I run a children's etiquette school in NYC. Here's how I'm helping my high-profile clients' kids learn manners and people skills amid a pandemic.

Faye de Muyshondt, center, holding a social etiquette class for young kids before the pandemic.Keith Barraclough

  • Faye de Muyshondt is an author and the founder of Socialsklz, a Manhattan-based social etiquette school for kids.
  • She works with students from ages four to 18 and teaches them skills like how to introduce themselves properly, how to initiate small talk, and how to use dining utensils correctly.
  • The pandemic has caused a temporary end to de Muyshondt's in-person lessons, so she and her staff are instead conducting workshops virtually.
  • Here's how de Muyshondt's has shifted her job and business during the pandemic, as told to freelance writer Jenny Powers.

Before becoming a social etiquette instructor, I worked at an international public relations agency for 14 years building brands, securing media coverage, and conducting media training. My specialty was prepping high-profile clients for appearances on programs like "60 Minutes" and "The Today Show." We'd work on eye contact, body language, active listening, and how to handle difficult conversations. Afterwards clients would always say, "Gosh, I wish I did this sooner."

Then while teaching public relations and marketing as an adjunct professor at NYU and Fordham Graduate School of Business, I first realized there was no formal social or communications skills training in elementary, high school, or even college. I was inspired to start building these lessons into my curriculum, and the feedback I received from students was great. Advertisement

I volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America as a Big Sister, and approached them about teaching the same type of lessons to kids. They had a program pairing high schoolers with corporate mentors, and asked me to work with the students on their workplace interactions. Several of the corporations working with BBBS were thrilled with the results, and invited me to work with their own interns. Next, I approached YMCA and Girl Scouts and began working with thousands of children throughout the public school system, many from at-risk areas.

In 2009, I launched Socialsklz for kids ages four through 18 to help equip them with the vital tools needed to succeed on the playground, the classroom, and ultimately, the workplace.

Our signature courses EssentialKidz and EssentialTweenz last four hours each, and have a maximum of 10 children per class. We also offer private instruction, but I don't allow parents to sit in on trainings, because we've found they are less impactful.

We teach four-year-olds to maintain eye contact by having them peer through a long tube with a person on the other end of it. Students learn about greetings, introductions, and small talk by acting out real-life scenarios such as arriving at a friend's birthday party. In PresentationSklz, kids interview one another and give a presentation on the other person. In DiningSklz, we eat together and learn how to use utensils and napkins properly for any situation, whether you're in the cafeteria or at a fancy restaurant.

Traditionally, the bulk of our interactive workshops and one-on-one instruction are in person.

In-person classes are typically her bread and butter, but COVID-19 has put a stop to those for now.Keith Barraclough
We had an 800-square-foot ground floor space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for the past eight years where my staff and I taught workshops. There was a conference room, classroom, and kitchen. We all wear a uniform of a striped blazer during the warm months and a navy jacket with red trim during the colder seasons, paired with jeans.Advertisement

But in early April when the pandemic hit, I contacted our landlord and said that we needed to get out of our lease. He let me out of it, thankfully, because who knew how long we would have to remain closed.

I'm just beginning to truly mourn the loss of our space and grapple with the fact that we had to shut down so suddenly. COVID-19 has forced us to reinvent what we do and how we do it, and really ramp up our virtual instruction offerings, because now, they're suddenly our lifeline.

I've had to scale back my business by letting some full-time instructors go, and transitioning some others to part-time.

De Muyshondt and a fellow instructor during class with a group of students before the pandemic.Keith Barraclough

It hasn't been easy. All of our instructors have education degrees and went through rigorous training, which included shadowing me for 10 two-hour workshops before running their own, and working in our space for six months before they were permitted to lead outside workshops.

The silver lining of the pandemic is that I've been able to spend more time with my family.

De Muyshondt with one of her young social etiquette students.Keith Barraclough

Before the virus, I worked after school and on weekends. Now I'm able to spend that extra time with my own children and my husband at our home in Westchester. My kids and I started a YouTube channel where we weave Socialsklz lessons into videos.Advertisement

Socialsklz also recently launched a certification instructor program where people pay an annual fee to become certified in our programming, allowing them to take on their own clients from anywhere in the world area. SO far, we've certified a dozen or so people all over the world, from Boston to Mexico to Singapore.

Private school interviews are right around the corner this fall, so we're working virtually with young clients to prepare.

"I'm just beginning to truly mourn the loss of our space," says de Muyshondt.Keith Barraclough

A big part of our business had been going into high-profile people's homes and helping prepare their children for school interviews. The more children are going to be faced with digital scenarios like Zoom meetings, the more practice and resources they'll need.Advertisement

One day I'd like to go back and get another space for my business, because I love having in-person interactions with our students. That's been our bread and butter, but for now we'll continue with our digital programming for the foreseeable future. And as for our training, we've made one big update: No more handshakes. We are also teaching kids to give slight bows in lieu of elbow bumps to maintain social distancing.

Faye de Muyshondt is the founder of Socialsklz, a Manhattan-based social etiquette school for kids. She's also the author of Socialsklz for Success: How to Give Children the Skills They Need to Thrive in the Modern World. Jenny Powers is a New York-based freelance writer who covers a variety of topics including business, pop culture, sex, parenting, and religion. Advertisement