August 25, 2011

From Eye Contact To Empathy

A Miss Manners For The Digital Age, Faye Rogaski Of socialsklz:-) Helps Children Nurture Their Social And Emotional Intelligence

By Elora Tocci

“My 5-year-old son
recently went on a ‘big boy’ night out to a concert with his uncle and was
invited back stage after the show. My brother-in-law raised two kids in the
Village and I figured nothing could phase him, so I was pretty surprised when
he called. I answered expecting to hear his Birmingham snarl yelling at me to
come get my crazy boy and take him home, but I was relieved and surprised when
he instead asked, ‘Where did Sebastian learn to shake hands like that?!’”says
city mom Stephanie Ogozalek. “The shock continued into the next day when I
received phone calls and emails from a few people he met
all impressed with this confident, mannerly little boy with the great

If it’s hard to imagine
such a young boy shaking hands and making eye contact with the friendliness and
comfort level of a seasoned networker, the explanation is a little surprising

“Where did he learn the
handshake that made such a strong impression on all these adults? At his fun
manners class,” reveals his proud mom.

The class is part
of a program known as socialsklz
:-). As its funky lettering
covers some of the territory of traditional manners classes but its own manner
is relaxed and relatable. At its core, it’s really about using manners education
as a springboard to understand and develop age-appropriate life skills.

“Even though so much of what we do involves technology, the
in-person face-to-face interaction remains crucial to success—and if you think
about it, that’s true whether you’re a five-year-old, a 15-year-old, or a
65-year-old,” says
founder Faye Rogaski, who spent years in the world of public
relations before figuring out how to merge her knowledge of the marketplace
with another deep passion: working with children.

Rogaski has
developed curriculum and classes for children ages 4-7
, tweens and teens. She also offers
specialty workshops for girls and for classic transitional experiences like
going back to school or starting camp. This fall she’s introducing after-school
programming called CLUB socialsklz
:-) as well.

To teach
children social and emotional skills—and to get parents to believe in her
too—Rogaski knew that she had to create a program that somehow seemed cool and
contemporary. Otherwise only the most traditional families would give it a go,
and most kids would not respond very well to it. Although her underlying goal
of improving social behavior is serious and worthy, her methods are engaging
and fun, with emphases on lots of interactive games and role-playing, as well
as mini-excursions around the neighborhood and a special socialsklz:-)
dinner party.

“I knew if I
didn’t create a welcoming environment, the program would be useless for modern
day kids,” Rogaski says candidly. “In fact, in describing socialsklz:-) I don’t
use the words ‘manners’ and ‘etiquette’ at all because the program isn’t old-school
manners and etiquette classes.”

At the same
time, the topics she manages to explore with children would be difficult for
most parents to take on at home (where many children just wouldn’t want to hear
it, and many parents wouldn’t have the necessary reserves of patience, good
cheer and determination).

At socialsklz:-),
by contrast, even the youngest children focus on the importance of personal
qualities and behaviors like mindfulness of others, body language, a good
handshake, proper introductions, and making friends. Older kids take on those
and more particular challenges of their age, like peer pressure,
cyber-bullying, taking responsibility, being empathetic, and making a good
first impression both face-to-face and face-to-Facebook, as well as grooming
tips and personal style.

At the beginning
of every semester, socialsklz:-)
classes quickly turn into “like,” “um,” and “ya know”-free zones—a big contrast
to the settings that originally inspired the idea when Rogaski was teaching
communications at
Fordham University and NYU.

“I saw that kids
were coming to college without the basic social skills you need to win an
interview and succeed in the workplace as well as personally. I sat back and thought
about the greatest lesson I could offer my students and I knew it was making a
good first impression and managing your own personal brand,” she says.

In the nearly
two years since she first started socialsklz:-), Rogaski has seen first-hand the impact the
program can have on children and families, but she was especially gratified
last year to come across an academic study that verified the extent to which
she was really on to something.

“The scientific
journal Child Development released a comprehensive analysis of 33
studies which 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.’” says Rogaski.
“In other words, by helping kids improve their sense of social confidence,
chances are you’re also helping them become more confident and hardworking

According to
Rogaski, the study also found that students who had some social skills
training—whether in kindergarten or in high school—were better able to form
bonds with not only their peers but also with their teachers.

As someone who
bonds so easily with kids, the finding made perfect sense to Rogaski, who
recently demonstrated for this reporter how even a first impression can make a
huge difference. Rogaski entered a classroom room filled with children ages four
to seven, and introduced herself to her students in two different ways. First,
she came in smiling, upbeat and ready to get to know her students. Next, she
entered with slumped shoulders, dragging her feet.

“I then asked
the kids to list a few words to describe each of those people and which person
they’d rather have as their instructor, and right off the bat they understand
how quickly a first impression is made,” says Rogaski.

While some
parents may be wondering how to get their kid to agree to take an etiquette
class in the first place, Rogaski says it’s not as difficult a sell as it may

“I asked one
girl what her parents told her she was coming here for, and she said ‘To meet
people!’” Rogaski recalls. “Which basically is true. The classes are small, and
they really interact and get to know one another.”

“But of course what
they’re really learning is how to get along with people, one of the most
important skill sets to have in life,” Rogaski adds.

Just ask
Sebastian what a difference even a handshake can make.

socialsklz:-) has locations on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Tribeca and Brooklyn. For more information, visit

Add Social Skills To Your Back-To-School Checklist

By Faye Rogaski

more important than ever to not only get your children a back-to-school outfit,
but to also equip them with a good set of social skills for school. 

Practice setting your alarm a few days before the start of school so you get
used to waking up and getting out of the house on time.

Pick out your outfits the night before so it’s not a source of stress in the
morning. Even if you wear a uniform, be sure it’s laid out with socks,
shoes, etc.

Even though you might not shake hands with your friends, it’s important to know
how to properly greet adults and teachers. Hands meet
web-to-web with a firm grip. Maintain eye contact the entire

Organization: Write
down your homework assignments, bring a copy of your schedule home so you know
what books to bring, and pack your backpack the night before. 

Give everything you do your all. From homework to after-school activities,
always put in 100%. And if it’s not outstanding, own it and discuss how you can
improve for the next time around. 

School can be a stressful place, so in the midst of tests, peer pressure and
athletics, remember to laugh and have some fun with your friends.

for parents of the older age set (8 and up), or for those who are online, it’s
imperative to stay aware of your children’s Internet activity. Be
proactive and talk to them about what is and isn’t appropriate on the web. Even
more so, if your child is having a conflict with a friend, encourage him
or her to handle those issues face-to-face rather than face-to-Facebook. Conflict
resolution is a skill that your child will take through school, to the work
place and beyond.

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