To my Beloved Pooch, “Toots”…

This blog post is dedicated to my dog, Toots, who many of you have met and loved at socialsklz:-)

My Love, La Toots,
Although you were initially named Mica by Peter and Claudia, I’ve loved all of the names that you now respond to:  Mica girl, Mica McToots, Toodley, Toodley Doo, Doodles, Toodles, Tooty, McTootlesworth, Toots, and most recently, La Toots, a Salvadorean rendition of your name.

Mica, you’ve been my counterpart for the last ten plus years. You’ve moved with me over 10 times, we’ve walked hundreds of miles together in every part of Central Park, you’ve been my rock during some of the hardest times, and more recently seen me experience the greatest happiness in my life.  You saw me get married, you welcomed baby Addy into our family and loved her to pieces despite many sleepless nights. You saw me start two businesses, become a teacher at NYU and Fordham, and most recently write a book.

We’ve swum in oceans together, walked miles of beaches, we explored national parks together, we slept in hotels, and traveled together.  You’ve been stung by bees, you were hospitalized after you ate a pen and an entire plate of cheese wedges, you’ve had 3 surgeries, during all of which I bawled my eyes out.  Your quirkiness only got quirkier over the course of your life, but that made me love you even more.

You helped me choose my life partner, Mica.  He showed us the kind of man he was by the way he treated you from the day he met you. And I saw quickly that you fell in love with him- the ultimate test of a good man.

You will never leave my soul.  You’ve been my life partner for over a decade.  You’ve taught me how to love unconditionally.  You’ve taught me how to be patient, how to care for someone no matter what…  That will carry through to our family forever, as will your memory.

While our chapter closes for now, you’ll forever be etched in my life and each year as I light birthday candles for Adriana’s birthday, we’ll light another one for your birthday- the day you came into this world and brought so much joy.

Thank you my beloved, Mica Girl. I love you forever, and ever.


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Beyond the First Day Outfit: Social Skills for Academic SUCCESS


The back-to-school frenzy is in full swing and you probably have your child’s first day outfit and backpack ready. But, are your children equipped with the vital social and emotional skills to get the year kicked off on the right foot? Dr. Barbara Howard, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an expert on behavior and development explains, “Social skills are necessary for school success. They affect how you do on the playground, in the classroom, and ultimately at the workplace.” And even more so, they’ve been proven to increase academic performance, per a studyfrom the University of Loyola Chicago.

Here are 5 vital lessons to help prepare your kids for social and emotional success school year (expanded upon in my book, socialsklz:-) for SUCCESS)

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/her 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 when people aren’t thoughtful and empathetic. Have a strategy setup for your children to know what to do if faced with a difficult encounter.

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behind the scenes at socialsklz:-)

By Monique Owens, instructor at socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world

Have you ever wondered what really goes on at socialsklz:-) workshops?  Past the carefully crafted curriculum, the complimentary socialsklz:-) bags, and the child-friendly worksheets that your kidz and tweenz bring home?  How is it that young children are able to retain the information they learn in these workshops and why do they actually have fun learning about life skills?  Well, I thought it was about time to share just a few of our secrets…

My one-year anniversary as a socialsklz:-) instructor just passed, and I’ve been reflecting on my experiences working with the kidz and tweenz in our program.  Having had much experience working with little ones (ages 1-6) at Kidz Musik in NJ, I was eager to start working with the 4-12 year old crowd at socialsklz:-) in NYC.  After observing (and assisting) several workshops, I was finally “inducted” as an official socialsklz:-) instructor.

