Episode 232- Getting children to listen can be a difficult task, especially in a classroom full of young preschoolers. In this episode, Ron Shuali, M.Ed, and author of “Building the 21st Century Child” shares with us his insight on his award-winning behavior mastery program. Shuali shares his secrets on getting young children to listen in the classroom and discusses in-depth his behavior management strategies in the classroom for success in children and adults.
Learn more about Ron Shuali’s techniques on his website.
And for the first time, the child is actually going to make the choice not to display the behavior. Because in their mind, they just heard in their mind, “You’re not going to trick me into not getting my show. I’m going to show you, I may never tattletale again. Hah!”
Ron, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you so much, I appreciate you having me!
We’re delighted to have on the show today Ron Shuali. He is an educator, speaker and trainer. And we’re here to talk to Ron today about behavior mastery, something that he’s spent a lot of time thinking about and talking about at conferences all over the place, both with children and adults alike. So, we’re delighted to have Ron on the show today. Let’s start off, Ron, learning a little bit about you and why you’ve decided to dedicate your life and work to such an important topic.
Absolutely, I love talking about it. In 2001, I took a seminar called the Landmark Forum, blew my mind. Dropped out of college, realized one of my joys and passions was working with kids. But I didn’t realize that. Went to my karate instructor that I was training to be a better fighter [with] and asked him if he can teach me how to teach martial arts because that was one of the only joys that I really had throughout my life. I remember teaching my little cousin karate in Israel and him just totally loving it and experiencing it.
Then I started working with him. I found that he was an elementary school teacher. His wife was a preschool teacher and she actually taught me for about a good year and a half the entire curriculum for how to teach martial arts to preschoolers. A couple of years after that, we went our separate ways. They wanted to focus on the school.
I had an opportunity to go do a karate program. I was doing a birthday party around October of 2005 and there happened to be a preschool director there. And she saw me doing a birthday party for three-, four- and five-year-olds. She said, “Can you do this at a preschool? Do you have lesson plans? Do you have curriculum?” I 100% looked at her and lied right to her face and said, “Absolutely, I have lesson plans and curriculum.”
And then I went back to, “Hey, listen, I’ve always been taught you to say yes and figure it out. Worst case scenario, you’re not going to get the job that you weren’t going to get anyway.” So, I just went back to my old instructor, worked on some things. I implemented more fun.
And then January of 2006, I walked into my first preschool and it was awesome. I got to teach martial arts to kids. But it was interesting because I came from a karate school where if you tell the kids to do something, they would say, “Yes, sir,” and “Yes, ma’am.” And then I went to this preschool and I set this up. And then I started giving the kids commands and instructions that I’m used to.
And one of the kids said – I don’t know if you ever heard this word – “No.” Have you ever heard a child say that? This kid said “No” to me and then proceeded just to throw his hands up in the air and just run around in circles in the classroom. And I’m just like, “Oh boy.” And that was my beginning.
I definitely heard that word from my three-year-old a few times. And so you dove right into the classroom and got the real-world experience there. And since then, you’ve been sharing some of your learnings. And I understand you’ve created a bit of a system around behavior mastery. Can you tell us a bit about that system?
Absolutely. So, I came from sales before I started working with kids. So, my mind went into, “How do I get this child to choose to change their behaviors so that it benefits me but they think it also benefits them?” And most of the time it does when we’re guiding them. Because when I came from sales, I wasn’t going to convince somebody to do something that they didn’t want to do.
So, I started really going back to my neurolinguistic program training. I started going back into understanding how the body works more, getting an understanding of auditory, visual and kinesthetic cues. And I put together a system that made sense for the kids, not the adults.
What I’ve seen – and there are so many other behavior programs out there – what I’ve seen is that a lot of these behavior programs, they focus on the mind and how things are supposed to be – the pyramid and Erickson and Piaget and all this stuff. But every single child’s mind, every human’s mind is different, just like fingerprints.
But our bodies are all designed the same. We tell a human being not to do something, they immediately want to do it. Like if your listeners and I tell you right now, “You are not allowed to raise both your hands in the air because I said so,” what do you feel like doing?
