The safety of everyone involved is the most important factor; be it physical or emotional danger. Do not try to deal with the situation, or the behaviour, until you have made sure everyone is away from danger and therefore have decreased the likelihood of it happening again.
Listen & talk
Make sure you listen and talk to everyone involved: the child, their parents/carers, other volunteers and any young members that may have been affected.
Treat everyone involved with respect and don’t expect to receive respect if you do not show it in the first place. Never use physical punishment.
Try to find a solution
Try to work out a solution that everyone involved is happy with. Ideally this should involve the child staying as part of the group, possibly after a break from the group, or when a new behaviour agreement has been put in place. There will be cases where this won’t be best for everyone involved, and a child may have to leave the group.
Where possible, agree a response with all involved, including the child. Where possible, the child themselves should be encouraged to self-manage their own behaviour. This will help the child to develop and learn.
Ask for support – dealing with challenging behaviour is tough, so don’t do it alone.
It is better to take steps to avoid unacceptable behaviour occurring than to deal with behaviour once it has happened. You can reduce the likelihood of unacceptable behaviour in your group in a range of ways.
As a group (with adults and children), agree your expectations of group members, including what is and isn’t acceptable, and what the consequences of unacceptable behaviour will be. Expectations should be made clear to new members and their parents/carers. Aim for consistency, while acknowledging that different volunteers will have different strengths and styles of leadership. A group agreement is a good way to document these expectations. Expectations should be reviewed regularly so that they can be developed as the group grows and changes. You could:
- Discuss in small groups/pairs before agreeing as a whole group
- Discuss informally during other activities e.g. craft or on a walk
- Play a game (e.g. human knot) and ask reflective questions, e.g. ‘How well did we work together?’
- Reflect in a positive way, e.g. ‘What do you enjoy about the group?’, ‘How can we make it welcoming?’
- If you use ‘time out’ as a consequence, agree an approach in advance, e.g. where, how long, supervision (being careful to avoid one-to-one contact between volunteers and children)
Health, access & consent information
It is important to collect consent forms as soon as new members join the group. This isn’t simply for medical reasons, as it may also highlight children who may present with challenging behaviour. The group can work out how they will manage potential situations before they arise. In some cases the consent form may not have all the information needed, so following them up with an informal chat is a good idea.
- Encourage honesty to support inclusion
- hare info from consent forms with all leaders
- Ask parents/carers about children’s needs and strategies that work to engage them (especially if not joining in or being disruptive)
Managing behaviour should be part of the group’s risk assessment. This may be informed by the information collected when a young person joins a group or just as the group grows and develops. Including it in your risk assessment will get the group to really focus on the behaviour and what is unacceptable about it. Why is it unsafe? The group can then think about solutions to prevent or manage the behaviour in advance of it happening, rather than after an incident.
Follow-up from incidents
Report any incidents as accurately as possible, use this to reflect and review the group’s activities to see if any improvements can be made to your practice to avoid repetition.
Think about games and activities carefully, If you have done them in the past, did they work well? Why was this? What worked with one set of children may not work so well with another. Starting off with a familiar game or simple craft that young people can join in with immediately on arrival helps to set the tone for the session.
You should expect children to participate, but have some flexibility – discuss your group’s approach to children who may want or need to opt out, e.g.:
- Allow them to sit out quietly as long as they do not disrupt the activity for others
- Have a chill out space or book corner, especially for younger children who need a quiet space from time to time
Running the session
Ensure there are sufficient volunteers, including one additional adult who can circulate and provide one-to-one attention if needed to support young members to engage. Some groups call this role the ‘group guardian’. Share responsibility for managing behaviour, without relying just on the main activity leader. This helps the rest of the group activity continue, with less disruption.
Adopting a consistent structure for each session will help those children who find it difficult to adapt to new things. Try to have your opening and closing circles at about the same time each week so that children become familiar with the pattern of the session. Try to avoid long transitional gaps which are very difficult for some.
Make sure that children, particularly those with additional needs, know what will happen next and even guide them into the next activity or game. Make sure that you explain clearly at the beginning of the session, exactly what will be happening in the session, and be prepared to repeat this a number of times for individual children. Don’t suddenly make a change without forewarning vulnerable children so that they avoid becoming confused and then disruptive.
Ensure where possible that there is a gender balance in the group (and consider how you will seek to maintain this).
The group night environment should be welcoming, open to all, and most importantly, fun.
Avoid confrontation by distracting the child into another activity, for example helping to prepare the drinks or helping to get another activity ready.
‘Pick your battles’, but where distraction hasn’t worked or isn’t appropriate, give a clear warning what will happen if unacceptable behaviour continues. Move immediately on to another activity so the child can ‘succeed’ immediately in not repeating the behaviour.
Seek to acknowledge the efforts a child is making to improve their behaviour, but if unacceptable behaviour continues you will need to follow through with what the group has agreed will happen or the warning you have given.
As a last resort, ask the child to move to a quiet place in the hall or remove the group from the immediate area around the child so that they have a chance to calm down. Asking the child’s parent/carer to keep them at home for a session might be the next step, but always make sure that both child and parent know how long this will be for, and why it has happened. Remove a source of disruption, e.g. a particular game, equipment, etc.
Always make sure that discussion of a child’s behaviour, whether with them or their parent/carer, is done privately so that they are not humiliated in front of the rest of the group.
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Approval Date: May 2022
Review Date: May 2024