I realize now, that as much as I’ve taught them about shaking hands, first impressions, being courteous, and setting the table, they’ve (unknowingly) taught me how they like to learn, what information sticks, and how to grasp (and hold!) their attention.  So without further ado, here are three “socialsklz:-) secrets”:

1/ redirecting, not contradicting

Kids love to talk.  At the beginning of a workshop, I will start to explain what a “first impression” is, and one of the kidz will start to tell me about when he got his first puppy.  I’ve learned that instead of cutting them off as soon as they start to talk about an unrelated topic or telling them that what they’re talking about doesn’t relate to the lesson at hand, I can take advantage of the fact that they are sharing something they are interested in with me, and from there, I can redirect their point back to the lesson I’m teaching.  Using the puppy example, I could circle back around to first impressions by asking the child how he felt when he first met his puppy, and explain that it works the same way with people; when we first meet people we get a feeling about them before they even begin to speak!

2/ games are sneaky learning tools

Here at socialsklz:-), we pride ourselves on being a learning environment that doesn’tmake children feel like they are at school.  During the school year, workshops take place on Saturdays;  most children don’t find the idea of a sixth day of school to be appealing, so we turn our workshops into “sneaky” learning environments.  The kids have fun and are learning valuable lessons that will help them wherever they go, but instead of remembering the lessons by writing or reading them, they remember them through the games and activities we play.  The kidz workshop section plays “Courtesy Charades,” during which we act out scenes where the characters are using courtesy words (please, thank you, excuse me, etc.), and the other children guess what is happening and which courtesy words are being used.

3/ taking breaks, not time-outs

Sometimes I like to give the children a quick break midway through the lesson to maintain their interest.  On those days, I like to take a deep breath and shake it out… seriously.  I try to prevent distractions by providing my own:   a rapid-fire, 60 second shake-out.  Instead of waiting for a child to act out, I avoid “time-outs” by having all the kids stands up in front of their seats and shake out their arms and legs for one minute, usually culminating the exercise in a fit of giggles.  After the minute is up, we all sit down for a fresh, refocused start to the next part of the lesson.

As for the rest of our socialsklz:-) secrets, well… you’ll have to come to a workshop to find out.

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The Parenting Spectrum: From Tiger Moms to Free Range Parenting

By Faye Rogaski, founder socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world

This year, I had the great honor of serving as one of the 30 judges for Books for a Better Life, an awards program established to honor works in the “self-help”, “motivational”, “self-improvement,” and “advice categories.” The books in each of the 10 categories have changed the lives of millions and their authors have become major forces in American culture. My task was to review 4 books in the childcare/parenting category: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother by Xinran, The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, MD,10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn, and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. As I am currently preparing to play a new role of, “Mom,” I enthusiastically accepted the position and was eager to read these books that were already at the top of my list.

I began reading over the holidays, starting with the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’d made some commentary on this book on my socialsklz:-) social media outlets when it initially came out, and received my very first anonymous “hate” email from a self-proclaimed “tiger mom.” At the same time, I was reading another book that many socialsklz:-) parents have suggested to me: The Blessing of A Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, PhD. They are two diametrically opposed books on parenting and I found myself utterly confused reading such contradictory advice from experts on the subject.

Where along the spectrum should my “parenting style” fall? What kind of parent should I be? There were aspects of both books that I found compelling and convincing, yet other themes that I found outlandish. However, as I read, I did find one common theme: each of the books, in its own unique way, professes that children must be taught many of the essential life skills that I spend my days teaching, not as a parent, but as an instructor at socialsklz:-) …

1. Honor parents and adults.
2. Have self-confidence and believe in yourself.
3. Have a good work ethic.
4. Be prepared for the future with skills that will help to socially and emotionally navigate life.

The authors of these books are both highly respected in their careers and are mothers with “successful” children. While I pondered the very different parenting styles set forth in each book, I realized the underlying question in my mind as I look to the future as a parent is: “What is success?” Is it attending Harvard University? Is it becoming a doctor? Is it being emotionally sound and getting along with others? I realized that I, like every other parent, must define my own definition of “success.”

So I decided, true success for my daughter will stem from defining characteristics of who she will be—being a good person and a caring and empathetic human being, and letting her find what defines her own happiness. And now, I realize that being a successful parent will come from instilling the basic life skills that my parents taught me in my own daughter. With these ideas as my foundation, I have no doubt that I will find success as a parent.

