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Quell Cub Scout chaos with these good-behavior techniques

WHEN 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.