Creating a Safe Space for Girl Scouts
As a volunteer, the environment you create is just as important as the activities girls do—it’s the key to developing the sort of group that girls want to be part of! Cultivate a space where confidentiality is respected, and girls can express their true selves.
You're a role model and a mentor to your Girl Scouts. Since you play an important role in their lives, they need to know that you consider each of them an important person too. They can weather a poor meeting place or an activity that flops, but they cannot endure being ignored or rejected.
Give a shout-out when you see youth trying their best, not just when they’ve had a clear success.
Emphasize the positive qualities that make each Girl Scout worthy and unique.
Be generous with praise and stingy with rebuke.
Help your Girl Scouts find ways to show acceptance of and support for one another.
Youth are sensitive to injustice. They forgive mistakes if they are sure you are trying to be fair. They look for fairness in how responsibilities are shared, in handling of disagreements, and in your responses to performance and accomplishment.
When possible, ask what they think is fair before decisions are made.
Explain your reasoning and show why you did something.
Be willing to apologize if needed.
Try to see that responsibilities as well as the chances for feeling important are equally divided.
Help Girl Scouts explore and decide for themselves the fair ways of solving problems, carrying out activities, and responding to behavior and accomplishments.
Youth need your belief in them and your support when they try new things. You’ll also need to show them that you won’t betray their confidence.
Show them you trust them to think for themselves and use their own judgment.
Encourage them to make the important decisions in the group.
Give them assistance in correcting their own mistakes.
Support Girl Scouts in trusting one another—let them see firsthand how trust can be built, lost, regained, and strengthened.
Youth want someone who will listen to what they think, feel, and want to do. They like having someone they can talk to about the important things happening in their lives.
Listen to the Girl Scouts. Respond with words and actions.
Speak your mind openly when you are happy or concerned about something and encourage them to do the same.
Leave the door open for everyone to seek advice, share ideas and feelings, and propose plans or improvements.
Help youth see how open communication can result in action, discovery, better understanding of self and others, and a more comfortable climate for fun and accomplishment.
Conflicts and disagreements are an inevitable part of life, but if handled constructively, they show youth that they can overcome their differences, exercise diplomacy, and improve their communication and relationships. Respecting others and being a sister to every Girl Scout means that shouting, verbal abuse, or physical confrontations are never warranted and cannot be tolerated in the Girl Scout environment.
When a conflict arises between youth or a youth and a volunteer, get those involved to sit down together and talk calmly in a nonjudgmental manner, keeping in mind that each party may need some time—a few days or a week—to calm down before being able to do this. Talking in this way might feel uncomfortable and difficult now, but it lays the groundwork for working well together in the future. Whatever you do, do not spread your complaint around to others—that won’t help the situation and causes only embarrassment and anger.
You’ll also find conflict resolution activities in some of the Journeys, such as the Amaze Journey for Cadettes or the Mission Sisterhood Journey for Seniors.
If a conflict persists, be sure you explain the matter to your volunteer support team. If the supervisor cannot resolve the issues satisfactorily (or if the problem involves the supervisor), the issue can be taken to the next level of supervision and, ultimately, to your council if you need extra help.
Make sure your words and intentions create a connection with everyone. Keep in mind how important the following attitudes are.
Listen. Listening to Girl Scouts, as opposed to telling them what to think, feel, or do (no “you should”) is the first step in building a trusting relationship and helping them take ownership of their Girl Scout experience.
Be Honest. If you’re not comfortable with a topic or activity, it’s OK to say so. No one expects you to be an expert on every topic. Ask for alternatives or seek out volunteers with the required expertise. Owning up to mistakes—and apologizing for them—goes a long way with youth.
Be Open to Real Issues. Outside of Girl Scouts, kids may be dealing with issues like relationships, peer pressure, school, money, drugs, and other serious topics. When you don’t know, listen. Also seek help from your council if you need assistance or more information than you currently have.
Show Respect. Girl Scouts often say that their best experiences were the ones where adults treated them as equal partners. Being spoken to as young adults reinforces that their opinions matter and that they deserve respect.
Offer Options. Girl Scouts’ needs and interests change and being flexible shows them that you respect them and their busy lives. Be ready with age-appropriate guidance and parameters no matter what they choose to do.
Stay Current. Show your Girl Scouts that you’re interested in their world by asking them about the TV shows and movies they like; the books, magazines, or blogs they read; the social media influencers they follow; and the music they listen to.