Well, the first thing I think about doing…
You’re not allowed to do it. And now I say, “If that’s what you’re thinking about, if your listeners are thinking about it right now,” now if I tell you, “You know what, you can put your hands up if you want to, it’s totally up to you,” immediately, what don’t you care about doing anymore?
Putting my hands up.
Exactly. So, the way the body is designed is the way that I created this program. So, I mean, do you want me to kind of tell you the gist of it now? Or is that good enough to answer your question? I want to be as specific as possible.
I’d love to dove into it a little bit more and learn more about it.
Okay, tremendous. Okay, so the first way that we get a kid’s attention is we do different things that are going to trigger his [or her] auditory or visual senses. So, instead of saying, “Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey, Joey,” doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different results and then making up a story in our mind that Joey’s not listening when in fact we say that a lot to kids.
And the crazy part is, the kids are always listening. How many times have we said to a child, “You’re not listening. Do you have your listening ears on? You’re not being a good listener.” And that kid looks at you with confusion going, “You literally just said I’m not being a good listener. You’re not listening.” All that stuff, the kids are always listening. They’re just choosing not to follow your directions.
But because we’re stuck in patterns – which is a lot of what I talk about in my trainings – we’re stuck in these automatic patterns that we have, these automatic behaviors, we just look at the kid and go, “You’re not listening.” Or we make up a story in our mind that the child is not understanding what we’re saying. And then we put the responsibility on the child.
My system is about having responsibility solely on the parent or the teacher. So, for the first part, the way to get a child’s attention is I do three different things. It’s called the Pattern Interrupt. It interrupts a thought pattern in your mind. If I walk into a classroom and I go, “Awooo!” every kid doesn’t have a choice. And the teacher, everybody looks at me. I do animal noises. I’ll go, “Bwa bwa bwa!” I’ll go, “Mwaow!”
I mean, I also believe as an early-childhood educator that you should know noises to do that with the kids. And then all the kids look at me. Or I’ll do voices, I’ll do accents. I’ll change my voice to Australian or Scottish, it doesn’t matter. And the hairs inside the ears perk up. So, that’s an immediate way to get the kids’ attention for one to two seconds. That’s all I need.
And what I normally do in a training, it’s amazing: I talk a little bit about this and then I show an assembly program clip from my YouTube channel where, in 20 seconds, I get 100+ kids to go from jumping up and down and being crazy and silly to sitting criss-cross-applesauce straight because of the skills that I use. So, I actually show it and teachers actually go, “Darn it, now I actually have to try it because I saw it work.” So, part one is a Pattern Interrupt to get their attention.
Part two is called the Pre-frame. I don’t give instruction. We don’t want to be told what to do as adults. Like, how many times have we ever said to a kid, “Relax, take a breath, calm down, breathe in. Relax, there’s a tour coming. Or relax, whatever, this and that.” And then you’re hovering over this kid yelling at them or trying just to get them to calm down. But if an adult told you to relax or take a breath, you would respond the opposite.
So, my system is based on how we’re designed. So, I’ll say to kids, “I like the way you’re sitting criss-cross, I like the way you’re sitting criss-cross.” It’s called a Pre-frame. And then every kid just goes and sits criss-cross because we actually clearly communicated to the child what we want them to do.
If they don’t get that hint then I do auditory and visual cues. So I’ll say, let’s say if I want the kids lined up to go wash their hands, I’ll say, “Do I want you sitting criss-cross? Or lined up to wash your hands?” So, I change the tone of my voice and they pick up on it. So, if I ask your listeners, “Is my favorite color purple? Or is my favorite color blue [accentuated]?” What do you think?
Right, there you go. So, you know the answer. Or what I’ll also do with the last Pre-frame is a visual one where I’ll nod in my head. So, let’s say if it’s time to line up to go outside instead of snack. I’ll say, “Is it time for snack?” And I shake my head back and forth in a No fashion. Or I’ll say, “Is it time for going outside?” And I’ll do an auditory cue as I’m nodding my head. So, they all understand what exactly I want to do.
