Valentines Day Dinner Etiquette Essentials

Valentine’s Day Dining

Heading out this Valentine’s Day for dinner?  Don’t forget to take these 5 valuables with you.

1/ always eat from the outside, in meaning start with the utensils on the outside and work your way in, course by course.  First course utensils are in the outermost positions.

2/ as tempted as you might be to add commentary, be sure to wait until you’ve chewed and swallowed everything in your mouth.  Don’t, I repeat DON’T put your hand over your mouth while talking with your mouth full.

3/ napkin always belongs on your lap.  If you get up to use the powder room, set it on your chair.  At the end of a meal just as you’re departing the table, place it to the left of your meal plate.

4/ know your utensil placement: when finished with a course, place utensils both on the 4 as if your plate was a clock.  When taking a break, mid-course, place utensils on the 4 and on the 8.

5/ remember, the only item to eat with your fingers is your bread.  Break pieces off over your plate and eat those broken pieces immediately.  Don’t break it all up initially.

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5 Things to Never Say to a Pregnant Woman

Know someone who’s pregnant? Here are my top 5 conversation topics to avoid and what you should ask instead!

 1. “Are you tired? You look tired.”

Of course she is tired.  Pregnancy knocks your socks off! Not only is her body growing another human being, she’s being bombarded by a frenzy of hormonal changes. On top of being utterly exhausted, it’s hard for her to get some shut-eye when the discomfort keeps her awake at night.  Oh, and does she have other kids at home? Perhaps toddlers?  I was food shopping and a man blurted this out to me.  I felt like giving him a snapshot of my day, but really the big question is, why bother?

2. “How much time until you’re due? Wow, you still have a ways to go!” 

Regardless of whether she is 4 weeks or 30 weeks along, for her, pregnancy already feels like an eternity.  Commend her for how far along she actually is.  Pregnancy is tough on most women and hearing that you’ve got a long way to go isn’t always comforting.

3. “Is it twins?”

How is a woman supposed to respond to this question when she’s not having twins?  More than likely it’s not twins, so why bother asking her and risk making her feel like she has gained too much weight to be carrying one baby?

4. “You’re breast feeding, right?”

It’s absolutely none of anyone’s business.  It doesn’t matter if she is breast feeding or using formula; it’s not for anyone else to pass judgement.

 5. “Enjoy every minute of it.”

While being pregnant is undoubtedly an experience of a lifetime, it’s also hard.  Looking back at pregnancy years later, it’s easy to forget the day to day, the sleepless nights, the back aches, and other pregnancy related issues that I won’t even mention.

 So, here’s what to ask a pregnant woman:

 1. How are you feeling?

That’s IT! Let her share with you.  This simple question can let you gauge whether or not to ask a few more pertinent questions or to simply move on to another topic!

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diningsklz:-) for the holidays!


In  advance of the holiday season, teach your child valuable dining do’s and don’t, instead of expecting them to be perfect guests at the table, using these simple tips.  For more information see chapter 7 in socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS: How to Give Your Children the Tools to Thrive in the Modern World.  

1/ Ready…  Set…  Set!  The table, that is.
Using a stop watch or cell phone timer, have a table setting race among your family members.  The first person with a perfect table setting gets to choose dessert, the mealtime playlist, or another prize!  Be sure to teach children what a perfect table setting looks like:  bread plate left of the meal plate, glasses to the right of the meal plate, 2 forks on the left, knife then spoon on the right, napkin under the forks, etc.

2/ Play “Police Officer”
After teaching kids your “house rules” for the table, elect a family member to be the “police officer” at one meal, blowing the whistle on offenses like: elbows on the table, eating food with fingers, reaching over someone for the salt, etc.  This is a fun way to enforce mealtime manners in a way that feels like a game instead of just criticism.

3/ Have a fancy dinner night!
One evening, have a “fancy” dinner party with your family.  Have everyone play dress-up, put on some music, and maybe even light some candles!  Ask your children to set the table (with your guidance), before dining together.  Take this opportunity to teach kids some of the important dining lessons throughout the meal such as: the proper way to manage utensils, siting up straight, chewing with mouth closed, waiting to speak until you’re finished chewing, etc.