Remember LUTE: Listen, Understand, Tolerate, and Empathize. Try using the LUTE method to thoughtfully respond when a Girl Scout is upset, angry, or confused.
Listen. Hear them out, ask for details, and reflect back what you hear; try “What happened next?” or “What did they say?”
Understand. Show that you understand where she’s coming from with comments such as, “So what I hear you saying is…” or “I understand why you’re unhappy,” or “Your feelings are hurt; mine would be, too.”
Tolerate. You can tolerate the feelings that they just can’t handle right now on their own. Let them know that you’re there to listen and accept how they are feeling about the situation. Say something like: “Try talking to me about it. I’ll listen," or “I know you’re mad—talking it out helps,” or “I can handle it—say whatever you want to.”
Empathize. Let them know you can imagine feeling what they are feeling with comments such as, “I’m sure that really hurts” or “I can imagine how painful this is for you.”
Let these simple tips guide you when working with teenagers:
Think of yourself as a “guide on the side”—a partner, a coach, or a mentor, not a “leader.”
Ask teens what rules they need for safety and what group agreements they need to be a good team. When Girl Scouts take the lead in establishing group rules, they’re more likely to stick to them.
Understand that youth need time to talk, unwind, and have fun together.
Ask what they think and what they want to do.
Encourage everyone to speak their minds.
Provide structure, but don’t micromanage.
Give everyone a voice in the group—understanding that “speaking up” may look different for each Girl Scout. For some teens, it might mean sharing their ideas in front of the entire group; for others it could mean submitting a written response or contributing as part of a group.
Treat them like partners.
Don’t repeat what’s said in the group to anyone outside of it (unless necessary for a girl’s safety). See “Report Concerns” below to understand the guard rails.
It’s an amazing feeling when your Girl Scouts put their trust in you—and when they do, they may come to you with some of the issues they are facing such as bullying, peer pressure, dating, athletic and academic performance, and more. Some of these issues may be considered sensitive by families who may have opinions or input about how, and whether, Girl Scouts should cover these topics with their girls.
Girl Scouts welcomes and serves youth and families from a wide spectrum of faiths and cultures. When Girl Scouts wish to participate in discussions or activities that could be considered sensitive—even for some—put the topic on hold until you have spoken with the parents and received guidance from your council.
When Girl Scout activities involve sensitive issues, your role is that of a caring adult volunteer who can help them acquire skills and knowledge in a supportive atmosphere, not someone who advocates a particular position.
Girl Scouts of the USA does not take a position or develop materials on issues relating to human sexuality, birth control, or abortion. We feel our role is to help youth develop self-confidence and good decision-making skills that will help them make wise choices in all areas of their lives. We believe parents and caregivers, along with schools and faith communities, are the primary sources of information on these topics.
Parents/caregivers make all decisions regarding their child’s participation in Girl Scout program that may be of a sensitive nature. As a volunteer leader, you must get written parental permission for any locally planned program offering that could be considered sensitive. Included on the permission form should be the topic of the activity, any specific content that might create controversy, and any action steps Girl Scout will take when the activity is complete. Be sure to have a form for each child and keep the forms on hand in case a problem arises. For activities not sponsored by Girl Scouts, find out in advance (from organizers or other volunteers who may be familiar with the content) what will be presented, and follow your council’s guidelines for obtaining written permission.
In the event of a life emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately.
To report an emergency with Girl Scouts of Central Texas, call 1-800-733-0011.
If calling after business hours, follow instructions from the Emergency Answering Service, and press the indicated number.
Do not make any statements orally, or in writing, which could be interpreted either as an assumption or rejection of responsibility for the accident. Remember, notification of kin is the responsibility of the designated GSCTX spokesperson. Prepare a written report of the occurrence and submit it using the Accident or Incident Report form and participate in another follow-up if asked.
There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of Girl Scouts in your group. Alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, abuse, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues girls may encounter. You are on the frontlines of their lives which places you in a unique position to identify a situation in which a child may need help. If you believe a Girl Scout is at risk of hurting themselves or others, your role is to promptly bring that information to her parent/caregiver or the council so they can get the expert assistance they need. Your concern about a child's well-being and safety is taken seriously, and your council will guide you in addressing these concerns.
Here are a few signs that could indicate a child needs expert help:
Share your concern with the child's family, if this is feasible.
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