How to juggle the roles of parent and Scout leader

This story originally appeared in the January-February 2013 issue of Scouting magazine.

Assistant Scoutmaster R.S.’s daughter, a first-year Scout, keeps leaving troop activities to ask her mom questions and hand her things to hold. R.S. asked for tips on redirecting her daughter without rejecting her. Below is advice provided by Scouting readers.

Call me mister

In our troop, all adults are addressed by title and surname — Mrs. Smith, Dr. Jones, etc. — including parents. Requiring your daughter to address you in this way will make them pause, think twice about the situation, and hopefully realize that, at that moment, you are a leader and not just “Mom or Dad.”

Three for one

I vividly recall the first Scout campout my son, Henry, and I went on when he was a Webelos Scout. My son called to me to ask for help. As I was walking to my son, the Scoutmaster got between us, called to one of the senior Scouts and said, “Would you help Henry? Mr. Coy shouldn’t be doing this.” In one simple sentence, the Scoutmaster had taught three people: my son (go ask your patrol leader or some other senior Scout), me (your job is to hang out with the adults) and a senior Scout (you have to help the new Scouts just as you were helped when you were new).

Equal treatment

Get your Scout a daypack that they can use to carry Scouting essentials in, including the Handbook. That will give them a place to put their jacket or other items they want you to hold. When they come with a question, gently advise them — as you would any other Scout — to ask their patrol leader or troop guide. If you treat them like any other Scout when they come to you, they will soon start to think of you as a troop adult, not just their parent.

Whom to ask?

Have a discussion at home about the patrol method, your respective positions in the troop and the proper way to get questions answered. It’s tough at first, but you’ll both get used to it. You have to be consistent, though, or it won’t work.

The SPL on the lookout

Talk to the senior patrol leader. Let them know that your Scout is having issues remembering that this is Scouts, and they will take care of it. The assistant senior patrol leaders, patrol leaders and troop guides will keep a lookout.

Put it on hold

When my son would try to bring me things to hold, I would hand them back and say, “Thank you. However, you need to put this where you can find it.”

Turn them around

Have another adult leader intervene. If I see Scouts headed for the adult area, I head them off and ask where they’re going. Usually it ends with me turning them around and sending them back to their patrol, letting them know they can talk to their parent after the meeting.

Explain your expectations

As a longtime Scoutmaster, assistant Scoutmaster and public-school teacher, I let my children know that they, too, have expectations to follow and are to do what the other children are expected to do. If they need any special help, I can offer this to them at home (or on the ride home).

Nobody by that name!

I just look at them and say “Your parent isn’t on this trip. Go ask your patrol leader.”

Play no favorites

My son did this when we first started in Scouts. I told him that if he needed anything, he must go through his patrol leader first. The adult leaders had an agreement that we would not be a direct line of interaction with our own sons, and we informed our Scouts, patrol leaders and senior patrol leader our intent behind it: to avoid favoritism. This has been the norm, and it has worked very well for us.

Hone your edge

I had the same issues with my son. Teach them with love and hold them accountable, like you already do with the rest of the Scouts. As you consistently and faithfully adhere to the EDGE method, they will understand in time. You both are finding your way through challenges among your peers. Scouting builds children into adults, and these lessons are how that is accomplished.

Say the magic words

The stock answer for all us Scoutmasters is, “Ask your patrol leader.” After a few times, they will get the message, as do all the Scouts. Good luck! You and your Scout are setting out on a wonderful adventure.

Ties that bind

When you are both in attendance at a Scouting activity, event or meeting, they need to understand you are the assistant Scoutmaster, but you’re still Dad or Mom. You’re still concerned about their safety and well-being, but you are there as one of their leaders. Of course, our parental ties to a Scout cannot help but give them a leg up and ensure they stay active in Scouting longer and attend more camporees, summer camps and events — just because you’re their leader.

Manners matter

The longstanding tradition in our troop is that there are no “Dads” or “Moms” in the unit. All Scouts, including our own kids, address all adults as “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones.” It helps from both sides to level the field.

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