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Meet Barb O’Neill of Transform Challenging Behavior in Highland Park

Today we’d like to introduce you to Barb O’Neill.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been in the early childhood field for 25 years and I love working with children who hit, bite, throw things or just don’t listen… but that wasn’t always the case!

I’ll explain how that transformation occurred in a minute. First: because there is a huge epidemic in the early childhood field of teachers struggling with children’s behavior (preschoolers are expelled from school for behavioral concerns at three times the rate of K-12 children) I realized I had to dedicate myself full time to trying to make a difference in this area.

Through my business, Transform Challenging Behavior I help preschool teachers, child care directors and Head Start administrators develop the confidence, skills, and systems to support children who exhibit what we call in the early childhood world “challenging behavior”. My trainings, programs and online courses are highly relevant to parents and families with young children as well.

Basically, the back story is that I always gravitated towards trying to support the children who were getting into trouble. As an assistant preschool teacher, I would play and engage children at a center time to try and prevent them from hitting and getting into trouble with the lead teacher. But when I had my own classroom I STRUGGLED with certain children’s behavior and sometimes with managing the whole group. I was embarrassed about this and often went home pulling my hair out or wondering if I had picked the right field.

Then, two things happened around the same time: I started studying theater improvisation and oral storytelling… and, I enrolled in an early childhood special education program. My world blew open. From my early childhood and special education, I discovered there were all sorts of effective ways to help children develop their social-emotional skills, language skills, and ability to self-regulate. From the theater and storytelling worlds, I learned about being playful, accepting what is, creating relationships, and building a classroom community.


I went on to become a professor of early childhood education, which I did for 8 years and had the opportunity to study some of the methods that I was creating and finding effective in my own classroom.

When I taught my students to use theater techniques to prevent challenging behavior and to focus on building children’s play skills as an antidote to behavior problems they reported back all sorts of success! And, many of them started to shift their thinking and not relate to children’s behavior as a problem and instead see it as a sign that the children had things to learn or unmet needs. I was teaching these things but had to sort of squeeze it in within the courses I was assigned to teach.

I went on to be a Center Director at a campus early childhood center and when I trained my staff in this theater and play-based methods we could see the results – the children were more engaged and we shifted the trajectory of many children who were consistently hitting peers, refusing to come to group activities, or were otherwise struggling.

So, I decided to take my show on the road, leave academia (move to LA) and dedicate myself full time to speaking, training and consulting through Transform Challenging Behavior.

Has it been a smooth road?
In terms of my business? Honestly, it’s been pretty great!

I guess the biggest challenge has been that these days as a business owner you really need to develop an online presence. I know that’s important to bring in new clients and customers and I am writing a book and I know to get a book deal the publishers want you to have an online following. But putting myself out there on the internet has not come naturally or comfortably to me.

I have no problem doing a keynote talk for several hundred people but for some reason sending my weekly newsletter to the thousands of early childhood educators who have signed up or posting something on my Facebook page gives me butterflies in my stomach every time! I’m doing it though.

Even doing a free weekly demo and tutorial right now in my Transform Challenging Behavior Facebook group! I have to just remind myself that it’s not about me it’s about the teachers I am serving.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Transform Challenging Behavior – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I offer online courses, an annual free online conference, in-person trainings and keynote talks. I help preschool teachers, child care directors, and Head Start administrators develop the confidence, skills and systems to support children who present behavioral challenges.

So, we are mostly talking about those that work with children 2-5 years old. My signature approach to preventing and addressing challenging behavior, which is a little different than some other approaches is to focus on the mindset we have when it comes to behavior challenges, to capitalize on children’s propensity for play in preventing future behavioral challenges, and to help teachers integrate theater arts techniques into their practice.

I use the word “transform” rather than “prevent’ when I talk about challenging behavior because I believe we need to transform our thinking and also because to transform something we first have to accept that it exists rather than get focused on railing against it and insisting that it “shouldn’t be happening. It’s happening, folks. Let’s embrace it, create with it, and help these kids.

What I’m most proud of: I held an online conference this past May, I had never done anything like this and the response was phenomenal! 9000 early childhood educators registered and so many wrote me and shared how helpful it was or told us in the Facebook group how they had immediately put into use things they learned from my carefully curated team of 21 speakers.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
There is nothing I dislike about LA. I LOVE it here. As a New Yorker (grew up there, left, then lived there 13 years as an adult) I was totally biased against LA but then several friends from Brooklyn moved here and I started visiting and I realized it was a vegan paradise, the weather’s gorgeous, and is just a few hours from the Sierras where I love to go backpacking. love, love, love LA.

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Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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