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Promoting positive behaviour

Scouting should be an enjoyable experience and promoting positive behaviour is essential to the smooth running of any activity. This provides a foundation for the running of the section, reduces the likelihood of challenging behaviour occurring, and ensures that activities are fun, engaging and safe for everyone.

Adults in Scouting have an important role in supporting young people to manage their own behaviour and make positive choices. 

Scouting is an ideal place to expect positive behaviour, with the Scouting Purpose and Method being based upon personal development, learning by doing and enjoyment.

What causes challenging behaviour?

Every young person at some point will probably behave in a challenging way.  It is a natural process of growing up and testing boundaries, as young people learn more sophisticated ways to communicate and express themselves.

The reasons for challenging behaviour can be many and varied and may well lie outside Scouting and its activities. There can be many reasons for young people to behave in a challenging way and as a Leader it is important to distinguish between the causes that you can influence and those you can’t.

Some behaviours may be linked to medical conditions, disabilities or additional needs. See our Additional Needs Directory for information and for information about behaviour in autism, please visit scouts.org.uk/autism  It is important to work with the parent or carer to plan support strategies and to make reasonable adjustments to meet their needs. There may be strategies or a behaviour plan used at school, which you can refer to.

Challenging behaviour can be a result of boredom or inactivity, or on the flip side too much energetic activity. You can positively change by working to offer a dynamic, fun and varied programme.

There may be factors from outside the section meetings that impact on the behaviour of a young person in a group e.g. bullying, family and social situations or issues that are personal to them that they may not have expressed to you.

How can I promote positive behaviour in my section?

Positive behaviour needs to be planned for, modelled, taught and acknowledged; it does not happen by accident.

Know the young people and parents/carers in your section

See each young person as an individual, find out about any disabilities or additional needs, and establish an open and positive relationship with parents or carers. This will help with insight into the cause of any behaviours and how to best respond.

Managing the transition between sections is important, so that a new young person coming into the section knows the leaders and other young people within the section and how the section works. Making use of buddies during this process can be particularly valuable for a new young person so that they don’t feel alone or isolated.

Good Programme planning

Establish good routines and systems

Here are some good tips in running activities, to encourage positive behaviour:

Set the standards with the young people

Challenging behaviour can mean different things to different people, therefore it is important that acceptable standards are created and agreed.

Make sure that all involved know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour. Actively involve young people in creating a Code of Conduct for the section. Young people are more likely to remember and stick to a code of conduct that they themselves have played a part in creating it.

Consider what is appropriate to the age and maturity of the young people. It is best practice to instil a code of conduct into the section based on the Promise, but in language that is appropriate for the age of the section.

Refer back to this regularly and review. Regular reminders about the Code of Conduct help everyone know what to expect. Remind people periodically (i.e. at the start of each new term) what the agreed rules are. When new people start, get the young people to show them the Code of Conduct so they know what is expected rather than hoping they will pick it up. Perhaps use a buddy system and don’t forget to let parents/carers know as well.

Tips for an effective Code of Conduct are as follows:

Agree on a plan if standards are not met

All leaders will at some point experience occasions when behaviour will affect the smooth running of a meeting or event, so it is important to plan ways of managing that behaviour in advance.

Leaders should agree with the young people and as a leadership team, what the boundaries of behaviour are and what the consequences will be. A shared understanding between the leadership team, young people and parent or carers of consequences, is important.

An appropriate intervention for behaviour that is unacceptable depends on the behaviour or the circumstances. It’s good for leadership teams to discuss these regularly so that everyone is consistent in their approach. Adding it to the agenda for leadership meeting can be a good way of reminding leaders that it needs to be thought about.

Any behaviour that represents a serious threat to the welfare of others should be reported, following the guidance on the Yellow Card.

Use positive language and communication

Offer praise and recognition

Praising and rewarding appropriate behaviour is more effective in the long term, than focusing on inappropriate behaviour. Get into the practise of providing age-appropriate encouragement and praise.

Fostering a culture of praise and not blame has shown time and time again to encourage good behaviour. Praise young people for doing the right thing rather than criticising those doing the wrong thing. ‘Thank you’ and ‘Well done’ need to be heard and meant when talking to young people and between leaders too.

