By Faye de Muyshondt, Founder of socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS
In my decade of teaching elementary through high school students, as well as adults, I’ve asked, “How do you want to come across to others?” thousands of times. I hear the same words again and again, regardless of age: “Friendly, nice, happy, confident, enthusiastic.” Yet throughout our educational experience, there is seldom a single lesson given on developing these characteristics or honing vital “social skills.”
The lack is particularly glaring here in New York City, where children are often put through rigorous admissions interviews from pre-school to high school. What really sets a student apart during these interviews isn’t his or her credentials – those are included on transcripts and in applications – but rather, how he or she comes across in person. Face to face interviews afford students the opportunity to display respect via eye contact, body language, communication skills, and a proper handshake. In essence, it all comes down to social skills, the very skills that have been dubbed “the missing piece” in American education (CASEL, 2013).
As a former adjunct professor of communications at New York University, I saw the need for students to be taught these skills, and I developed a course entitled “The Brand Called You.” The goal was to provide my students with a social toolkit not only for job interviews, but also for managing the business of life. Students’ enormous interest in the course led me to realize that social skills are in fact teachable and should be taught as early as possible. However there’s often a stigma attached to teaching social skills in an educational setting, because we assume it’s a parent’s job to teach them. Sure, as parents we can lead by example and do our best to exhibit good social skills, but just as we sign our kids up for sports, arts and music programs outside of the home, what’s wrong with children learning social skills outside of the home too? These skills are used every single day for the rest of our lives and I would argue that social skills impact everything we do. And they’ve been scientifically proven to increase academic performance (CASEL, 2013).
A few years later I realized we should be teaching these skills at younger ages. I modified the curriculum I had developed at NYU and began teaching it at the high school level, then later in middle school, and ultimately in elementary schools. I discovered that the skills I had taught to college students were also teachable (with a few age appropriate modifications) at the elementary school level. I saw the positive impact they had on students firsthand, yet for most kids today the closest “lesson” they get in this subject matter is a critical remark, oftentimes in a public setting. We’ve all been there as parents – those awkward moments where your child meets someone, but doesn’t look up, or is asked, “How are you?” and offers either a muffled “fine” or no response at all.
Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development, once said, “Social skills are necessary for school success; they affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, in the workplace.” As both an instructor at the university level and the founder and author of socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS, I believe the most valuable skill set we can impart to our children is a social toolkit — whether we send our kids to a workshop or teach them at home. And there is no question, the earlier we begin instilling these lessons, the more empowered and self-confident our children will be and, ultimately, the more fruitful their lives will be.
Faye de Muyshondt is a Today Show contributor, author, and founder of the internationally acclaimed program socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, New York Times and on CNN, ABC, CBS and Fox News. Along with Parents Magazine and Howcast.com she hosts two video series. Previously in public relations and founder of Faye Elizabeth Communications, Inc., de Muyshondt was also an adjunct professor at NYU and Fordham Graduate School of Business. De Muyshondt resides in Westchester with her husband, daughter and ill-mannered puppy.