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socialsklz:-) 5th anniversary!

Hello Parents and Friends,

It seems like yesterday that I opened up my public relations (PR) business conference room and had my first 4 students for what would later become a bona fide business.  The idea for the program came from life in PR and many years of media training clients and then realizing that those media training sessions would be incredibly beneficial to ANYONE, including my NYU and Fordham students.  These are the “soft” skills that impact life more than anything else, I argue.  However, they’re not taught anywhere.

That idea compelled me to start a program at NYU, which I titled “The Brand Called You” and the success of that class led me to see firsthand that good social and communication skills are not only teachable, but also build self-esteem and confidence, and positioned in the right way are incredibly fun to learn (and teach).

Today marks 5 years of socialsklz:-) and quite a few incredible milestones (and challenges too):

  • Featured on the Today Show
  • Opened our first proper socialsklz:-) office/workshop space in 2013
  • Became a Today Show contributor
  • Wrote socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS with Running Press, which received a Gold Medal from Mom’s Choice Awards
  • Launched a series of videos with PARENTS magazine and with HowCast
  • Executed a pilot program in NYC Public Schools
  • Hired first full time employee, Monique Owens, June 2013
  • Got audited by the NYC Department of Labor (no violations!)
  • Toured the country and conducted over 85 book talks
  • Tore my rotator cuff toting books to said 85 book talks (the part of book touring they don’t tell you about)
  • Officially hired second full time employee, India Teal, July 2014
  • Opened programs in Greenwich, CT

I couldn’t have done any of this without a few key people including my right hand and truly gifted (first socialsklz:-)employee) Monique Owens, Chaz Ross, India Teal, Suzy Sorensen, Caroline Swartzman, Sara Saldi, and incredibly supportive husband and daughter Federico and Addy.

In honor of my gratitude to so many of you for your support, for signing your kids up for programs, for buying the book, and much more, we’ve put together the below special offer for programs.

Much Love and Gratitude,

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Win or Lose, It’s How You Play the Game

Looking back on the 2011 US Open Women’s Final, I’d like to take a moment to discuss Serena Williams’ sportsmanship, which lends a valuable lesson for players at large. Her outburst on the court during a point was downright poor sportsmanship. However, what ensued was even worse. The umpire’s call to grant her opponent Stoser the point, propelled Williams to go into a verbal rant, telling the umpire “don’t even look at me”, accusing her of being a “hater” and a “loser.” This display is an opportunity for parents to speak with their children about the importance of good sportsmanship.

With the fall here and sports kicking into high gear, it’s imperative to teach sportsmanship skills before your child heads out onto the playing field. Coaches and parents alike play a vital role in shaping positive attitudes and behaviors in children as they embark on life as a teammate and opponent. Two major ways to develop good sportsmanship are via positive role-modeling and proactively teaching these skills, rather than assuming they’re acquired on the field or by watching sports on TV.

What is Sportsmanlike Conduct? Sportsmanlike conduct is defined as “fairness, courtesy, and being a cheerful loser.” These are the behaviors expected of a child participating in a sport. Good sportsmanship occurs when athletes show respect and concern to opponents, teammates, coaches, and officials. After all not everyone is a winner in sports, as well as other aspects of life. It’s a valuable life lesson for every child.

Examples of sportsmanlike conduct include:
Shaking hands with opponents after a game
Showing concern for injured opponents
Accepting all decisions of the referees
Encouraging less skilled teammates
Congratulating an excellent effort by opponents

Examples of unsportsmanlike conduct include:
Causing injury to an opponent on purpose
Making fun of teammates
Blaming losses on others
Crying or stomping around after a loss

How to Model Good Sportsmanship

There are many ways that you can teach sportsmanship to your children, but the most important way is for you to practice it yourself. Knute Rockne, former football coach of Notre Dame, said, “One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”

From not agreeing with a ref’s call to shouting at other players, many parents get too involved at their children’s sporting events. Parents who show respect to officials and opponents before, during, and after games can truly expect their children to do the same.

