Your Cub Scouts might be called Lions or Tigers, but you probably feel like you’re herding cats half the time. As the 1947 Scoutmaster Handbook pointed out, kids “have a thousand muscles to wiggle with and only one dozen to sit still with. That dozen gets mighty tired mighty quickly.”
So how can you encourage better behavior in your den (aside from minimizing sitting time)? Darcy Guill, a Cub Scout trainer and former elementary school teacher from Ayden, N.C., says you should define good behavior and then reward it.
Defining good behavior
As soon as your den forms, create a code of conduct that describes how your Scouts should act. This shouldn’t be a comprehensive manual of do’s, don’ts and consequences. Instead, make a list of four or five things you want your Cub Scouts to do.
“The den leader can come up with the rules or, even better, you come up with the rules with the Scouts,” Guill says. “You guide them into what you want to include, and you give a lot of hints.”
She recommends keeping each rule positive — “Walk politely” rather than “Don’t run.” Positive rules let you practice the desired behaviors as a den. What’s more, kids can find loopholes in negative rules. For example, there’s always that one Cub Scout who figures out that “don’t run” seems to allow for crawling, doing cartwheels or slithering on the floor like a snake.
“It’s not to be naughty; that’s just the way their minds work,” Guill says. “That’s the way my mind works.”
Rewarding good behavior
Virtue might be its own reward, but kids need more tangible rewards to reinforce good habits. Guill is a big fan of the marble jar, where the den earns marbles for good behavior. Once the jar is full, the den gets a simple reward, such as popsicles or playground time.
She recommends spending a few minutes at the end of each den meeting reviewing the den code of conduct and deciding as a group how many marbles (up to three) the den has earned for each rule. “That’s mindful reflection on things you are trying to teach in Scouting,” she says. “You are working on internalizing the Oath and the Law, a few things at a time.”
She likes to increase the size of the jar (and the rewards) as Cub Scouts become more proficient.
“You don’t want them to take forever to earn a reward, especially when you have Lions, Tigers and Wolves. Start with small jars so they can feel that accomplishment of what it’s like to fill the jar and earn the reward.”
They might even discover that earning rewards is more fun than slithering on the floor like a snake.