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Mother’s Day Benefit 2015
May 11, 2015 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Social Studies: The Skills That Bring Success by Pamela Awad
Six weeks ago Faye de Muyshondt’s second child, Oliver, was born; six years ago she gave birth to socialsklz:-). Before Oliver came marriage and a baby daughter; with socialsklz:-) came books, a website, workshops, and a unique way of giving young people the social interaction and communication, or “life,” skills they may lack. On the second Monday of May, Ms. de Muyshondt spoke at Parents in Action’s annual Mother’s Day lunch. Social skills, dubbed by a CASEL study “the missing piece in American education,” are what de Muyshondt calls essential “skills to use every day” and the foundation for “every single thing we do.” She believes they build self- esteem and confidence, affect our life drastically and are vital to success in today’s fast paced, technological world.
The seeds of socialsklz:-) were sown when Ms. de Muyshondt began teaching a workshop entitled “The Brand Called You” at NYU’s Steinhardt School. She realized first impressions, body language, and conversational skills (among other social “niceties”) impacted
everything from young adults’ abilities to effectively interview for a job, to children’s success on the playground, in the classroom, and in the world at large. Adapting these lessons to workshops for children of varying ages, she developed a list of social skills for success and in front of our 200 or so assembled guests, shared five of the ones she feels all children need in their “toolkit for life.”
With enthusiasm, props, and body language, Ms. Muyshondt enlightened the audience about first impressions. Asking, “How do you want to come across?” she noted that “your non-verbal impression has the most impact; you decide what goes into your first impression.” She mimed entering a room in an uneasy manner and then a confident one, and said that when asked, most people, whether aged 5 or 50, indicate they’d like to come across as “happy, friendly, polite, and eager.” She explained how eye contact, facial gestures, and body language contribute to that all-important non-verbal first impression, and then spoke about a “proper handshake.” Offering the audience the tips of her fingers, she advised against the “Queen’s shake,” a fingertips-only half-shake. She then donned a pair of latex gloves with Velcro attached to the “web” of each hand (between thumb and forefinger) to demonstrate the “web-to-web” shake. She explained how she asks students in her class to put on the gloves and shake hands with each other. When they shake properly, students’ hands stick together, web to web. Readers take note: parents don’t always pass the test.
“Teaching a child what to say when meeting someone is an important verbal skill,” said Ms. de Muyshondt, and another one for the toolkit. Properly introducing yourself and properly addressing the person to whom you are speaking are the beginnings of positive social interaction. Starting the conversation can be tricky too. Ms. de Muyshondt explained that conversational skills come with practice and are as important to life as they are to good verbal first impressions. She recommended having three questions at the ready that can be used as conversation starters. Good examples include: “How are you?” “Are you enjoying the spring weather?” “What are your weekend plans?” “Being armed with knowledge and confidence, having those three questions you can ask anybody is empowering before you embark on a social situation,” she said. Ms. de Muyshondt showed the audience a small rubber ball and described the “Conversation Skills Game,” a two-minute conversation exercise where no one-word responses like “good” or “fine” are allowed. Equipped with three questions, the child holding the ball begins the conversation, passing the ball to his partner as she begins her response. Like good conversation, the ball should be passed back and forth.
“Your Digital first impression is as impactful as your face to face first impression,” de Muyshondt said, and parents should teach their children to be “safe, savvy, and independent in the virtual world.” She emphasized the need for conversations between parents and children about the rules or “playbook” for digital life and the need to be proactive “before anything goes wrong.” Each family’s rules will be different, but parents should know about their children’s online activity and children should be clear about their parents’ expectations, be it knowledge of their passwords or the apps they download for their phones. She advises families to discuss the kinds of photos that are appropriate for posting, how often it’s appropriate to post, and how much time can be spent on devices. “Digital contracts are a good way to begin communicating with your kids about going online,” she said. And it’s important for parents to teach their children that what we say online can live forever. She reminded the audience that the digital world “can turn into a permanent memory bank.”
Empathy “is one of the most important traits for anyone to possess,” and has been identified as one of the five leading traits of leaders across the world, said Ms. de Muyshondt. Teaching empathy is “incredibly important,” as is being an empathic listener, that is, one who simply listens, without distraction. She teaches this skill by having her students each tell a three-minute story. Listeners can’t interrupt; they are only allowed to nod, ask a question for clarification, or to show engagement. “We have two ears and one mouth,” she said, meaning we should talk half as much as we listen. It’s “an incredible gift to be able to listen and show people you really care.”
Identifying feelings and expressing them, specifically when managing friendships, is another skill Ms. de Muyshondt believes we should teach our children well. With a rubber baloney sandwich Ms. Muyshondt demonstrated the “sandwich technique,” and how it can be applied to the social quandaries that children encounter. “The bun represents the positives or solutions to a conflict,” she said, explaining how the top part of the bun is a positive feeling, i.e., “I treasure our friendship;” the meat of the sandwich is what’s troubling, “I feel hurt or angry;” and the bottom half of the bun is a positive conclusion, “How can we resolve this?” It’s an “incredibly effective way to identify and express feelings” that will earn you a receptive audience, rather than “coming at or accusing someone,” said Ms. de Muyshondt, and she urged every parent to “take the time to teach these skills to your children; the investment in time will pay off in spades.”
Social skills: They’re necessary to teach, practice, and repeat, and we will use them every day for the rest of our lives. For more information visitwww.socialsklz.com