifting the attention to the positive behavior, everyone tried really hard to be like the kid who got noticed. And of course, I looked really hard to be able to acknowledge the good behavior of those who acted out at times.

      Children desperately want to be noticed. You have a choice whether to give them positive or negative attention.

  7. With a big den, divide an activity into stations and have the Scouts rotate through them.

    Use parents or assistants to set up the next activity, so transitions are seamless.

    Alternate active and quiet activities. Build towards the most desired activity.

  8. I have 41 Cubs in my pack on any given night, control is rather important as you can imagine, for me it all comes down to “accepted levels of behaviour”. Ok what does that mean, simply put it the level of behaviour that the Cubs know is not only acceptable to their leaders but also by their Peers.

    A Pack functions around it’s core members, these are Cub’s who are dedicated to Cub’s, activities are a secondary thought, but to them not what makes Cub’s what it is. Model Cubs you might say, behaviour from them is good, they tend to be leaders and generally respected by the pack members.

    On the outside of the pack on the fringes are Cub’s which are disruptive, they tend to make a lot of noise, the majority are great kids and there will be a few you can do without.

    In between these and the cores are our Neutral Cub’s, they are easily affected by the behaviour of the Pack Core or the disruptive Cub’s on the fringes. Now they can be like moths to a light bulb, and move where ever the action is, if that’s the Pack Core, then the Cores level of behaviour is the norm and the Pack is easy to control as even those on the outside find themselves being compliant, just because it’s what everyone else is doing.

    Here’s the thing and when it goes tit’s up, if the number of kids in the core is out numbered by those on the fringes, your pack may well be on its way to implosion.

    Why? All of a sudden those neutral kids start being drawn to the fringes, the accepted level of behaviour becomes theirs… The core Cub’s become frustrated and start to leave, making the situation worse, possible new members and their parents arrive see what Cub’s is about and the first thing they see and indeed hear is the noise, they can’t see the good Cub’s at the pack core through the bedlam. Possible leaders take one look and say.. erm no thanks.

    Leaders get frustrated and leave.. So what to do. I had this situation developing, behaviour standards were dropping, so I sate the pack down and drew in the board four circles, at the ctr the Core, Outside that the Neutral zone, outside that the Disruptive zone and out side that New parents and New Cubs.

    I explained to them the possible ramifications if their behaviour continued and how it may be seen by those thinking of joining or leading the pack may see it, I then
    gave each one of them a star, got them to turn their backs to the drawing and asked the, to think where they were, neutral, core cubs or disruptive, they then one at a time placed their start where they thought they were. It was an eye opener especially when the cubs all turned round to have a look after the last star had been placed.

    It reflected my view of our situation nearly exactly, so I asked the Cub’s what they wanted to do and they simply said.. “Change.”.

    Kids when they misbehave, often don’t realise the impact they may have on others, making them understand that they do, is the first step in helping them to become better Cub’s and changing the accepted level of behaviour.

    3 years later I still have 41 Cub’s, and a whole lot more core members, many of whom were on the fringes not so long ago.

  9. Here’s a thought…scouting isn’t for every kid. It should be expected that a kid who wants to be involved in scouting understands that more is required of him, especially in the area of personal behavior.

    More is also required of parents. Parents should be taking an active interest in what goes at den and pack meetings. They should be present and engaged. If their son exhibits poor behavior, the parent should be paying attention enough to notice it and deal with it immediately. The Den Leader and ADLs do not get paid enough ($0) to be expected to deal with crazy kids. There are plenty of other activities more conducive toward unruly busy bodies. Scouting isn’t that activity.

  10. Here’s something I picked up years ago; it works every once in awhile when you have a group to calm and get quite. It’s just a like hack trick; don’t use it too often or it wears out:

    – Say loud enough but not shouting “if you can hear me, clap your hands:

    – If you hear clapping, then say, again, loud but not shouting “if you can hear me, snap your fingers”

    – assuming you get some finger snapping, then say in a more normal voice “if you can hear me, say shhhhhh”

    – you’ll probably get a lot of shhh throughout the room. Now you can talk

    One caveat ; I’ve always taught that when you put up the scout sign, it’s not a symbol for shut up. it means you have something worth the transition. Teach the boys that the sign means they are getting upgraded to something better, and deliver on that promise.

    Hope you find this helpful.

  11. I’ve just joined and feel claustrophobic from the mayhem that ensues both in our den and pack meetings. Meetings start too, especially for the young ones. In response to this poor behavior I have heard do your best. They are doing their best is what its chalked up to be. I feel that is a sorry excuse a child us being handed to continue to misbehave. I have also heard it’s acceptable due to having a large number of add kids and all or those who are aspergers. This is more difficult to ascertain and find a solution to. DLs are not trained to handle special needs and often parents are not helpful. Has anyone else experienced this? I want to be sure every scout has a chance to succeed, but as someone mentioned above, even the scouts paying attention and behaving only have so long before getting sucked into the chaos.

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