socialsklz :-) (Social Skills) for Success

How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World


By Faye de Muyshondt

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Mom’s Choice Awards’ Gold Recipient for “Adult Books: Parenting — Contemporary Families.

More and more studies attest to the same truths: the earlier children learn social skills, the better. Socially savvy kids score higher on achievement tests, and are overall more emotionally healthy. And who doesn’t want that for their child? Public relations expert Faye de Muyshondt makes it easy and fun for parents to teach communication, poise, and self-respect to any child aged 7 to 12: no nagging required!

Most children already know the basics: say “please” and “thank you;” don’t be gross at the dinner table; shake hands with others — they’re popular topics in other “manners” books. But there are so many other skills unique to citizens of the “digital age” that your children need.

socialsklz= Thoughtfulness, Internet savvy, Conversationsklz:-), Gratitude, Independence.

This revolutionary book will help you teach those essential lessons and more, giving your child a leg up on a successful future.



Thank you to the many, many students I've been fortunate to work with, who have given me so much joy and made my "business" world so fulfilling.

Thank you Jennifer Kasius, who believed in this book and made a dream come true.

I'm so grateful to Monique Owens, my colleague, who helped me during long days at the office of brainstorming, writing, re-writing, editing, and helping decipher my random thoughts out loud into something that actually made sense on paper.

An enormous thanks to my spectacular editor, Kristen Green Wiewora who worked her magic on this book when it was desperately needed, who patiently held my hand as I embarked on this brand-new experience and who offered empathy as I worked through the "drudgery" of the editing process! Special thanks to August Tarrier and Victoria Fiengo.

And my very, very dear friend Chaz Ross who not only encouraged me to start socialsklz:-) some years ago, but who has been my confidant in everything since then.

Thank you Gillian Berman who has become that much more special as a friend because of this book.

Thank you Tom and Harland Dahl who listened and gave nuggets of wisdom throughout this journey!

Thank you my precious baby Adriana Elizabeth, at whom I gazed at in amazement as I wrote this book.

And thank you to the love of my life, Federico, who fuels me each day with the love, guidance, and support that I need to thrive in my modern world.


The idea for teaching modern day social skills and eventually launching my business, socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world, came to me about six years ago. I'd spent 15 years in public relations and marketing, building brands, garnering media attention, and managing reputations. As part of that work, I also offered media training for clients to get them ready for print interviews, national TV, and radio. In this training, we'd thoroughly review verbal and non-verbal first impressions, including body language, speaking, intonation, responding to questions, appearance, and such. During those media training sessions I'd often think of how valuable those lessons could be to anyone. But for many of us, these lessons were anything but a positive learning experience: what we got were critical comments from a family member, chiding us for our behavior.

In 2007, I began teaching at New York University in the Steinhardt School of Media, Culture, and Communications; in teaching PR 101, I was reminded of my media training sessions and realized that my students were in dire need of them. When they gave presentations, it was common to hear frequent use of "like, "um," and "ya know," and they didn't seem to think it was a problem to be standing in front of the class with their midriffs showing. As part of their coursework, students would "friend" me on Facebook for a ten-day period to keep me abreast of the social media work they were doing for class, but when I logged in I was more likely to find various students' salacious photos and racy status updates in my newsfeed.

Students would make a request by email without bothering to use a greeting, address me properly, or even close with a "thank you." They spent class time staring at their computer screens, so it was nearly impossible for many to make eye contact during discussions, and the few who did seemed like anomalies. As the economy plummeted, those same students complained about how frustrating the job market was and how difficult it was to secure a job. Rather than mutter under my breath "these kids today," I started to ponder the truly valuable skills, entirely outside of academics, that help to win a job interview, particularly when the competition is fierce. And while grades and, yes, perhaps a good school, are vitally important, I realized that that would only get their resume in the door for an interview. The real clincher would be excellent social interaction and communication skills—essentially, their social IQ.

With the rise of modern technology, it's clear that face-to-face interaction seems less important to upcoming generations. More and more, young people are communicating via email, text, and even social media. However, it's clearer than ever just how important social skills are, not only for an interview, but for life. It's what compelled me to develop a course for college students in which they learn essential social skills, appropriately titled "The Brand Called You."

The course addresses topics such as first impressions, body language, conversational skills, grooming, the overuse of filler words (like, um, and ya know), greetings and introductions, appropriate attire for business and non-business encounters, technology dos and don'ts, respect for oneself and others, digital responsibility, showing and expressing gratitude, and the importance of taking ownership and pride in what one does. At the end of the class, the students give a 30-second "elevator speech" about themselves—in other words, a pitch deliverable in the time span of an elevator ride, a maximum of 30 seconds and 140 words, or in more modern terms, an "elevator tweet."