The first two parts 90 [to] 95% of the kids in the classroom. The last three parts are for the alpha boy and the alpha girl, the ones that are running the classroom; the Joey that tells his friends to go get in trouble so he doesn’t have to; the Tammy that goes, “You’re not invited to your own birthday party.” It’s like there’s always an alpha boy and an alpha girl in this situation.
So, that child, when you say something like you want the kids sitting criss-cross on the rug, you say, “Do I want you running? Or do I want you sitting criss-cross?” and I’m nodding my head up and down, everybody sits criss-cross. The alpha boy comes up to you, looks at you in your face and goes, “You want me running.” And in their mind, their voice in their head goes, “Now make the face,” because we have all these faces that we make to kids when we want to try to explain to them that they’re causing an emotion.
So, we have the sad look, the upset look, to disappointed [look] – “Well, Miss Susie’s very upset what you did!” These kids don’t care; the alpha’s don’t care. I mean, we pay Jim Carrey and Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish and Melissa McCarthy millions of dollars to make faces on the screen. And then we do it for the kids live for free.
So, a child displays the behavior and then the adult’s face contorts and they display what’s called the micro-expression, which is when your face, your nose curls or your eye twitches or your mouth makes a little smile, a crease at the side. So, the kids see that and that’s the attention that they want.
So, the third part is what I teach, called the Power Look, which is instead of looking at the child’s eyes and giving them the attention, you first look at, let’s say, one or two other kids doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And you go, “I love the way you’re following my directions.” And then you look at the other kid on the other side of the room [and say,] “And I love the way that you’re doing your work greatly.”
And then you look at the child that’s doing the behavior on purpose just to get your attention. And what you do is to hit them with the Power Look, which is the top of the forehead. And you sing a song to yourself. And when you sing a song to yourself, in your mind you’re distracting your own inner voice from kicking in and going, ”This isn’t going to work. This child is going to be a challenge. All this different self-talk that kind of comes in.
And when you’re looking at the top of the forehead, it makes your face go emotionless and blank. So, now it’s up to the child to choose. “When I display this behavior, I used to have your face contort. You would give me attention, all that stuff. Now I display this behavior and your face is emotionless and stone-cold empty-blank.”
And then when you’re looking at two or three of the kids doing what they’re supposed to be doing, now the child gets to choose, “Do I want to have that stone-cold blank expression? Or do I want the smiling and the happiness that all the other kids are getting?” And then the child starts changing the behavior. Is this making sense?
It’s interesting, yes.
It’s a whole way to get… like, I talk to people when I do my workshops and I ask people, “How many of you have ever quit smoking cigarettes?” [To Ron:] Have you ever quit smoking cigarettes? You ever smoke cigarettes?
I have not.
Okay, so I’ll ask somebody, “How many of you have quit smoking cigarettes?” Some people raise their hand. And then I’ll say, “Now, before you ever quit smoking cigarettes, did anybody ever suggest that you should quit?” She’s like, “Yeah, all the time.” I ask, “Tell me who they were.” They’re like, “Oh, my friends, my family, whatever.” So I go, “Okay, so, people that love you and care about you wanted you to quit smoking cigarettes.” She goes, “Yeah.”
I go, “Now tell me, immediately when they told you to do that, what was the first thing you wanted to do?” And she says, “Light up.” And I’m like, “Okay, and where would you want to blow the smoke if you had 360 degrees?” She’s like, “Right in their face.”
I’m like, “So, what you’re telling me is a person that loves you and cares about you, that wants you to stop smoking cancer sticks, they tell you to stop doing it and your response is to light up and blow cancer in their face?” And people bust out laughing.
But it’s serious because we don’t realize how oppositional we are. So, if we give any response to that child other than an empty blank face, then it’s just going to feed into them. So, now we have to figure out how to have the child get the attention. And it’s the last two parts. And the last two parts are the ones that are focusing on the passions and the vision.
Listen there’s Seth Rogen’s and there’s Jim Carrey’s. And there’s other people in life that dropped out of high school and they went to follow their passion, their dream. They are not designed for traditional school. That’s awesome. If they’re a person like that, you could be making as a huge success as a ten-year-old that has a social media influencer if you have a skill and a gift, as opposed to going in and having an education society that’s not designed for you. That’s totally fine.