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Happy New Year

At the end of each year, I take some time to reflect on the year past to look at accomplishments and areas that could have been improved upon both personally and professionally. At the same time, I set goals for the year that lies ahead. As I reflected over the holidays with a great deal of gratitude for the many blessings of 2011, I began to think about a monumental year that lies ahead-one that will surely be the most profound in my life. I’m expecting my first child.
It’s funny how we need a license to drive a car and we need to be a certain age to drink, but there is not test or age requirement to be a parent. There is no guidebook that they give you as you leave the hospital with your baby and I’ve been told that being a parent is the hardest job I will ever have, yet the most rewarding of all.
As I read a number of parenting books, talk to other parents and prepare for the arrival of Adriana Elizabeth, something that resonates is the theme of Wendy Mogul’s book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. She writes, “our job is to raise our children to leave us. The child’s job is to find his/her own path in life. If they stay carefully protected in the nest of the family, children will become weak and fearful or feel too comfortable to want to leave.”
Although it’s hard to envision setting free my precious little one in the world as we know it, I want to be sure she is prepared and equipped with the lessons to thrive as an independent woman. So, as I ponder my goals for the new year, as a soon-to-be parent, I remind myself of why I started socialsklz:-) and what I have learned over the last few years-that equipping children with social skills- self-confidence, interaction and communication skills, ability to solve problems, respect and empathy is one of, if not, the most valuable skill sets a parent can grant children. And, ultimately the most important skill set I can instill as I prepare for Adriana Elizabeth to leave, even before she has arrived.

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Holiday Social Must-Have’s for Every Child

Essential Social Skills Tips to Instill in Your Kids During the Holiday Season

The holidays are exciting for parents and kids alike, but they can also be challenging on many levels. Parties, dinners, new faces, old friends, extended family,… you name it and your child will be exposed to it.

So how do you prepare your child for the flurry of activities and attention so that it’s a jolly time for all? By teaching and reinforcing good behaviors, your child can breeze through the season being “nice,” not “naughty.” And these skills are often not taught at school, so it’s up to you.

greetings and introductions
Teach your child to always greet his/her hostess with a warm “hello” when you enter and a heartfelt “thank you” when you leave. Sometimes your child may have to introduce him/her self to a relative or someone they don’t know. Encourage them to shake hands and introduce themselves using their first and last name. A conversation can be started by simply asking someone how their holiday is going. They should try and branch out from one word “yes and no” answers and engage in conversation and explain that it’s a lot more fun!

Whether your child is attending a school holiday party, a dinner with family or a formal holiday event they should be aware of basic table savvy.

BMW—This acronym will help kids remember the placement of a table setting. From left to right they will encounter a bread dish (the B), a meal plate (the M) and a water glass (the W). All the different dishes and glassware can be intimidating for a child.
Utensils-Left has four letters and so does fork, so the fork goes on the left. Spoon and knife both have five letters, so does the word right. So those utensils go on the right.
Napkin-Always place your napkin in your lap and gently tap your mouth with it after every few bites. It’s not used as a full-face wipe
Eating-Remember not to eat until everyone is served, do not say out loud if you dislike a food served, and always chew with your mouth closed.

The holidays mean gifts galore! Sometimes your child will be receiving a gift and other times they will be giving one.
Receiving-A gift is never to be expected, even if it is a holiday. It is a thoughtful gesture and should always be received with a big “thank you” whether you like or need what is given.
Giving-Giving a gift feels great and you should teach your children that the holidays are about giving just as much as they are about receiving. Sometimes a gift may be for a hostess, a teacher, a family member or even a friend. It doesn’t matter what the reason is or how much was spent on it, a gift is the perfect way to say “thank you” for having me to your party, for being a great teacher or just for being my friend.

By going over these basics in advance of the holidays you are giving your child the tools they need to be feel more confident in social situations and to be more socially aware. In today’s word where kids interact face-to-Facebook more than face-to-face, the art of conversation and interaction is becoming more and more foreign to them. Practice and living these skills with your kids will help to prepare them for success on the playground, in the classroom and eventually in the workplace.