Teaching "The Brand Called You" showed me how empowering these skills are for college students, and I quickly realized that we should be teaching social interaction and communication skills, like any other important subject, rather than assuming that those skills would be acquired passively through daily social interaction. For most people, good social skills aren't an inherent character trait, but the good news is that, just like any other skill set, they can be mastered over time, if they're taught, practiced, and implemented. I see this firsthand in the classroom—and the younger the learner, the better.

Tara Parker Pope's New York Times article titled "School Curriculum Falls Short on Bigger Lessons"1 brought the issue to readers' attention:

Now that children are back in the classroom, are they really learning the lessons that will help them succeed? Many child development experts worry that the answer may be 'no.' They say the ever-growing emphasis on academic performance and test scores means many children aren't developing life skills like self-control, motivation, focus, and resilience, which are far better predictors of long-term success than high grades. And it may be distorting their and their parents' values.

I decided to try out "The Brand Called You" with a younger age set, and began volunteer-teaching a modified version to students from New York public schools, including PS 140, AGL, and Booker T. Washington, in addition to organizations, including the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Girl Scouts of America. I wasn't interested in holding Old World manners and etiquette classes that featured white gloves and pinkies held up at high tea, so I began teaching the same interactive workshops for the real world that I conducted at NYU. With age-appropriate modifications, I taught the importance of making a good first impression, respect and consideration, greetings and introductions, initiating and maintaining conversations, and online reputation management. With the younger set, I focused more on eye contact, body language, positive behavior, and listening and respect.

What became evident at these workshops was how empowering these skills were for children; the fact that they were learning in a fun, interactive setting resulted in an incredible success rate. Although they only want the best for their children, parents tend to address or teach good social skills in a corrective mode. That is, rather than couch the lessons as a learning opportunity, like science, tennis, ballet, or any other activity, parents tend to assume kids pick up these skills on their own. And then, when kids are out in public, parents have a tendency to correct them for things they haven't learned: "Why didn't you say 'hello'?" and, "Look Mrs. Smith in the eye."

After one parent/child program, I got a note from a parent, Carolyn: "This was so much fun and so clever. It is so difficult to teach children/teens manners without them feeling criticized and judged by us. This concept works. The message is learned without you forcing it." And from another parent, Audrey: "The boys were absolutely buzzing when they left class, you really gave them a lot to think about and practice. We are particularly pleased with the retention of the information from class—you have developed great pedagogical frames for each area, and as I suspected, this environment is far superior to my husband and I lecturing at home."

I could see firsthand how meaningful and effective the classes were, and I made sure to offer up the lessons in a proactive and fun mode. Through these classes, children as young as four years old begin to open up socially, gaining confidence and self-esteem. Parents like Carolyn and Audrey see the impact that the classes have, not to mention how enthusiastic their children are about the program and how anxious they are to return to class. Notes like the ones above compelled me to make the classes available to the general public. In October 2009, I held the very first socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world workshop in the conference room of my public relations office in New York City.

Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development, explains that a child's social skills should be measured during an annual check-up: "Social skills are necessary for school success; they affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, [and] in the workplace."2 I could not agree more. In a world where kids are so programmed and scheduled, when they're taking part in countless activities and sports, what matters most is how they apply those skills in a social setting. The earlier we begin instilling these lessons, the more empowered and self-confident children will be, and the more equipped they will be to have a successful and fruitful life.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an expert in adolescent medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, poses the question, "What are we really trying to do when we think about raising kids?" And he explains, "We're trying to put in place the ingredients so the child is going to be a successful 35-year-old. It's not really about getting an A in algebra." 3 While formal education is important, in my opinion, teaching children how to interact socially with others is more important.

Over the course of teaching, I've found many valuable studies that back up what happens in the classroom. A comprehensive analysis of 33 studies by a team of scientists at Loyola University, Chicago, compared traditional academic study with social and emotional learning (SEL) programs that required child learners to be interactive and to react to and process emotion through role-playing and other social themes. It turned out that children learned better when they had access to SEL programs. The analysis claimed that "teaching kids social and emotional skills leads to an average 11 percentile-point gain in their academic performance over six months compared to students who didn't receive that same instruction."4 In his New York Times best-selling book How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that high scores on SATs and academic performance may not necessarily be what matters most; it is instead a child's character that matters.5

I have worked with children, teens, and young adults over the years, including a 25-year-old who had gone to an excellent school and had great SAT scores, yet wasn't able to land a job after graduating. His mom reached out via email with the subject line "HELP!" confessing that she and her husband were the stereotypical helicopter parents who wanted the very best for their son and had perhaps done too much for him. In hindsight, she saw that in making so many decisions for him, she had not allowed him to learn the necessary social and communications skills for himself, and so her son was struggling in his interactions with others. This guidebook will provide the lessons to teach your child skills that will help in functioning as an adult.