Examples of showing respect to opponents and officials:
Celebrate victory respectfully
Engage in the pre- and post-game handshake
Thank officials for the job they’ve done after a game
Discuss loss constructively

Actively Teach Sportsmanship
Set up a code of conduct at the beginning of the season. Make sure to include consequences for breaking the code. Expect sportsmanship during practice and competitions.
Share examples of the good or poor behavior of professional, high school, or college athletes with your kids. Discuss this behavior with them.
Discipline your child if they behave like a “bad sport”. By allowing poor sportsmanship to happen you are teaching your child that poor sportsmanship is acceptable.
Teach children to be considerate of their teammates and their opponents when they win and lose.

By teaching these skills to your child you are ensuring that sports become an additional factor in raising a well-rounded individual. The benefits to kids who participate in sports are well documented. According to Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child and adolescent psychologist based in New York City, “sports are an amazing way for children to learn how to cooperate, work together, and understand how teams are effective. These are all incredibly important life lessons, as no one lives in a vacuum. Learning how to work with others early and often can only prepare children for what will be part of their lives in an ongoing way.”
Dr. Hartstein also stresses the importance of teaching kids about good sportsmanship. She says, “Knowing how to lose gracefully is key in building and maintaining relationships. Stopping to help others shows a level of compassion and understanding, which is also integral, at times, in athletics. Overall, sports can teach children how to navigate difficult situations, understand that they cannot win at all things, and how to appreciate those who are winners at different times.”
So no matter what happens during a game, winning and losing are a part of sports. As you sign your child up for their Fall sport activities, consider spending time with them to explain the importance of good sportsmanship-like conduct or sign them up for a class like sportsmanshipsklz:-). The valuable life lessons they learn today from being a part of a team will help them throughout high school, college and in the work place.20

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Five Tips for Interview Success!

1/FIRST IMPRESSION– It takes 3-5 seconds to make a first impression. Studies show that your non-verbal first impression has more of an impact than anything you say.  Ask your child how he or she wants to come across and then help her come across that way.  Does his or her body language, facial expression, and eye contact match the way he or she wants to come across?  Also be sure to remind kids to continue using good body language and maintaining eye contact throughout the interview.

2/SHAKING HANDS– Most kids are never given a lesson on how to shake hands properly.  Guide your child on what a proper hand shake looks like (eye contact, good body language, a smile, meeting hands web-to-web with a firm grip). We shake hands to start an interview and to close an interview (see chapter one of socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS).

3/INTRODUCTIONS– Explain to kids that to introduce yourself properly, you can say: “Hello, I’m FIRST + LAST NAME.”  If the name of the interviewer is known ahead of time, even better!  For example, you could say, “Hello Ms. de Muyshondt, my name is FIRST + LAST NAME.”

4/SELF-AWARENESS- It’s important for children to develop a sense of self-awareness for their interviews, and for life in general.  Upon walking into the interview room, ask: “May I sit here?”  And at the end of the interview be sure to push in your chair and collect anything you brought in with you.  Express gratitude for the time spent together by saying: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

5/PRACTICE- Review what your child plans to share during his or her interviews.  Explain that this is the time to share his or her story- academics, hobbies, passions, sports, and personality!  It’s one thing to say you are a soccer player, but it becomes a lot more interesting when you share how long you’ve played soccer, what position you play, and the lessons you’ve learned on the field.  And, do a mock interview with your child.  Taping it and playing it back is that much more beneficial and can serve as a means for your child to see for him or herself what he or she wants to work on.

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Back-2-School Tips For Parents

It’s back-to-school time and you probably have your child’s first day outfit and backpack purchased and ready.  But, are your children equipped with the vital social and emotional skills to get the year kicked off on the right foot?  Social skills have been called the “missing piece” in American education, yet they are necessary for school success. They have been proven to increase academic performance, self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as decrease aggression.