So, these kids are always usually talking about one thing. They’re talking about cars; they’re talking about trains; they’re talking about singing; they’re talking about whatever. So, what I do is I have the teachers do is envision 20 years later, if this kid’s talking about cars, what could he possibly be? Like, if you have a kid that loves talking about cars, 20 years, what are three careers he might have?
Race car driver, mechanic or a… what’s another car-related field… he could work in automotive plant.
Exactly. Imagine what the cars of 20 years [into the future] are going to be like. And imagine that we need this kid. So, what I do is, we have them create what’s called the Unique Positive Reinforcer. We give the child an opportunity to create a show about cars, about drama, about food, whatever it is. You sit all the kids down criss-cross-applesauce.
When you have a moment, watch the child. The child will go nuts because, number one, they’re going to get to talk about finally what they’re passionate about. They’ll probably go home and do homework and research. And I’ve done this with three-year-olds. And it’s amazing what comes out of their mouth, jaws dropping.
And then they engage the kids so the child feels. “Thank you, finally, I’m getting to do my passion.” And then what you do is, then you say, “Okay, fine.” So, on the days that you want to do this, then you display these behaviors. And you come up with two unique leadership behaviors, ones that nobody else likes, that nobody else gets. Life isn’t fair.
This kid’s going to have unique specific ones. Like, you might be the High Fiver. When the parents walk into the class, say good morning to the parents, in addition. Come up with any two things. And then you don’t tell them to do it, they do it by themselves.
And you tell the child, “On the days that you want to do your show,” and you give them a 5 or 10 minute show every day, usually you’re probably spending more than 5 or 10 minutes with that child anyway while 19 other kids are doing what they’re supposed to be doing aren’t getting your attention.
So, then you give them that opportunity. You say, “Listen, on the days that you want to do your show, all you have to do is be my helper, do this and do that,” so they know what to do. Then what you do is, you say, “On the days that you don’t want to do the show, what you do is…” and then you list the top two behaviors that you’ve wanted them to stop doing for who knows how long.
So now, if they throw fits, if they lie, if they tattletale, if they do this and that, you say, “Listen, any day you don’t want to do your show, throw a fit on the ground. Any day that you don’t want to do a show, tattletale.” So, now they literally have to choose: Do they not get the thing that they want the most, which is the show, which is the whole entire point of their life and their passion? So, then they’re going to go like they’re not going to want to do it.
But then the last part is the best part: Fast-forward Testing. There’s teachers and parents that give out consequences and cross their fingers going, “I hope you don’t test me, I hope you don’t test me. If you don’t stop doing this I’m going to call your mother.” Susie is like, “What’s her phone number?” And the teacher’s like, “Uhhh…”
So, what you do is, you say to the child, “Listen, on the day that you want to do the show,” – this all links up with the Fast-forward Testing and the Unique Positive Reinforcer. And by the way, I have a handout that I can just send you that has all this stuff on there that you share with people because I know it’s a lot of information.
So, what you do is you say, “Listen, on the days that you want to do the show,” okay, then you do these two leadership behaviors. “On the days you don’t want to do your show,” then you do these two behaviors and you name the ones you’ve wanted them to stop for who knows how long. And then here’s the Fast-forward Testing. “And if you don’t believe me, throw a fit right now. If you don’t believe me, go tattle right now.”
So, what happens in the child’s mind is their eyes go up and to the right and they create a visual picture movie of themselves displaying the behavior that you don’t want them to display and now they can’t do the show. And what you’ll see if you do this is the eyes go up and to the right. To you it’s going to look like they go up and to the left because you’re mirroring them.
The child’s going to create the picture, see it, look at you and then shake their head No and go, “No, I’m good.” And for the first time, the child is actually going to make a choice not to display the behavior because in their mind, they just heard in their mind, “You’re not going to trick me into not getting my show. I’m going to show you I may never tattletale again. Ha!” And it’s the first time.