I want to set the record straight. I'm not Emily Post, nor am I striving to be the Amy Vanderbilt of the technology era. I am neither a "manners maven," nor a self-appointed etiquette expert. I cringe when I am introduced at a cocktail party as the "etiquette guru"—people stand up straighter, button up, and get nervous. I watch them second-guess their handshakes and stumble through "eloquent" introductions of themselves as they struggle to remember whether they said, "It's nice to meet you, too." I am not that woman.

The foundation of the socialsklz:-) program wasn't to teach manners and etiquette, although some of the lessons might fall into that category. I developed it to instill the vital life skills that are often not taught in schools, but that set up our children for success. My goal in creating the programs that now make up socialsklz:-) was simply to guide children by teaching them the social and emotional tools they will use every day for the rest of their lives. When you purchase this book, you're taking a proactive stance toward ensuring that your child will be a socially well-adapted adult.

There is no question in my mind that social skills are the single most important lesson you can teach your children; they are the foundation for everything they will do. Starting with that first "Mommy & Me" class, to the first play date, the first day of kindergarten or college, and throughout life, social skills are invaluable. We've all seen someone walk into the room smiling, head held high, exuding confidence and charisma, and thought to ourselves: "Wow, she has presence," or, "That's someone I want to meet." You often hear that a successful job interview can be determined in the first 5 minutes. Wouldn't you want your child to grow up to be that grown-up?

But just what are "social skills?" Is it nothing more than the media buzzword du jour? Are social skills exclusively for kids with special needs? Absolutely not. Unlike traditional manners and etiquette, these are the tools needed to build confidence, solve problems, and navigate through life. In this book you'll find exercises that lay the foundation for acquiring a winning set of social skills which will help children excel in the modern world—and even stand out.

We have classes for tennis, art, soccer, ballet, piano, martial arts, cooking and every extracurricular activity, even though most children will never go on to use these skills past their high school years. But social interaction and communication skills are used for life—starting in childhood and through adolescence into adulthood—and yet they aren't offered as extracurricular lessons. Your kids will use these skills forever, and if they are carefully honed, just like any other skill set, they will undoubtedly make your children's lives more rewarding and fulfilling.

Most schools now are grappling with budget cuts and overcrowded classrooms, and so they are unable to emphasize social and emotional intelligence. And that means that the onus is on parents and caregivers. Have you ever sat down with your children and taught them how to make a good first impression or give a proper handshake? Typically, parents think that kids will acquire these skills through social interaction, or they believe that if they correct their kids they will learn good social skills. In reality, these skills need to be actively taught and practiced regularly, just like any sport or instrument.

You may be thinking that these sorts of skills don't come naturally to your child. That's okay. Good social interaction and communication skills are not instinctual for many kids, but when you teach these skills, and the instruction is accompanied by repetition and practice, they can become a natural part of children's everyday lives. I've been teaching this program for the past six years, and I see firsthand that these skills can indeed be learned, especially if you present them in a pleasant interactive setting. Helen Kramer, an expert in emotional education, explains, "We now know that our brains are plastic and are capable of learning new patterns throughout the course of our lives. We also know that 'nurture' trumps 'nature' and that if we are not born with skills we can learn them if we are taught in a supportive environment. No matter what our genetic predispositions, through repetition we can create new neural pathways creating new thoughts, feelings and behaviors."6

This book will give you the tools to instill these lessons at home. The beauty of teaching at home is that you'll have the opportunity to practice a great deal. And when you first see your children confidently introducing themselves and making eye contact, or when a teacher comments on your child's respectfulness, not only will you be proud, you will also see your child's newfound sense of self-esteem. After our workshops, many parents tell me they receive compliments from others on how polite or engaging their child is.


It is no secret that these days many Americans believe respect and courtesy to be in short supply. The Public Agenda released a study entitled, "Land of the Rude: Americans in New Survey Say Lack of Respect is Getting Worse," stating that, "Seventy-nine percent of Americans say the lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem."7 The New York Times featured an article by Christine Pearson, "Use of Tech Devices Harm Workplace Relationships," which highlights the fact that technological devices have led to a greater degree of incivility.8 In The Best Advice I Ever Got, Katie Couric quotes actress Nia Vardalos, who explained that the best advice she ever got was to be polite. She advised that you need to learn to rise above challenges, and claims that the only thing you can do when you encounter rudeness is to respond with politeness.