Faye Rogaski is the founder of socialsklz:-) and offers holidaysklz workshops and private instruction in Manhattan, Westchester and Brooklyn.

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as we launch clubsocialsklz:-) please join us for a special panel discussion on importance of social and emotional IQ in children

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summertime socialsklz:-) lessons

Do you want to keep your kids academically sharp and focused during the summertime that doesn’t require a reading list and that can increase your child’s academic scores by 11 percent?

A recently published study in the scientific Journal of Child Development found that teaching lessons in social and emotional skills, the very essence of workshops taught at socialsklz:-) in NYC and the tristate area, cause children to be more interactive and to react and process emotion better than through traditional academic study. The report 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.”

The study also found that programs were effective for students of all ages and from different ethnic groups, regardless of whether their schools were in urban, suburban, or rural areas, the analysis found. “Such programs do not detract from but can enhance academic achievement, while providing students with stronger skills in areas that are important to their daily lives and future functioning” explained Joseph A. Durlak, emeritus professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and the study’s lead author.

The problem is that the basics of good social skills are often not taught. It’s assumed that kids learn these skills through osmosis and their own social interactions, yet their interactions are often via text or Facebook. And when parents step in, it often comes across as “corrective” and “nagging” with a lot of push back. Time away from school, chock-full of summer fun in a myriad of social settings, is the ideal time to teach these vital life skills that last a lifetime and that can lead to a more fruitful life at school, on the playground and eventually at the workplace. I see firsthand in through our workshops how enjoyable and confidence building these lessons are for kids of all ages.

5 essential social skills lessons that you can incorporate into the summer:
1/How to Shake Hands-your child will make a first impression with his/her handshake for the rest of their life and knowing how to shake properly is confidence boosting! Start with the basics-stand-up hands meet web to web, smile, make eye contact, shake firmly 3-4 times and introduce yourself. Go over each detail and then have your child walk outside and ring the doorbell as a first time guest.
2/Making Good Eye Contact-maintaining eye contact is often very difficult for kids, but is imperative-show your child the difference of making eye contact vs. not making eye contact during a conversation with your child. Ask which he/she prefers. Next, look at each other for 10 seconds in the eyes to show that it’s possible. Do the same exercise and look at your child’s eyebrows. Ask if he/she noticed. If there is any trouble making eye contact kids can look at eye brows instead.
3/Exhibiting Good Body Language-the body says a lot without your mouth knowing it! Have your child sit on the couch and tell him/her you’re going to walk into the room as 2 different people. Once you’re done
ask which person was happier, more confident, friendlier, etc…Discuss with your child how quickly you make an impression based on your body language. Have your child do the same exercise and also discuss the impact grooming and clothing have.
4/Starting and Maintaining a Conversations-conversations are like soccer games. If one person dribbles the ball around the field and doesn’t pass, there is no game! Take out a tennis ball and ask your child to ask you a question and pass the ball. As you respond to the question, you can pass the ball when you ask that person a question. The object is to keep passing the ball back and forth, which is the key to a good conversation. No one wants to be listening for an entire conversation!
5/Thoughtfulness and Empathy-while some children seem to develop empathy more naturally than others, all children need help for this skill to grow. Parents should begin teaching them as early as possible by getting into the habit of noticing teaching moments and seizing them. Take the opportunity to show how to respond to another child falling on the playground or how to be kind to an upset friend. This creates a seamless transition for children in understanding verbal instructions to later being able to act.

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Airport Etiquette 101

A  good deal of traveling this year (and the experience of sitting next to a passenger with a pastrami sandwich for a six hour flight), led me to see a dire need to address the dearth of civility aboard airplanes.  Starting off with a few essential ethics and etiquette notes where people are jammed into limited space and forced to share recycled air, I turned to our Facebook fans and our socialsklz:-) violations squad for help. Airport Etiquette 101, is now complete and will live on our website as a printable document and reference point.  Have a sneak peak and let me know if I’ve missed anything!  Upcoming, Urban Etiquette 101.