So, you see how it all comes together. And it’s all from love. And there’s no barking; there’s no instructions; there’s no theory, theory, theory. It’s just, give the 95% of the kids what they need, give the alpha’s what they need and everybody works together.
Here’s the greatest part: I grew up in a karate school environment. I was the sensei and there was the senpai. So, what happened was, they were always assistant instructors in my classes. That’s how I run my Yogarate classes. That’s how teachers get the opportunity to do that. If you have 2 teachers and 22 kids, wouldn’t it be easier if you had an alpha boy and an alpha girl? I mean, it’s Montessori system, just not in a Montessori environment. I’m going to take a breath now.
And so it’s a really cool system that you’ve got. It totally makes sense. And I can kind of relate to some of the points here. You mentioned about your history in doing sales. Like, how did you pull this together? It’s, I think, a really neat system.
It was step by step. I didn’t come up with the Unique Positive Reinforcer and the Fast-forward Testing until maybe about five or six years ago when I really wanted to start focusing. Like, I would watch America’s Got Talent and I would see these three-, four-, five-, six-, seven-year-old kids with their dreams and their passions. And I would remember when I was sitting in a classroom bored out of my mind and no-one ever asked me.
So, it’s like, I mean, I had a passion for dinosaurs. I could talk about Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, brontosaurs, Brachiosaurus or whatever, all the stuff, but nobody ever focused on it. So, with me in the sales… so, number one was, with the Pattern Interrupt, I’ve got to get somebody’s attention. I mean, I have done that in workshops. I’ll go, “Woof!” And I’ve done corporate trainings and working with executives. And I’ll bark and everybody will look at me for a second and I got their attention. It’s just something that works.
The Pre-framing, I’ll just say, “I like the way everyone’s sitting down in their chair as adults. I like the way you’re sitting in your chair.” Everybody goes and sits. I don’t have to tell people, “Do this and do this.” I have a really good understanding based on my last 20 years of experience on how the body and the mind really works.
And that’s a lot where my work gets to a deeper level, is people understanding their automatic patterns and they’re stuck. There’s people that are going to listen to this podcast. And with all the information that we spoke about, they’re still just going to go to their kids and bark orders at them and then get confused when the child doesn’t do it.
Yeah, it’s a good point because I think you’re right. How do we break that? Any advice for breaking those patterns or automatic behaviors, as you called them?
Yes. So, three quick questions and then I’ll lead right into it. So, if I say Up, you say…
If I say Left, you say…
If I say Stop, you say…
Okay, so you’re a human, which means we’re initially oppositional. That’s just the way that we’re designed, based on whoever designed us or whatever designed us. So, what I do is, at my trainings is, I’ll do a keynote with 1,000 people. And everybody says Up, Down, Left, Right, they all do the opposite. I talked about how I’ve never done a workshop or keynote where I’ve said Up and somebody agreed with me. I’ve never done a keynote that I said Left and somebody said Left.
And I’ve said, on the day that I meet that person – I’m kind of giving away a little punchline – on the day that I hear that, I’m going to find that person in the audience, take them out to lunch or dinner and find out how they got out of their automatic oppositional patterns. And there’s people that just… they’re just not oppositional because they’ve worked a lot of stuff through their life about that.
So, then what happens is, later on when I wrap up the keynote, I say, “Remember, we’re all stuck in patterns. And when I say Up, you say…
Right, so boom. So literally, within the two minutes of this conversation, I made you aware that you had an oppositional pattern. I showed you that there was an option to be a certain way. I didn’t tell you should be that way, I just made another human being aware there’s another way to be. And then we did the same thing. And you chose not to be oppositional because I made you aware of your oppositional pattern. And you see, how beautiful is that?
Yeah, that’s interesting.
So, imagine if you took that into life as the next time somebody asked you something and you noticed [that] you say, “No, I’m good.” Then you go, “Oh, wait, why did I see that?” Like, you go into a store shopping. The person comes up to you and says, “Can I help you with something?” What do most people say?
“No, I’m good.”