Devise ways of recognising achievement. An appropriate points system with, for instance, a round of applause for the group with the most points at the end of the night, and a small prize at the end of term for the winning team. You can also be use things like certificates to reward those that arrive on time, wear their uniform correctly or any other single aspect of behaviour you want to highlight?

You could have a ‘Scout of the month’ award that can be given according to whatever focus of behaviour, e.g. attendance, is required. The method of reward could include a trophy to look after for the month, the presentation of a certificate and/or their names put into a hat which form a draw at the end of the year with the opportunity to win a sum of money which can go towards buying something useful for Scouting.

Lead by example

Remember you are an influential role model for young people. One essential principle of promoting positive behaviour is to lead by example. For instance, if leaders shout, young people will often become louder. Older Scouts and Explorers may have the attitude ‘If leader’s don't stick to the rules then why should I’?

What messages do your adults give out? Do they stop and listen when instructions are being given out? How do they model ‘good’ behaviour? Do they recognise and acknowledge good behaviour as well as pick up on poor examples? Adult behaviour can sometimes be the catalyst for undesirable behaviour in young people. Taking stock of how the adults are interacting and behaving around young people can be beneficial. If you identify issues and address them you may find that behaviour in your section improves.

Examples to address could include;

How should I respond to challenging behaviour?

Be positive but realistic. It is likely that every young person at some point will show challenging behaviour.

If low level behaviour is occurring in the section as a whole, here are some useful techniques:
These tips can support you in responding effectively to more serious incidents:

Reflection and review should focus on answering the following questions:

What if behaviour continues?

Seek support from your Group Scout Leader (GSL) or line manager in Scouting.

For continued challenging behaviour, it is important to work in partnership with the parents/carers. All should be clear of the next steps - working out a process that contains defined boundaries and times scales is important so that everyone is aware of the process and how it is going to happen. If after this period has concluded, there is still an issue, then bringing in support from the Group Scout Leader is important. Once you have reached this stage, your GSL in consultation with the District Commissioner, will advise you of the process which is also contained in Policy, Organisation & Rule. scouts.org.uk/por

Remember that any behaviour that represents a serious threat to the welfare of others should be reported through the Child Protection procedures (Yellow Card).

How can I discuss behaviour with the parent or carer?

Below are some suggested questions to help frame a conversation with the parent/carer of a young person who has been displaying challenging behaviour in Scouting. These questions could also be used to help plan ahead for a new Member who you are aware has behaviour difficulties.

Remember that this is a sensitive topic, and it is important to try to maintain a positive and open relationship with the parent/carer; working together to support the young person to access Scouting. Where there is repetitive challenging behaviour or the challenging behaviour is severe, you may wish to seek some more support from your Group Scout Leader, Assistant District Commissioner (Section) or Assistant District Commissioner (Inclusion). You can also seek support from the Inclusion team at Headquarters, via diversity.inclusion@scouts.org.uk

Focus on the behaviour rather than the young person, and the impact this is having on the young person’s ability to access, enjoy and develop in Scouting. Stick to the facts of what has happened and focus on planning ahead, to support the young person to manage their behaviour in the future.

How should I respond to arguments or disputes between young people?

In addition to the guidance above

Teaching skills in managing behaviour

There are activities about behaviour on Programmes Online at scouts.org.uk/pol

Below are some suggested techniques that you could support young people to use in managing their behaviour, particularly when they are feeling angry, and in turn, enable them to make positive choices.  Young people may also need support in recognising their own emotions and understanding the feelings/perspectives of others.

The techniques which are appropriate will depend on the individual young person and their age/maturity, and their preferences. They may also have their own ideas about what helps them to be happy and calm.

Some questions and thoughts to think about in terms of the leadership team.

It’s much easier to keep control if one of you is running the activity and another is helping to observe. It is very easy to miss something while you are running the activity so another pair of eyes can be invaluable. You may want to look at whether the atmosphere is full of criticism or a constant reinforcing of acceptable behaviour. ‘Thank you’ and ‘Well done’ need to be heard (and meant) when talking to young people and between Leaders too. Remember too that it is the behaviour, which is unacceptable, rather than the young person and provide opportunities for them to have good behaviour acknowledged. Avoid labelling individuals as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, referring rather to acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. This helps everyone to focus on what the problem is and deal with it.

Sources of support

Each case will be different, but examples of sources of support are:

Further information


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