There is great diversity amongst program participants; they come from different environments, where parents/ caregivers have varying expectations of behaviour. Parents/ caregivers will have expectations of the program and how leaders will fulfil these expectations. Participants can be confused about what is expected of them unless we put things in place so that everyone knows what the expectations are.

Firstly, it is important to be clear about the objectives of the program and the kinds of experiences that the program will aim to provide. Leaders, parents/ caregivers and participants should be aware of these.

The development of a few rules is important for all programs and provides guidelines within which leaders and participants behave. Within these guidelines the participant has the freedom to operate.

The development of fair rules and standards, concern for people, good programs and a high standard of discipline will encourage participants to respond with the spirit of cooperation. The development of good discipline, personal and group, is an important aspect of program learning. Participants require self-discipline in order to cope with changing conditions. For people with disabilities a change of environment and ways of doing things can be very exciting but also challenging and may require them to demonstrate self-discipline. The leader will recognise this and assist the participants to set personal goals and to look at strategies of how to operate under the changed conditions.

Group discipline is important for individuals to work cooperatively in a group situation. By creating the right conditions, the level of discipline will be high without adversely limiting the freedom of participants. If we do not pay close attention to the small details we may have greater problems in maintaining a level of discipline and find ourselves correcting behaviour rather than reinforcing behaviour.

Discipline problems can occur when:

  • Participants are bored. Often this occurs through poor planning of activities or the leaders not attending to the activity needs of the participants.
  • Participants develop the attitude that leaders will not notice. Often this occurs because the participants are not adequately supervised.
  • Insufficient attention is given to the participants' physical needs: for example, meal times are not consistent and participants are hungry or thirsty or they do not have sufficient sleep and they will become tired and restless.
  • Activities are not sufficiently challenging or stimulating or if there are long waits before a participant can have a turn at an activity.

We can create the right conditions through:

Social Environment – ensure the social environment of the program promotes positive social relationships. This can be achieved by staff and volunteers: developing positive relationships with the participants; assisting participants to develop positive relationships amongst themselves; providing clear boundaries and limits; promoting independence and encouraging decision making; modelling appropriate behaviours; providing positive feedback; and helping participants to understand the impact their actions have on others.

Physical environment – ensure the program is developmentally appropriate and active, challenging and busy enough to ensure the participants do not get bored or frustrated.

Anticipation - this involves good planning before the program and all leaders agreeing to a standard of acceptable behaviour of which participants are aware. These standards are best illustrated through the leader's own behaviour and adherence to program rules.

Program structure – allow enough time for participants to complete an activity, but balance this with not allowing room for participants to become bored; program for stimulating challenging activities; allow the participants to choose their activity within the scope of the program; make room for flexibility.

Consistency – ensure leaders are consistent in their approach to rules and standards. If noisy behaviour is permitted during the first mealtime, it will be difficult to achieve a more acceptable standard the following mealtime.

Commitment - participants will respond well to leaders who show, by their behaviour and qualities, that they genuinely care for the participant and have their best interests at heart. Participants will usually go out of their way to cooperate with a leader that they feel cares and provides enthusiastic support. The participant is easily influenced by the behaviour of the leader. If a leader is inconsistent and behaves inappropriately, the participant may see this as appropriate behaviour for them as well.

Supervision - the visual presence of a leader is usually sufficient to avoid adverse behaviours and discipline problems. This is particularly so for young people with disabilities. Some young people can feel insecure or can easily become frustrated if there is not someone there, should they need help. A participant with a disability who may have limited ability to attract the attention of a leader can become restless when a leader is not present. For some participants a leader is a source of security that provides the motivation to have a go and to feel safe. If they are not there, restlessness, insecurity or fear may lead to adverse behaviour. Leaders need to coordinate time away from participants and ensure that some leaders are always available for supervision. It is important that leaders are rostered to certain tasks to ensure that each situation is supervised.

Depending on the program, the organization and the needs of the participant, a leader may be required to be with the participants with disabilities throughout the night. This usually involves sleeping in the same dormitory with them. Leaders would usually take turns to do this but it is important that a leader is not alone with a participant overnight to avoid any potential allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Under the direction of the coordinator, the leaders should give consideration to areas of behaviour and discipline before the program. The following areas should be considered:

  • Consensus reached as to what is and what is not acceptable behaviour;
  • Discussion of consistent strategies to deal with inappropriate behaviour;
  • Relationships between participants and leaders. What is acceptable contact and how to handle what is agreed unacceptable contact;
  • Lack of cooperation during meal times, bedtimes, during activities and the impact that this may have on the participant' safety and wellbeing;
  • Non participation in program activities, at meal times and other events;
  • Bad language, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and how to deal with it;
  • Bedtimes, practical jokes, respect for people, property and possessions;
  • Behaviour management strategies to be applied by all leaders; and
  • Use of radios, phones and other electronic devices.

Leaders' discussions about behaviour and rules should be extended to include the participants, encouraging them to be involved in the making of rules and to decide on appropriate discipline measures that should take place if rules are broken.