Each day, we're faced with a barrage of technology, and this barrage diminishes the amount of face-to-face interaction we engage in. It's not just this generation of young people: it's every upcoming generation too, as technology will continue to play a larger and larger role. My suggestion? Embrace it, just as kids do, but at the same time, know that it's even more crucial to teach good social interaction and communication skills. And it's up to us to do the teaching.

Although socialsklz:-) workshops are sometimes categorized as "manners" and "etiquette" classes, you'll note that I don't use these words when I describe the program. Although I did go to an etiquette school to get certified to teach proper dining, I quickly realized that I only wanted dining to be a part of what I taught. My real focus was on social IQ, including topics such as shaking hands and making a good first impression, and thoughtfulness and empathy.

To that end, children cringe at the words "etiquette" and "manners." When they're told that they have to attend a "manners" class, they walk in angry. This became strikingly evident when I overheard a student in a socialteenz class say to her peer, "My mom told me these were manners classes, but they're so much more fun than that." Parents often call to say that while their children would really benefit from these classes, they didn't know how to get their kids to attend. Let's face it: we live in a casual society in which Old World manners and etiquette don't strike a chord in children. For this reason, the way parents market the workshops to their children is crucial. I urge parents to tell their kids that these are "life skills" classes that will help them be their best selves and that will make life easier and more fun. I kick off workshops by asking kids why they think they're in the classroom: some say that they're there for "manners," some don't say anything because they think their parents have done them a great disservice in sending them, and then there are a few youngsters who excitedly raise their hands and say that they've come for "princess" classes. I then pose the questions: "Do you want to have an easier life? Do you want to hear 'yes' more than 'no'? Do you want to be the best person you have the power to be?" to which all the students respond enthusiastically. And while we may not have fairytale princes and princesses walking out of our workshops, we do have kids who are more socially adept and very eager to return for more lessons.

Simply put, the words "manners" and "etiquette" have a staid, outdated association that is a far cry from the fast-paced world our kids live in today. These are digital citizens who have a voice and who are living in a world where everyone is accessible, or at least approachable, via the Internet. These are kids who have more rights and more of a say in their own lives than ever before. And this is a world in which, according to a Pew Research Study, the average teen sends over 50 text messages a day, and a country in which many prominent figures, and even our President, are accessible via social networking sites.9

Through the socialsklz:-) program, I've seen what works and what sticks with children, tweens, and teens. Kids and parents alike compel me to develop more programs and expand because they want to return for more workshops. They also write letters proclaiming, "My son has never made eye contact before in his life, and now he does!" and "My child loved class and is so excited to return to work on his first impression." These letters, among many others, prove just how valuable the classes have been. There is no question that these skills are empowering and rewarding for children. I have been empowered as well, and I hope you will be too. There is no greater gift than instilling self-confidence and self-esteem in children by teaching and equipping them with a social and emotional toolkit for life.

Stephanie Ogozalek of Mommy Poppins® says of the program: "The overall message of the program is respect for yourself and others, and since the class we have witnessed the most amazing behavior shift in my son. He is listening to us and in turn his behavior has improved. And at this workshop he learned it was 'bad manners' to have people say something to you more than once. A total breakthrough for my boy."


As a result of the local and national media coverage that socialsklz:-) has garnered, I often get phone calls and emails from people around the country, and even outside the US, asking when we're coming to their towns. Although it's been my dream to rent a big school bus and go on a socialsklz:-) tour of America, for the moment, this book is my way of reaching out to all of you at home who can't take the subway up to West 85th Street here in New York City.

I commend you for recognizing the need for these skills to be taught, buying the book, and setting out to instill these lifelong lessons. While the workshop format, where kids are taught by people other than their parents and participate with other kids, has its advantages, the big advantage you have in teaching this skill set at home is that you can work on reinforcing it day by day. This book is meant to aid you, the parent, in incorporating social skills into your children's lives without being perceived as a "nag" or a "critic." The method we use is tried and true, and it works. I'd suggest doing a chapter a week for a ten-week period. The time in between lessons will allow you to put the newly learned skills to use in your daily routine.


On Sale
Jul 9, 2013
Page Count
224 pages
Running Press

Faye de Muyshondt

About the Author

Faye de Muyshondt was an adjunct professor in the Steinhardt School of Communications at New York University with a thirteen-year business background in public relations and marketing. After seeing her own students’ unpolished manners in and outside the classroom, she developed a course titled “The Brand Called You.”

In 2008, she extended the course to New York Public schools as well as organizations such as the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Girl Scouts of America. Motivated by her younger students’ improvement and desire to learn, de Muyshondt began socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world, a workshop for all ages that opened to the public in October 2009 in New York City. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and polite pooch.

Learn more about this author