Here are the five most vital back to school tips to help equip your kids with the emotional and social skills for success this school year:

1—We’ve all heard that we have one chance to make a first impression.  So prepare your child(ren) for a great first impression with teachers. At home, show your child(ren) how to execute a firm handshake with the right hand (no dead fish), good eye contact, and proper body language.

2—Is the English teacher a Mr. / Ms. / Mrs.? Be sure your child is addressing his/her teachers properly and explain the difference between Mrs. and Ms. (with a zzzzz sound). A teacher should never be addressed by his/her first name or a nickname; it’s always Mr./Ms./ Mrs., unless your child is told otherwise.

3—Lunchroom behavior can leave a lasting impression. No one should talk with their mouth full, chew loudly or dissect food like a science project.  Have a fun “school lunch” at home and prepare lunch in brown paper bags for kids.  Review the do’s and don’ts at the table.

4—The playground is the perfect place to make friends. Teach your kids to approach their classmates with a friendly, interested smile and how to start a conversation. Before your kids go to school they should have at least three questions prepared to ask classmates.  Have fun with the exercise and role play as if you were his/he classmate-ask your child what he/she did over the summer and point out that one word answers don’t make for a great conversation!

5—Kids have heard the word “bullying” countless times and often tune out if it’s brought up. Instead try talking about thoughtfulness and empathy with kids.  All children want to have friends and an important part of making friends and keeping friends is being thoughtful and empathetic. Share a few examples of how to be that type of friend and ask kids how they can be thoughtful.  At the same time talk about how to handle sticky situations, where people aren’t thoughtful and empathetic.  Have a strategy setup for your children on what to do if faced with a difficult encounter.

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socialsklz:-) digital contract

  • I won’t sign-up for any apps, email accounts, or social media without asking first.
  • I’ll share with my parents the things I am doing on the Internet.
  • I’ll think before I post and ask myself if I would be comfortable with this living online for a very long time.  The Internet is a permanent memory bank.
  • Before posting photos, I’ll be fair and ask myself if everyone in the photo would be comfortable with that photo being posted.
  • I won’t share passwords with others, except parents and guardians.
  • I’ll keep passwords to any accounts that I open in a specific place that we designate together.
  • I’ll ask my parents before downloading software or programs, even if a pop-up prompts me to do so.
  • I will close any website that might pop-up on my screen that has any creepy or gross photos and talk to my parents about it.
  • I’ll abide by screen time rules in my home.
  • I’ll never post or text with vulgar language.
  • I’ll never share my phone number, address, date of birth, or full name online.

Name of Child:   _____________________ (printed)

Child’s Signature:  ____________________

Parent’s Signature:  ___________________

Date: _____________________________

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The Cure to the “Winter Blues”

Worried that your kids might suffer from the Winter Blues?
As temperatures drop, days remain short and outdoor time is at a minimum, ensure that your kids’ grades, attitude, and motivation don’t with the five tips below.

The combination of post-holiday blues and a long winter ahead is the perfect mix for the winter doldrums. This can pose an enormous challenge for kids to maintain good grades and stay motivated at school.  Teaching social skills is proven to increase academic performance (by 11 percentile points), improve attitudes, and decrease aggression and bullying. I see firsthand in the classroom that these skills also increase self-esteem and self-confidence.

TEACH (and don’t assume that your children inherently “know” these skills):
1.      How to make eye contact and how it affects our day to day interactions with others (teachers and peers)
2.      Good body language and facial gestures, which affect our overall attitude
3.      When and how to express gratitude in a meaningful way, proven to increase emotional well-being
4.      The value of persistence, even when something seems boring
5.       How to identify/ express emotions and share ideas

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Ten Vital Social and Emotional Skills to Instill in Children

How to:
1. make a good first impression both verbally and non-verbally
2. start, maintain, and close a conversation
3. be safe and savvy online and mind our digital first impression
4. express gratitude in a meaningful way, on a daily basis
5. set the table, manage utensils, and be polite during meals
6. see the value in failure and the fact that it isn’t a bad thing
7. be persistent when faced with challenges
8. say “no” and mean it
9. express feelings effectively and be empathetic toward others
10. be independent and responsible

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