Managing misbehavior when working with youth – Part 2: Avoidance of failure

There are many ways that youth misbehave while in our care. Let’s look at some of the reasons for misbehavior and some ways to manage or even avoid it completely.

It can be really exciting to introduce youth to new subjects, skills or strategies, but what happens when they feel incapable or overwhelmed? Young people can often act out as a way of avoiding looking like a failure in front of their peers.

In a part one of this article series, we discussed that children and adolescents misbehave for a number of different reasons. Behavioral expert, Linda Albert, PhD, has theorized in her book, “Cooperative Discipline,” that children misbehave to meet various emotional needs. They may be acting out to get attention or to avoid looking like a failure. They may be acting out in order to show you or the rest of the group that they are the ones in charge, or they could even be acting out of feelings of revenge toward you, the adult.

This avoidance of failure can be tough to spot because it may look like the child is acting out to get attention. In Michigan 4-H programming, the goal is often to teach a set of skills or values and then provide an opportunity for youth to showcase what they have learned, sometimes competitively. For a child who is unsure of themselves, this type of environment can be terrifying. The youth may suddenly “not feel well” when it comes time to demonstrate their skill or they may even lash out at others in an attempt to get removed from the activity altogether. More often than not, however, they will sit quietly in the back of the room and try not to be noticed.

Fortunately, once you have determined that your young person is feeling intimidated by a task, there are very simple solutions that we already put into practice regularly in 4-H. Providing things like hands-on learning, breaking projects down into smaller steps and having a general positive “can do” attitude are things that are common in 4-H environments. We can also encourage experimentation and establish an atmosphere where mistakes are celebrated and welcomed as ways to show where we can improve.

By helping our youth become comfortable and confident, we are helping them build skills and strategies they will use well into adulthood.

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