I think once you’ve been part of leading a unit for a while, we all have those nights where you come home and you feel like this:
And you wonder why you do it, and whether it’s possible that aliens abducted all the lovely girls that arrived from Brownies as super enthusiastic, attentive, polite Guides and exchanged them for clones that look like the same girls but injected them with an attitude that seems designed to destroy your spirit.
A bit like this:
Seem a familiar sight to any other Guide leaders out there? Of course, when we were teenagers, we were never like that. Ahem.
When I turned 16, I got signed up as an Assistant Guider in an inner city Guide unit. It was a large unit, and the area around us was probably one that local authority had labelled as ‘socially deprived’.
It was tough. But eventually with consistency and gaining trust we did get somewhere. But man it was flippin’ exhausting at times!
The unit I have now is nothing like as challenging as that one. I have had some challenging behaviour to deal with at times. But the 10-14 age range in girls is a tough one. I remember going through it myself, I remember my sister going through it, my friends’ younger sisters going through it and have no desire to turn back the clock to do it again.
You will find that some of your girls go through nights when they seem sulky and will moan that they ‘can’t be bothered‘ or ‘don’t want to do that’. You’ll find girls who have been firm friends get into fights or stop speaking to each other. You may have to deal with gossip, or discovery of bullying. Girls may be very self conscious about what they look like. And there’ll just be general moments of ‘attitude’.
So how do you handle it?
1. Consistency. It’s especially important I think in a time where there is so much changing. The girls seem to like routine, though they also enjoy nights that are different every now and again. I find that when we go through phases where we really struggle with the girls, it’s when we’ve been trying to fit too much into meetings or we’re not in a routine they know.
2. Find ways for the girls to learn how to take responsibility. They want to be adults, but are still learning how to be adults. I find that having their patrol boxes, planning sheets and everything helps with this. If they forget something, I don’t ‘save the day’, but encourage them to find something else to do instead, and remind them that this is why it’s important. They do eventually learn to remember things because it results in better, more fun activities!
3. Raising the hand for silence. I don’t want to yell, and when I do it usually doesn’t work because they aren’t listening anyway. Yes, you will get terrific arm muscles, because you may find yourself with that arm raised for a really long time. I don’t speak when I’ve got my arm raised. I’ll just stand there until they are all completely silent.
We also have a whistle which we will use to get girls attention if they continue to be noisy. This was brought in at the request of the girls when making their unit guidelines this year – they told us we should yell at them more often if they didn’t ‘shut up’ (their words!). I said I didn’t want to be yelling, so we did the whistle thing. We try not to use it too often.
4. Time Management. I always give the girls plenty of time to tidy up. I will give them a 10 minute, five minute and one minute ‘you need have cleared up now’. Sometimes they ask to do something extra at the end – they know if they don’t clear up after themselves quickly (and properly) there won’t be time.
5. Say thank you. It’s really easy to nag and find things to criticise. ‘Jane you’ve made a huge mess on the floor, go get a brush to clean it up’. ‘Tracy, why are you standing chatting when the rest of your patrol is doing all the work?’. Even if it’s something you’d expect them to do, and especially if some of them are getting on with it and others aren’t – say thank you. ‘Thank you for putting that chair away’. ‘Well done that’s a great job with the dishes’.
6. Be encouraging. Compliment them when they’ve planned their Go For It activities so they all know what they are doing. Tell them “it’s lovely to see you working well as a team” when they are. Encourage the girl who participates even though she some times gives up because she feels there’s no point if she’s not going to be the best.
7. Remind them of their Unit Guidelines. Our girls all have a copy of the promise, Guide law and the unit guidelines we create each year together in their patrol boxes. They are also posted on our noticeboard in the meeting place. I remind them that they made them, and I also remind them of the promise we all made. I also tell them that if they catch me not keeping them, they should pull me up on it too! For example: one of our unit rules is electronic devices (like phones & iPods) are put away and not brought out during the meeting because it can be rude. It goes for the unit leaders too. Sometimes if a leader is running late or a girl isn’t there, I’ll say to the girls ‘I’ve got my phone out just in case we hear from x because they don’t seem to be here yet. Is that ok?‘ that way they know I’m not just texting my friend and not paying attention to them. I’m checking to see if my phone going off is because a leader has got caught in traffic or a parent is letting me know her daughter has come down sick.
Equally, I will say to the girls they can use their phones if it is for a constructive reason (e.g. finding a recipe for an activity they want to do).
8. Talk to the girls privately when difficult situations come up rather than with the whole unit as an audience. Be calm. The two times there has been hitting in our unit, I’ve taken the girls involved aside while the rest of the unit are engaged in activity and talked them through it in a way that gets them thinking about what they are doing, and how our actions can affect others, and how we can communicate/act in more constructive ways when we feeling angry or frustrated. Last time ended in two girls giggling because I mentioned periods and PMT and how even though we may feel like it, we can’t go about hitting people when we are feeling a bit wonky with all the hormones. “I can’t believe you mentioned periods!!!!” was the response as two girls who two seconds before had been engaged in a fully fledged cat fight went off to their patrols best pals again, tension lifted.
9. Keep hold of your sense of humour. It’s much easier when you can find the funny side of things.
10. Be yourself, and accept that you are in their eyes ‘a grown up’ and therefore don’t understand, are very uncool and don’t know anything. You’ll find that when you openly admit to being boring and uncool instead of being ‘down with the kids’, they take you more seriously and may even compliment you and giggle with you on a rare occasion. They may even ask you for advice (!) (which is rare because obviously teenagers already know everything).
One final thing: Take heart and don’t give up, because if you don’t you may find the lovely ten year old that disappeared into a teenager for a while, becomes a fabulously mature and helpful older teenager a couple of years later…just in time for her to move up to Senior Section! 😉
You’ll (hopefully) find all those nights you came home with extra grey hairs was worth it…