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Engaging Girls

Creating the kind of environment in which girls are unafraid to try new things and to be who they want to be starts with you! By meeting your girls where they are, you’ll help them develop the leadership skills they’ll use today and in the future.

Understanding Healthy Development in Girls

It sounds simple, but just being attentive to what girls are experiencing as they mature is a big help to them—and to you, as you guide and mentor them! You’ll experience different joys and challenges with each Girl Scout level, but here are some guidelines for meeting girls’ needs and abilities at different grade levels, you’ll also find these listed in the adult guide of each leadership Journey.

Creating a Safe Space for Girls

A safe space is where girls feel they can be themselves, without explanation or judgment. As a volunteer, you create an environment that 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.

Recognizing and Supporting Each Girl
You're a role model and a mentor to your girls. 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 girls trying their best, not just when they’ve had a clear success.
  • Emphasize the positive qualities that make each girl worthy and unique.
  • Be generous with praise and stingy with rebuke.
  • Help your girls find ways to show acceptance of and support for one another.

Promoting Fairness
Girls 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 the girls 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 girls explore and decide for themselves the fair ways of solving problems, carrying out activities, and responding to behavior and accomplishments.

Building Trust
Girls 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 girls 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 girls in trusting one another—let them see firsthand how trust can be built, lost, regained, and strengthened.

Inspiring Open Communication
Girls 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 girls. Respond with words and actions.
  • Speak your mind openly when you are happy or concerned about something, and encourage girls to do the same.
  • Leave the door open for girls to seek advice, share ideas and feelings, and propose plans or improvements.
  • Help girls see how open communication can result in action, discovery, better understanding of self and others, and a more comfortable climate for fun and accomplishment.

Managing Conflict
Conflicts and disagreements are an inevitable part of life, but if handled constructively, they show girls that they can overcome their differences, exercise diplomacy, and improve their communication and relationships. GSNEO provides the Girl Scout Code of Conduct and the Parent/Caregiver Support Agreement as baseline tools to set the expectations within the troop environment. 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 girls or a girl and a volunteer, get those involved to sit down together and talk calmly and 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. For additional best practices regarding conflict resolution, refer to GSNEO's Volunteer Relations Conflict Management Roadmap and No Prob-Llamas: Conflict Resolution for Girls materials for each program level, all located in the Additonal References section of New Troop Training in gsLearn.

If a conflict persists, be sure you explain the matter to your volunteer support team, followed by your Community Membership Executive (CME). If the CME, other staff member, or supervisor cannot resolve the issue satisfactorily (or if the problem involves one of the parties listed), the issue can be taken to the next level of supervision and, ultimately, to your council Volunteer Relations team if you need extra help.

Communicating Effectively with Girls of Any Age

Make sure your words and intentions create connection with the girls. Keep in mind how important the following attitudes are.

Listen. Listening to girls, 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 girls.

Be Open to Real Issues. Outside of Girl Scouts, girls 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. Girls 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. Girls’ 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 the girls choose to do.

Stay Current. Show your girls 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 is upset, angry, or confused.

Listen. Hear her out, ask for details, and reflect back what you hear; try “What happened next?” or “What did she 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 she just can’t handle right now on her own. Let her know that you’re there to listen and accept how she is 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 her know you can imagine feeling what she’s feeling with comments such as, “I’m sure that really hurts” or “I can imagine how painful this is for you.”

Addressing the Needs of Older Girls
Let these simple tips guide you in working with teenage girls:

  • Think of yourself as a "guide on the side"—a partner, a coach, or a mentor, not a “leader.”
  • Ask girls what rules they need for safety and what group agreements they need to be a good team. When girls take the lead in establishing group rules, they're more likely to stick to them.
  • Understand that girls need time to talk, unwind, and have fun together.
  • Ask what they think and what they want to do.
  • Encourage girls 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. For some girls, 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 girls 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.
When Sensitive Topics Come Up

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 girls and families from a wide spectrum of faiths and cultures. When girls 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 girls 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 girls 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 girl’s participation in Girl Scout programs that may be of a sensitive nature. As a volunteer leader, you must get written parent/caregiver 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 the girls will take when the activity is complete. Be sure to have a form for each girl 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.

GSNEO volunteers agree to seek written parent/caregiver permission through the Sensitive Issues Consent Form prior to engaging in planned discussions or programs with girl members that may be considered sensitive (e.g. reproductive health, religious beliefs). If unplanned discussions of a potentially sensitive nature are brought up by girls, volunteers are encouraged to use their best judgement in determining whether the discussion can be postponed until parent/caregiver permission is received. If the topic is timely and volunteers find it crucial to address for the health and well-being of the troop (e.g. a girl starts her period at camp, and some of the girls are expressing fear or concern, or are sharing information), they may engage in a limited conversation and inform parents/caregivers as soon as possible.

Report Concerns
There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of girls 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 girls’ lives which places you in a unique position to identify a situation in which a girl may need help. If you believe a girl is at risk of hurting herself or others, your role is to promptly bring that information to her parent/caregiver or the council so she can get the expert assistance she needs. Your concern about a girl’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 girl needs expert help:

  • Marked changes in behavior or personality (for example, unusual moodiness, aggressiveness, or sensitivity)
  • Declining academic performance and/or inability to concentrate
  • Withdrawal from school, family activities, or friendships
  • Fatigue, apathy, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased secretiveness
  • Deterioration in appearance and personal hygiene
  • Eating extremes, unexplained weight loss, distorted body image
  • Tendency toward perfectionism
  • Giving away prized possessions; preoccupation with the subject of death
  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, burns, or fractures
  • Avoidance of eye contact or physical contact
  • Excessive fearfulness or distrust of adults
  • Abusive behavior toward other children, especially younger ones

Contact a staff member at your Girl Scout council to find out how to refer the girl and her parent/guardian to experts at school or in the community. Share your concern with the girl’s family, if this is feasible.

