Written by Andrea Knox, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development & Resiliency Field Specialist.
Do you leave your time with youth feeling frazzled or dazzled?! 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). Sometimes problem behaviors can hider these efforts. Fortunately, there are many key strategies to help take group gatherings from frazzled to dazzled! Let’s explore those strategies starting with group guidelines.
Establishing group guidelines is important for any group to function at their best. Young people are more likely to accept rules or guidelines if they have been included in the development of those guidelines. This gives them ownership of their behavior and encourages a self-check of actions. This method also utilizes positive peer pressure to model appropriate behaviors.
Naturally, young people want to cooperate and be part of the group. The purpose of group guidelines is not to force people to “be good,” but instead to show them how to cooperatively interact with one another. To reinforce the ownership of group developed guidelines; have all members sign the guidelines and bring this signed visual reminder to each gathering. You may want to revisit the guidelines from time to time to remind members of their agreement.
The University of Illinois Extension has tied the development of group guidelines to the 4 “H’s” of 4-H in the following ways.
Using the first “H”, “Head”, good group guidelines are well thought out and planned. The group’s guidelines should be logical, reasonable, and possible. They also need to be easy to understand, written in a simple language, and non-debatable. Avoid using the words “never” and “always” in the guidelines, as sometimes circumstances may make it impossible to enforce. The fewer guidelines you design, the better and easier they become to enforce.
Good guidelines also consider the “Heart” of the group members. Members develop social skills in 4-H, so we want to be sure the group guidelines reinforce caring, sharing, cooperation, and how to resolve conflicts. Also in the heart of guidelines is the partnership between the adults and the youth. Developing the guidelines should be a shared responsibility - from creating rules with consequences to the enforcement of the guidelines.
Youth learn best from hands-on learning. It is the same when developing group guidelines – youth learn when they do the work for the group. Only design needed and necessary guidelines, so they work to promote teamwork and responsibility within the group. Consequences should be developed at the same time the guidelines are designed. The consequences should be appropriate for the rule and the end result should encourage members to work together toward the group’s goals.
The Health and well-being of the group’s members should always be at the forefront when planning group guidelines. With that in mind, guidelines should be stated in a positive manner to promote good behavior and maintain each member’s self-worth and respect. If consequences need to be enforced, the offender should not be humiliated or embarrassed publicly. Guidelines and rules should also keep members physically safe.
Finally, be sure to consider an additional “H”. A signal for hush will help the group focus on important matters when you or someone else needs their attention. This signal can be the volunteer raising his/her hand, a flicker of the lights, a clap of the hands or some other agreed upon signal. But, it’s important to use the signal and WAIT for the group to become quiet.
University of Illinois Extension 4-H Volunteer Development
“Behavior Management: How to Keep Your Cool While Working with Youth Groups”