What to do When a Child is not Engaged in an Activity

Dear Bulldog,

I am a social worker in an elementary school. Often I run group activities. What can I do when a child is not engaged in an activity?

Thanks for your help,



Dear Sam,

During activities you will always have children who are not engaged. It could be due to many factors such as having a bad day, hunger, exhaustion, or lack of trust.

Take the time to ask the child if there is something wrong. Ask about their day, give them a leadership role, empower them, be patient, and try to redirect them if needed. If you really can’t get them engaged, you can ask if they need some quiet time. Find a cool down corner, and let them chill. Then follow up to see how you can best support them. We love asking how we can have them participate because they are leaders and it would mean the world for us to have them in our group. Use lots of positive affirmations!

If they don’t leave the group, they to keep them engaged and focus; this can be especially helpful if the child is being distracting or acting out. Here are a few other ways to keep children engaged during activities:

  1. Make the activity fun (add in a song, dance, or movement)
  2. Have rewards or incentives (make it small or point based)
  3. Assign teams and switch it up to create new connections and friendships in the group
  4. Allow for body movements during the activity or have a flash dance break (1min of dancing and moving)
  5. Teach students how to collaborate before assigning group tasks: give examples.
  6. Be clear when giving instructions: repeat the rules, recap the goals, and share examples of the activity or do a practice run
  7. Mix up your teaching style to bring in new ways of presenting information. Make it exciting and engaging!

We also say that in our groups, if they find it boring they need to make it “unboring”. We give them a challenge and have them come up with ways to make it more fun.

We hope this helps you!

Sending you lots of love and success for this school year,

Bulldog Team