“No, I’m good.” And that person is like, “You’re the tenth person said that. How can I do my job?” And then they’re walking away and you’re like, “Why did I do that? I don’t know where anything in the store is, that’s ridiculous.” We’re designed oppositional.
So, the answer to your question: if you listening at home or wherever, catch yourself in an oppositional pattern. And as you now are aware that you may have them, that’s when you stop and consider another choice. Consider another choice is available.
And listen, if the first choice that is in your head is… let’s say your GPS goes down and your first choice is, “I want to make a right.” And then you go, “Okay, he said [to] consider my first choice. So, my second choice should be [to] make a left.” Your second choice can still be [to] make a right. It doesn’t have to be a different choice.
But usually when you make the first choice, it’s oppositional. It’s not beneficial towards us or other people. It’s just an automatic robotic pattern. The second choice is one that actually will benefit us.
So, it sounds like the awareness is key and just taking a pause to really think about it, versus just the emotional reaction that we typically have, which sounds like it’s typically oppositional.
You said it perfectly, “Taking a pause.” That was beautifully said, love it.
Ron, 2020 has been a rough year for a lot of folks and in particular for early-childhood educators who are in often cases working on the front lines. Or maybe they’re even out of a job right now because enrollment’s down. Any words of inspiration from you?
Yes: We all have an inner child. It’s part of our subconscious. There’s a little kid in you that’s five [years old], that’s seven, that’s nine, that’s twelve. That kid wants to play. That kid is not concerned about food or money or a job or security. It just wants to play. The adult in you is handling the situations the best that you can and you’re taking actions and that you’re good. But don’t forget about the inner child.
If there’s something that your little kid has wanted to do, if you just sit for ten seconds and go, “What is something I used to love to do?” Take out, like, a painting, take out chalk, find colored chalk and write on the ground. I go on to YouTube and I type in – I’m 44 [years old] – I type in “1980’s cartoon themes” and just will spend 10 minutes listening to ThunderCats and He-Man and G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K. and Visionaries and all that stuff. And I’m singing along to, like, Jem. And I’m I’m joyous and my little kid inside me is singing.
And then I can go, “Oh, okay, time to be serious. Now I’m going to start pursuing a job; now I’m going to start focusing on lesson plans.” Listen to your inner child, remember what it was like to do something fun and just take like 10, 20 minutes and just play, paint, jump in mud, eat dirt, whatever it is.
Let that little kid just come out just for a little bit. Because when that little kid comes out, you’re going to connect with your little kids that you work with. And they’re going to see that and they’re going to see your energy and your aura. And it’s going to be a whole different world.
Yeah, great advice. Thanks for sharing that, Ron. We’re running out of time but I want to make sure our listeners can get in touch with you or learn more about the things you’re up to. If they do want to learn more about your work or get in touch, where can they go to get more information?
Alright, I’ve got two websites. So, my first website, my actual website, the first address is www.RonSpeak.com. The second is a link directly to my YouTube channel that has all videos of me and my different costumes that I do, assembly programs and there’s tons of free content, Yogarate videos for kids. You can go to www.RonShualisYouTube.com and that takes you right to it. And if you like what you see, subscribe, click on the bell and just let me know what you think about all the stuff that I share.
Good stuff. Ron, thanks so much for joining us on the Preschool Podcast and sharing all your experiences and your behavior mastery system. Great to learn more about it and for that inspiring advice, as well!
Well, I appreciate you reaching out. It was truly an honor, I thank you!
Great interview. Ron uses common sense that I guess isn’t so common! Love listening to him!
Yes, Maryann! We agree! Some simple and easy takeaways to use in the classroom for sure!
I USED TO MAKe ANIMAL VOICES DURING WORKING IN TODDLER’S ROOM.
I came with this idea too, because after parents leaves , toddlers start crying. They were enjoying it. We have animals so each toddler stard to take one animal and make noises.
Despite being a supply , even thought they remember the noices I make .
I hope I go back to work as soon as possible, i missed all my children in ( infant, toddler and preschool ) room.
Thank you for your awesome information.
What a great idea! I bet that caught their attention super quickly!
We know the kids miss you and your animal noises too- stay safe!