Working with Youth: From Frazzled to Dazzled: Part 2 Back »

Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.

Over the past couple weeks we have discussed ways to promote positive behavior, discourage disruptive behavior and thus go from frazzled to dazzled in our work with youth!  Remember, the ultimate goal of all 4-H clubs/groups is positive youth development.  We want 4-H members to have the opportunity to participate in physically and emotionally safe environments, in welcoming and inclusive environments, and in appropriately structured environments when they participate in 4-H programs. These are three of the essential elements of positive youth development (PYD). 

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the importance of involving youth in developing group guidelines.  In Part 2 we looked at techniques to prevent problem behaviors.  While both of these steps will make a big difference in minimizing issues; problem behaviors will inevitably surface from time to time.  So, let’s conclude our series by looking as some tried and true strategies provided by the University of Illinois Extension on ways to effectively handle those problem behaviors when they do arise. 


General Strategies

  • Ignore the behavior when the goal was to get your attention.  But, remember ignoring is only one of many techniques you use to deal with disruptive behavior. Explain that you will accept a contribution when they choose to behave appropriately.
  • Make it clear that their decision will affect whether they will be allowed to continue participating in the activity.  Try using phrases such as, “You can help…, we need…, or you can help us finish quickly by picking up your things."
  • Allow natural consequences. 
  • If the child isn’t hurting anyone, simply restate the choice they have.
  • If the child is harming someone, the options you give will be different.  (i.e., "Do you want to help the group finish or would you like to sit by yourself until the others finish”?)
  • If you separate the child, begin the process again.  When a child sees that their last tactic did not work and the stability has been restored to the group, give the child a chance to start over.
  • Physical Management
    • Catch the student's eye and flash a mildly disapproving warning. (i.e., frown, clear your throat)
    • Stand close to the student.
    • Change physical placement. (i.e., put troublemaker close to teacher)
    • Separate troublemakers or isolate the disruptive child.
    • Consider how to use the space available. Place chairs in a circle so all can more easily contribute to the conversation.

    Verbal Management

    Redirect or distract.

  • Don’t give the youth attention - it frequently stops the behavior.
  • Be observant of youth's activity and provide helpful feedback.
  • Sometimes asking a totally unrelated question catches them off guard.  Be sure to provide a suggestion of what to do that is positive.
  • Broken record technique:  Keep repeating request until youth complies with request.
  • Request student to perform a specific behavior.
  • Defining Limits: how far is too far.
  • Catch them doing something good.
  • Tell “what to do” rather than “what not to do”.

Extra Tips

  • Don’t assume the child knows how to read.
  • Rewards for completing activity by giving a small treat. This can be an incentive if youth know prior to the activity that they will be receiving it.
  • Restructure the situation if necessary.
  • Talk with disruptive student during break.
  • Set a good example – adults follow rules set for the youth.
  • Allow time for practice.
  • Use a sense of humor – poke fun at yourself rather than the children.
  • Involve youth in leadership and planning – when youth are involved in planning they take ownership of the idea and are much more supportive of any task related to the idea.

Each adult, youth and club/group is unique.  By incorporating some of these strategies with our clubs and continuing to learn about other tips and techniques we’ll continue to build a vibrant group, full of learning and fun for all!  Check out 4-H Volunteer Resources for more information. 


University of Illinois Extension 4-H Volunteer Development

“Behavior Management: How to Keep Your Cool While Working with Youth Groups”

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