Three top tips on managing behaviour
The children’s team get asked a lot about how to manage the behaviour of a Sunday or midweek group. Here are Sam Donoghue’s top three tips to set you on your way.
In the gap before the wonderful Katie O’Conor started working with us, I was back picking up the queries from children’s work. This hadn’t been my job for a couple of years and getting back into it made it feel like I’d never been away. There are still two questions I get asked about more than anything else, they haven’t changed: “How can we get more volunteers?” is one and the other is “How can we better manage the behaviour of the kids in our group?”
The fact that these questions crop up again and again reflects how difficult they are to answer. Talking about volunteering, many of the issues could be summed up by saying, “Well, you do live in London!” However, behaviour management is different – this is about trusting a process and keeping it going to maintain standards. Let me offer you three top tips.
1. Bored children will find ways of entertaining themselves and those ways are often disruptive. I know it’s a harsh place to start but it’s a simple fact that engaged children tend not to misbehave – why would they? You’ll notice that I’m saying engaged not entertained, the solution to poor behaviour is not to try and recreate the Saturday morning TV of your childhood. It’s to ensure that the there’s always something happening that the children want to join in with. Which leads me to the second point.
2. Almost all difficult behaviour can be solved before the children are in the room. We can underestimate the role of planning in this area. Have a look at your session plan and think about how you are going to make sure that it runs smoothly. How will everyone get a drink and biscuit without a scrum forming? (Have a system the kids understand.) How will you make sure the game follows the rules and doesn’t fall apart? (Buy a whistle.) How will you make sure you move from activity to activity seamlessly and without any of those awful gaps where 99% of poor behaviour can take place? (Deploy your team so that the next activity has been set up ready.)
Another subtext to planning is to think additional needs here. A regular question we get which fits in this section is around the challenging behaviour of a child with an additional need. This needs to be addressed in planning too. I have a child with ADHD in my group so in my planning I need to think about what’s going to help him to join in. In his case this means he is well capable of joining in quieter activities so long as I make sure there are moments when he can get up and run around. Games are a good way of providing this as they can be well structured and make sure he doesn’t get too excited.
3. Positive affirmation and avoiding confrontation will get you further than challenging poor behaviour or telling kids off. Generally, you’ve got the kids for an hour or less and so you can achieve a lot with enthusiasm and encouragement. So rather than, ‘Will you all sit down?!’ try, ‘Let’s all sit down, I’ve got a great story to tell you but I need to see we’re ready!’ Don’t forget that thanking those who are ready is more effective than nagging those who are not!
The principle of avoiding confrontation almost always holds unless someone is in immediate danger. If something needs tidying up, ask someone to do it and walk away communicating that you trust them to do it rather than looming over them daring them to challenge your authority. (We all know a child who will take that bait every time!) Equally if there is something that creates conflict every time, think about removing so it ceases to be a point of disruption. I once ran a kids’ club with a drum kit in the room the kids weren’t allowed to touch. Arriving early and removing it was much easier than trying keep them off it every week!