Airport Etiquette 101
with socialsklz:-) tools to thrive in the modern world

1. Do not, under any circumstances, take food on the plane that is either hot or has a strong aroma (pastrami sandwiches, Chinese food, or anything from an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Nasty Bits”)

2. If you feel the need to take your shoes off (and your feet don’t the propensity to be stinky)  keep your socks on and feet on the floor at all times.

3. Follow cabin crew instructions and respect requests such as seat backs forward, tray tables up and turning off portable devices.

4. If you have a carry-on bag, be sure it fits into an overhead bin at check-in rather than being hopeful on the aircraft where you’re holding up an entire plane.

5. When passengers are welcomed to board, kindly stay seated at the gate until your row is called.  Similarly, once plane lands and pulls into the gate, wait until it’s your turn to exit.  Not everyone can fit into the aisle at once and it only slows the debarking process.

6. If you enjoy music or your child uses a gaming device, wear headphones at a minimal volume, so that surrounding passengers don’t have to listen.

7.  If you’re chatting on the plane, keep conversation and volume to a minimum and under no circumstance should you chat in the aisle and disrupt fellow passengers.

8.  If you have a physical disability or a size issue, take care of that when booking your ticket.  It’s inconsiderate to impose on the space others paid for.   You’re entitled to your space from armrest to armrest and far back as the seat reclines.

9. Teach your children to respect others in transit-no kicking seats or pounding tray tables.

10. Remember that the air on a plane is recycled, if you have a cold, carry tissues with you to prevent incessant sniffling and cough/sneeze into them.  Wipe down whatever you touch to prevent others from catching your cold.

11.  When getting up from your seat, refrain from grasping the seat directly in front of you-it can be jarring and annoying to that passenger.

12. Refrain from personal hygiene tasks and remember, if you don’t do something at the office, don’t do it on the airplane!

13. Whoever has the unfortunate circumstance of being in the middle seat gets the armrests, no question.  The window and aisle seats have the space to lean to one side or the other.

14.  We all need our coats during the winter season, BUT If  for any reason you feel the need to have your bulky coat in your seat with you, ensure that it’s not spilling over into your seat mates’ space.  It’s violating someone else’s precious space!

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Um’s like totally out of control

Good habits last a life time.  We know that this holds true for eating habits and studying habits to name just a few.  As parents and educators, we spend a lot of time trying to instill these habits in children.  But what about speaking habits?  I find this to be the ugly stepchild of bad habits—the subject is rarely addressed and when it is, it’s often not taken seriously in our increasingly less formal culture.  While I am a fan of casual conversation in certain circumstances, the filler words including “like”, “um” and “ya’  know” as part of their everyday conversations have become rampant and, even more so, distracting.

I first started noticing the phenomenon while reviewing clips of some of my PR clients over the years during the media training we did in advance of on-air interviews.  I’d cringe and when I brought it to the attention of the client, they would too.  Did this well-known author really say “like” 40 times during the interview?  And I’d see the same phenomenon while teaching at NYU—my conversations with students and their presentations were plagued with these words to the point where I couldn’t help but count.

I began thinking — if the adage does hold true with other habits, maybe starting good speaking habits at an early age would be beneficial.  At socialsklz:-) we never criticize when a child uses these words, but rather we try to make children and young adults aware that they are unconsciously using them incessantly.  We hand out “frownie” cards every time someone in the class (be it a child or adult alike) uses one of the words.  Not only are they aghast at the frequency, but I’ve seen a dramatic improvement in the number of times a child uses these words after they are simply made aware of the frequency.  Even more so, students ask to take Frownie cards for at-home use.

The exercise isn’t intended to cure a culture-wide problem, but awareness is the first step in breaking a bad habit that will ultimately improve conversation, interview and social skills, which is the very essence of the workshops we offer at socialsklz:-). Our class room is a “like” “um” and “ya know” free-zone!

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