If any volunteer reasonably suspects or reasonably believes a girl member is being abused, that volunteer should immediately report these suspicions to the Department of Job and Family Services, by calling 855-O-H-CHILD (855-642-4453). Reports can be anonymous, and should be made in the county in which the child lives or was abused. The volunteer must complete and file a GSNEO Incident/Accident Report Form. If a volunteer is uncomfortable reporting their suspicions, the Volunteer Relations team at GSNEO may assist by making the official report, as GSNEO staff are mandated reporters.

The GSNEO Incident/Accident Report Form may also be used to report any other concerns to the council, such as on-going behavioral issues within the troop. Learn more about how to address sensitive situations in She Said What?! Training, offered quarterly by GSNEO.

Engaging Families

You want your Girl Scouts to have fun, be inspired, take risks, and learn about themselves and the world—that’s why you’re a Girl Scout troop leader or troop volunteer! Parents and caregivers want the same thing for their girls but getting families to pitch in and play an active role in the troop while also enhancing the experience for their girl and themselves can be tricky for many volunteers. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Kick the Year Off Right by Engaging Parents and Caregivers

When families step up and play an active part in troop life, your troop can shine its brightest! Plus, girls feel a special sense of pride when their families take part and show interest in the things they are doing.

What Is a Parent and Caregiver Meeting?
It’s the first meeting you have to start each troop year—whether you are a new or returning troop, it’s valuable for all troops. 

Why Hold a Meeting? Kicking off each year with a parent and caregiver meeting sets the troop up for success. Outlining clear expectations, building a team, and engaging parents in the Girl Scout experience is a great way to start off on the right foot. When parents/caregivers are involved, leaders have support, the troop has a plan, and girls benefit! The meeting helps:

  • Families understand what Girl Scouting can do for their girl.
  • Families and leaders identify ways they will work as a team to support the troop.
  • Families and leaders agree about what the troop pays for and what families pay for individually.
  • You fill key troop positions—you never know which parent/caregiver will make an awesome assistant leader or troop cookie manager.
  • Families know how the troop will communicate things like upcoming events or schedule changes. 
  • Families learn about uniforms, books, and other important basics. 

Check out our step-by-step guide and Parents & Caregivers Meeting Outline on the Volunteer Toolkit. This 60–90-minute meeting will make all the difference in the year ahead.

Another meeting you don’t want to miss is the Cookie Program Girl & Family Meeting in the Volunteer Toolkit. This meeting is your chance to share what girls gain through the cookie program, outline expectations, and find the support you need for a successful cookie season. The cookie program is a team effort, and you’ll want to get families on board!

For even more tips on working with troop families, check out Girl Scouts’ Tips for Troop Leaders hub.


How to Keep Parents and Caregivers Engaged

Make the Ask(s). The main reason people don’t take action is because they were never asked to in the first place. That’s why hearing one out of three Girl Scout parents/caergivers say: "no one had communicated expectations around involvement" with their girl’s troop is so troubling. Parents may have many talents, but they’re certainly not mind readers. If you’re nervous about getting turned down, don’t be. Sure, a few parents might be unable to lend a hand, but the helpers you do get will be worth their weight in gold. And just because someone wasn’t available a month or two ago doesn’t mean they won’t be free to help now. Loop back, follow up, and ask again!

Make Sense of “Why." Explain that not only does the whole troop benefit with extra help from parents and other caregivers, but also that girls feel a special sense of pride in seeing their own family member step up and take a leadership role. Getting involved can strengthen the caregiver/girl bond and is a meaningful way to show daughters that they are a priority in their family's lives.

Make It Quick and Easy. Everybody’s got a full plate these days, so instead of starting conversations with a list of tasks or responsibilities that parents and other caregivers could take on (which can be intimidating), ask how much time each week they might be able to dedicate to the troop, then go from there. For instance, if a troop mom or dad has 15 minutes each week to spare, they could organize and manage the calendar for troop snacks and carpools. If a grandparent has one to two hours, they could assist with leading the troop through a specific badge on a topic they’re already comfortable with. For more ways parents and other caregivers can help out when faced with a tricky schedule, check out the Family Resources tab in the Volunteer Toolkit.

Make Family Part of the Formula. While Girl Scout programming is always focused on the girls themselves, it’s important and helpful to open up a few events to their families throughout the year. Inviting the whole crew to celebrate her accomplishments in Girl Scouting—whether at a holiday open house, a bridging ceremony, or a fun “reverse meeting” where girls take the role of leaders and guide the adults, including caregivers, through an activity—will help families better understand the value of Girl Scouts and they’ll be more likely to invest their time and talents in the troop.

That said, there’s no need to wait for a special event to engage families in their girls’ Girl Scout life. Keep communication lines open throughout the year—whether it's through your troop’s social media page, personal emails, or in-person chats—to keep parents in the loop on what the girls are doing and learning during each meeting and encourage them to let their girls “be the experts” at home, explaining or teaching the new skills they’ve learned. You can get everyone in on the fun and keep Girl Scouts strong at home by sharing the family badge guides in the Volunteer Toolkit with parents and caregivers.


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