Dealing with Behavior


  • The fact that kids act out at Spark means they feel safe to do so (a good thing). We also need to show firm boundaries so they get consistent messages from all volunteers and staff.

  • Kids WILL push boundaries. Don’t take it personally. Your job is to be the padded wall they throw themselves against. Be firm and kind.

  • Relationships make respect possible. Build a friendly relationship with kids so you have their trust when you enforce discipline. Not comfortable enforcing? Grab a staff.

  • Ask for their advice on everyday stuff, as well as “how they can make it right” when they cause harm or cause unsafe feelings. This builds relationships and respect.

  • There is a difference between behavior adjustment (running but stopping when they are reminded) and defiant behavior (ignoring your requests repeatedly or flagrantly disobeying to get a reaction). Defiance should always be dealth with a staff present or by a staff. Deal with it as far as you are comfortable.


  • Maintain a caring attitude. Greet kids when they come in and be happy to see them.

  • Maintain firm positions on boundaries. If we are inconsistent with boundaries, we confuse kids.

  • Thank kids and praise them for good actions: “You guys are really helpful today. Thank you.”

  • Distract by showing (sometimes faking) enthusiasm: “I’m dying to play Jenga! (pull out game) Walter, will you play with me? I bet I can beat you!”

  • Affirm their value by saying things like, “You know we care about you, so I need to ask you to stop.”

  • Offer choices. If they insist on doing X, say, “I’m sorry, that’s not a choice. Would you like to ___ or ___?” or “I’m sorry you don’t like either of those choices. Maybe you’re not ready to be here today.”


  • Act angry or raise your voice. This will only trigger their emotional response and escalate behavior.

  • Touch a child when they’re in trouble or upset.

  • Mirror their bad attitude or hostility. This will only show they have power to get a rise out of you.

  • Take their actions personally. 95% of their actions - even defiance - have nothing to do with you. Rather, they are cries for attention or affection, or they are expressions of deeply rooted anger or pain.

  • Retaliate or unnecessarily bring up past days/behavior as this instills negativity and shame. Treat every day like a fresh slate and practice forgiveness. Even if they were awful last week, greet them happily this week.

“Let’s not do that…”

  • Running (unsafe)

  • Throwing things at people (unsafe)

  • Swearing (feels unsafe)

  • Threats (feels unsafe)

  • Going behind help desk (boundary)

  • Using staff computers (boundary)


Action steps (1, 2, 3)

At any point, grab a staff if you are uncomfortable. DO NOT TOUCH KIDS when enacting steps 2 or 3, even in a friendly way

  1. Initially, take a playful attitude toward boundaries.

    “Whoa! You’re better than that kind of language! How about we get creative, like, ‘What the flaming hippopotamus!’ What is the Wildest image you can think of, Sam?”


    “Whoa! You have dons of energy today; while you’re at Spark, I need to ask you to stop running please.”

  2. Warn twice. The second warning should be a conversation.

    The first warning is kind and firm: “Jenny, we cannot run inside because it makes this space unsafe for you and others. Can you help us be safe and walk, please?

    The second warning should provide an OFTD* consequence and choice: (pulling kid aside and squatting to be on their level if possible) “Jenny, can I have your eyes please. It’s important that this be a safe space for everyone, and I observe you are having trouble being safe today and can’t stop running. You didn’t stop when I asked, so that makes me think that you’re not ready to be here, and it makes me feel that you don’t respect me. If you can’t stop running, I’ll have to ask you to go home for the day, and I don’t want to do that. Do you think you can make a better choice?

Please let a staff know or get a staff before you enact Step 3 so we can witness and back you up should things get hairy or should behavior escalate. You should also do a report afterwards.

  1. KINDLY AND FIRMLY ENforce the consequence

    (away from crowd if you can)

    “Jenny, I can see that you’re not ready to be here today. We can try again tomorrow when you’re ready to be safe. Do you want to walk home or for me to call your parent?”

    If they beg for another chance, ask how they can make it right: “Jenny, you’re shown you’re not ready to be here today. Can you think of a way to make it right with me and the rest of the people here?”


when feelings are hurt

  • Use OFTD* to help people express how they feel and why they are upset.

  • Try to come to a solution that “makes it right” for the hurt party. Leaving unresolved feelings can contribute to the same situation happening again.


OFTD is the method we use to…