Curbing Minor Behavior Issues

There are many times when the child’s behavior does not really require “The Talk.” When it is more serious, see our Partnering with Parents resources on “The 5 approaches to discipline” and “Success Counselor.”

In less serious moments, there are a few tools that work better than others. Here’s a list of a few that we think you’ll find effective, as well as being an overall beneficial experience for the child. These don’t always work, but as a bag of tricks, they are far more useful than not.

Strategy Description


Tense situations can be defused with a little humor.  Laugh it off or make light of the situation.  The point can be communicated, and everyone has a little laugh.  Sarcasm and teasing are not as good; they leave a little sting.

Unpredictable response

Something said or done completely out of context or personal style can be very effective.  For example, a boring task can be more fun when sung Opera style.  Completely changing the topic, acting briefly like a lunatic yourself, or briefly joining in and then quickly ending the game/event can be fun and effective as well.

Purposeful or planned ignoral

Simply let it go! Allow the silence or lack of response to speak for itself.  Children often try and play tug-of-war with us.  If you don’t pick up the rope in the first place, the game can’t start and the child may just move on or do what was asked.  This works well when combined with stating expectations (below).  Take care – after using any Level 1 technique a couple/few times, it’s time for a Level 2.

Eye contact

Also known as “The Look.”  Meet their eyes and let your expression say a thousand words.  Be careful of guilt.

Proximity control

Sit between the two children who can’t stop laughing or touching each other.  Try separating them.  Be in their vicinity and appropriate behavior may follow.

Re-direction of behaviors (providing choices)

“Going outside isn’t what we are doing right now.  You can (a) make a friendship bracelet, (b) read, or (c) write a letter.  Which would you like to do?”

Reinforce positive behavior

Catch them being good.  “That’s helpful that you made your bed without being asked.”  The trick here is to not hook the child on the praise. The idea is for children to act a certain way because it is the right thing to do, not because they want a pat on the back for doing it.

Restate expectations and/or explain the reason for the task / rule / behavior

“We don’t run in the house because things might get broken and you might get hurt.”   Or    “Remember, the group agreed that no one will touch other people’s things without their permission.”  State the expectation, reason, and then disengage.  This method is providing the “Why” or “Because.”

Coach and cue

As per a previous conversation, when you touch your nose, scratch your head, or offer some other kind of cue the child is reminded of the conversation and the associated behavior.

State your feelings

Simply state how you feel and why.  I feel ______ when you ______ because ______.  Follow up with providing choices.  What comes after the “you” part needs to be what a video camera would see, sans judgment and evaluations.

Flow for day, class, activity, . .

Problems can be avoided by structuring the day and environment for success.  Behavior is always a function of the person AND  the situation.  For example, having too much dead time or having a lack of clear structure and rules around an activity might be begging for trouble.

Voice volume and tone (not screaming or yelling)

If the situation is problematic, try having your voice tone reflect it in a stern way without yelling or screaming.  Often combined with eye contact.  This can also work for engaging children by using an enthusiastic or excited tone of voice.

Timely Challenges

Changing the motivating task by challenging campers to get something done in a certain amount of time.  For example, “Let’s see if we can shower, brush our teeth and be back in the cabin in 15 mins!  Ready, set, go!”  Then set a timer or have them check the time on your watch if they wish.  In the end, it doesn’t really matter if they achieve the time challenge or not, you’ve changed their focus to getting the task(s) done.

Points to keep in mind:

Made up, external rewards are “rat psychology.” Bribing children teaches them that they should be good because of something outside themselves, which doesn’t help children develop morality or character. External rewards are not child development in any sense.

Commanding children might work, but it isn’t educational or fun to be on the other side of a command. It also doesn’t given them something else to do besides what got them “in trouble.” Providing choices and stating your feelings are good alternatives to commands.

See the “5 approaches to discipline” to understand this point. Anytime a consequence is used, you have ceased using the “Success Counselor” (we call this Level 2, all above are level 1 strategies) method and have resorted to the “Monitor” approach. Recognize that it is ultimately less effective, and less likely to result in significant child development. The Success Counselor is focused on the individual truly accepting restitution. If restitution was not offered without the use of power, success counseling has failed.

After using any Level 1 technique a couple/few times, it’s time for a Level 2, Success Counselor.

Anything beyond these simple responses falls under the heading of needing to have a conversation. When that happens, the “Success Counselor” approach always needs to be undertaken, however brief.

Beware the “Hoover Maneuver”