Giving Kids the Missing Piece

Chances are, if we asked you to think about classes to help your child learning social skills, it would call up a painful image of Emily Post, shrimp forks and white gloves. But social skills are more complicated than simply obeying the dictates of idle convention. Social skills are about gaining empathy in a complicated, disjointed world; about confidently entering any social situation and presenting yourself. Faye Muyshondt, author of socialsklz :-) (Social Skills) for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World and founder of socialsklz:-) is on a mission to help your kids acquire these skills.

We sat down with Faye recently to talk about her background, her book and the problems facing kids today. Now, interviewing a media specialist could leave you examining not only your own manners but also looking wistfully at your shoes, but Faye radiates such warmth and confidence that you feel immediately at ease. We quickly realize that this is a critical part of the skills she is teaching; providing an emotional toolkit for bridging awkward situations and learning how to put others at ease. It is essential part of succeeding in the world in almost any situation.

Faye is a Today Show regular, who began her career as a public relations and media specialist who had to "overcome some tough social experiences and was propelled through them by fear." It wasn't long before she saw the value of counseling people on making first impressions, including digital first impressions and then extending those skills to kids. Because of the world we live in, social skills were not a nice extra, they were what teachers described as "the missing piece" and the impact of gaining those skills was enormous. In fact, the journal Child Development found 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 the same instruction."

Socialsklz began in 2009 with a series of workshops called "The Brand Called You." In the workshop Faye taught kids not a set of rules and what they were "doing wrong" but a set of skills that helped them in situations they encountered everyday: "importance of a good first impression, greetings and introductions, and how to converse without using the dreaded phrases 'like', 'um', and 'ya know' [as well as] technology tips such as what to post (and, more importantly, what not to post) on social media sites and how to send a proper email." The class was an enormous success, leading kids to want to return again for upgraded skills. It turns out, says Faye, that kids really appreciated learning "how to identify feelings and express them."

Soon Faye extended the workshops to elementary schools, working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the YMCA and Girl Scouts to provide the skills to more children. In 2009 she opened socialsklz:-) to provide the workshops on a rolling basis to kids all over. Faye also wrote a book for parents, socialsklz :-) (Social Skills) for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World , which won a "Mommie's Choice Gold Award."

Parents are banned from the interactive workshops, which teach intangibles of communication such as body language, eye contact, in order to give the kids a safe space to learn. Examples of the kind of skills that are taught, says Faye, are "identifying my big three: three things you can ask, they things that they can talk about" in any social situation. The primary aim of the classes is to help kids feel good about themselves in every social situation, both in person and online.

All of these skills are not necessarily innate, says Faye, they are learned. Listening to Faye describe the skills that she teaches, I understood that social skills of this kind are about a lot more than manners: they are gaining confidence and connecting with other people. Robert Frost once wrote, "If one by one we counted people out for the least sin, it wouldn't take us long to get so we had no one left to live with. For to be social is to be forgiving."

You can register your child for an in person workshop on the upper westside of Manhattan, or at a new location in Greenwich CT by clicking here. Look for an update to this article in several weeks when we conduct the ultimate social experiment: teaching social skills to a teenaged boy.