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Tuesday Talkback: How do you get Scouts to settle down at meetings?

Tuesday-TalkbackAfter loading them up with snacks and sugary drinks at the beginning of the meeting, it’s no wonder your Cub Scouts are bouncing off the walls right when you want them to settle down for a serious activity.

Boy Scouts, too, have endless energy, and getting them to focus on planning patrol menus for this weekend’s campout won’t be easy after they just came inside from 20 minutes of a high-energy game like capture the flag.

A young person’s energy level is a tricky thing to tame, but it can be done with proper planning.

You can start by creating a better meeting schedule — or, for Boy Scout troops, having your youth leaders do it. Does it make more sense for snacks to be at the beginning of the meeting or the end? What about high-energy games?

Once the schedule’s perfect, you’re still not done. Writing a den or troop code of conduct puts enforceable rules in writing. Even better if you have the boys create it themselves. Ask questions like, “What are some of the things you are not allowed to do in your home?” As boys respond, have them adapt home rules for the den; as they agree on rules, write them on the piece of paper. When they agree on the entire list, post it at all of your den meetings.

I remember my den growing up had a conduct candle. An adult lit a large candle at the beginning of the meeting and put it out at the end. If someone misbehaved, though, it was extinguished early. Once the candle fully melted away (usually after a few months of meetings), we got a pizza party or field trip or some other kind of treat.

It was a visual reminder to the boys that breaking the rules ruins things for everyone.

For today’s Tuesday Talkback, I’m interested in your experience with conduct at meetings. Specifically: How do you get Scouts to settle down? Leave some ideas below.

Ideas from Scouting magazine

We wrote about this topic in our September-October 2009 issue. Find those ideas here.

Past Tuesday Talkbacks

Other discussions on a range of topics are still ongoing. Join those conversations here.


Illustration by Darren Thompson

28 thoughts on “Tuesday Talkback: How do you get Scouts to settle down at meetings?

  1. “Sign’s up, mouth goes shut” The scout sign is a great tool to get scouts to settle down and settle each other down. Our Patrol Leader would count how long it took for the boys to settle down once the sign went up and would then tell the boys that there would be 5 minutes (or however long it took them) for a game at the end of the meeting

  2. We meet at a school and most of the kids go there. The teachers use a specific clapping pattern that the kids answer back with their own clapping pattern to get them to be quiet without yelling. Yes, we use the sign, but they don’t always notice quickly over their own distractions, and this is simply faster. The clapping is reinforced every single school day to all the boys. The few who go to a different school catch on quickly.

    Also, we don’t do snacks. It’s not that we decided against it, we simply never started. It didn’t occur to anyone to give snacks so soon after dinnertime.

    • How does clapping work when you’re outside on a nature hike or camping trip when boys are also suppose to be learning to observe their surroundings?

      • While there are many ways to get the attention of a group, truly “sign’s up” is the tried and true method at a scout meeting. Please discourage the youth from yelling SIGN’S UP!! as that just makes it noisier. While it definitely takes longer standing quietly and waiting is how we model the behavior and they will begin to be faster as they realize that the fun will not commence until it is quiet.

        • As I said, we do both. They are used to the clapping in school. The main time we need to do the clapping is during pack meetings. Try as you might, some parts just won’t hold their attention – especially Tigers and Wolves. If we were talking Scouts or even Webelos, sure – just using the sign would be ok. But the clapping works better for the little guys.

          Since we have a perfectly simple solution that works for all our Cubs when it’s noisy, why fight it? There’s no reason NOT to include non-Scouting solutions to Scouting “problems” on occasion. Over time, the little guys get it, but doing clapping when it’s loud to get them looking at us works well in the meantime.

        • I will never tell anyone to quit doing what works! I do understand that pack meetings can be difficult. I made sure to keep them divided into dens and it was the expectation that all parents and den leaders were sitting within reach…….LOL

  3. Definitely snacks and wild games at the end! I like the behavior contract and conduct candle as long as it is always positive. It is so much better to catch them being good than to punish them for being bad.

    I saw a leader who used to make the “offender” come up in front of everyone and blow out the candle! Also I feel that if the candle gets blown out there needs to be the option to have it relit if the behavior gets better.

    The behavior contract needs to be worded so that they know what is ACCEPTABLE otherwise the list is just a bunch of don’t this or no this…..

    I used to give my cubs marbles, three of them, at the beginning and if they needed to be asked to give one up they did. BUT I was generous when giving them out for good behavior. Then at the end of the night they deposited the marbles into a jar and when that got full we did a surprise.

    Please ask your scouts to rise to the occasion.

  4. My son’s Webelos Den meets for an hour and a half. At the beginning of the meeting, I tell the scouts which requirements we will be covering. If we get through everything, then we play a game and odds are, they will not have any homework :). When the scouts start to get out of control, I remind them that they are cutting into their “play time”. Also, half way through the meeting, everyone gets up, goes to the restroom and gets a drink of water. This break really helps and I take the opportunity to let them know if we are on schedule or behind schedule.

    I also have fall back activities because sometimes when the weather changes, the scouts cannot settle down. Knowing when to give up and play a scouting game (knot relay, scout law card match,.. ) is often the hardest lesson for a leader to learn.

    • This game or magic trick at the end of the meeting worked for me If they started to get rowdy I would accidentally tell them the name of the game or trick, it piqued their interest and they would return to the business part of the meeting

  5. Right now, we have a fairly young median age in our troop. About 40% of the troop is 13 and under. Need I say more…LOL! The “Sign’s Up” method is our go to, but I have seen these guys ramble on with each other, with their “sign” up and pay no attention to the adult or youth leader requesting attention. I had commented in an earlier Talkback post about a situation at one of our meetings, where I was chided by the Scoutmaster for trying to reign the herd back in. Sometimes you need to raise your volume above theirs to get their attention. Short of getting an airhorn, it’s all patience. They will understand when no one else is talking/horsing around but them.

  6. As a Den Leader years ago for my son’s Pack, I (and sometimes we) not only created the rules for a Code of Conduct, we went over them every year. Additionally, the rules would expand somewhat as the boys went higher in rank. Not only did we go over each rule — once every boy had indicated that he understood what he was agreeing to, I had each boy sign an individual piece of paper with the “Code of Conduct” and placed it in a binder that I took to every meeting. If the boys violated one of the rules, I simply pulled the binder out and we reviewed the rules. I also reminded the boys that each one had signed the document to indicate that they understood the appropriate behavior that was and was not allowed at a Den meeting. To the best of my memory, I only had to pull that binder out a few times over the course of five (5) years. Additionally, since I sometimes gained or lost a Scout, I’d give the boys their signed Code of Conduct towards the end of the school year. My thought here was for those who might want it for a scrapbook. After all, I had felt that this would only work if we had discussed the rules again anyways once a new Scouting (school) year began.

  7. I keep the topics short and ask them a lot of questions. I encourage them to learn from each other, and I try to just be the facilitator (and this is a large wolf den). I review the code of conduct about “talking in turn” at the beginning of each meeting, and have them hold each other accountable and to be respectful of each other. This is always a work in progress, but when it works well, the meeting runs itself, and the boys get more out of it.

  8. This really came up? We no longer train den leaders the parts of a meeting from regathering through closing? Or are they ignoring the training?

  9. Even if the den leaders are faithfully following the training, there is real life. There are going to be meetings where the energy level is super high or they just don’t really want to follow the plans you have so carefully laid out the way the book says. I see the Program Helps and all those other resources as guidelines but you need to have strategies up your sleeve.

    • That makes it sound like you don’t believe in helping struggling den leaders, which I’m sure isn’t your intent.

      This blog, to me, is a place leaders come to learn how to better “do their duty”. If they were already perfect, they could simply be beatified and take their seat in heaven. ;-)

      Truly, I have struggled to learn how to do my job and see many others in my pack, in other packs, and online who are also struggling. It’s great to have an interactive resource like this to learn from other Scouters.

    • I’m sorry Eric but I disagree. I have 13 boys in my Den and 4 of them that have ADHD. We are constantly having to shift and redirect and find new ways to learn to listen.

    • Maybe duties is a bit strong.

      But how about under trained.

      follow the program helps guide, it really does work and bottom line only you know your boys. if they get bored, get them out of their seat for a round of steal the bacon or amoeba tag

  10. we have an inexpensive hiking stick that we use as a “spirit stick”. The boy who is trying his best, listening when he should be, being helpful, etc. is selected by the den leaders and it is awarded at the end of the night. That boy gets to take it home and has approx. 4″ of space to add what ever he likes to it. At the next meeting he gets to tell everyone about what he put on it and why. The cubs really work hard to earn the right to bring home the stick for a week! Works great.

  11. All our dens meet at the same time and place, in the school cafeteria. We have one large room and two other rooms (the gym and auxilary gym) that dens use as needed. We’re working on doing gathering activities, but that isn’t a 100% solution.

    Our pack leadership wants to reinforce the promise and law so we are starting our meetings with everyone reciting those and the Pledge. One of our den leaders recently fell 15 feet and broke his back and neck. (It could have been much worse, no word yet on when he’ll walk again, but they seem to think he will when his back heals from the surgery.) As a result, we have added a prayer for their family and the pack in general as part of our “opening” for den meetings.

    “God, please watch over the families in our pack, and especially watch over [this den leader] and his family. Help him heal fully and help us all have a joyful holiday season. In Your Name, Amen.”

    Very neutral and non-denominational, Scout-appropriate, and all the boys settle down and bow their heads for that short prayer. It isn’t really discussed much because it’s an element that is mostly covered at home because their is so much variation in personal beliefs, but Faith is part of Scouting. We should include it, where appropriate, in our meetings.

  12. hmmm,

    The boys are told to sit quietly in school all day, now your telling them to sit quietly at scouts????

    So when did scouting become school????

    • No wonder scouting numbers are falling.

      Seems all you folks forget scouting is supposed to be fun and for a lad 7-11 years old that does not equate to sitting quietly at a table making Popsicle stick picture frames or macaroni art.

      Get the boys out of those seats and let them have some fun regardless of how loud it is

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