As a parent of a kindergartner, I get a lot of emails from my son’s school. These messages are pretty routine, but I recently received one that really made me smile. The message described the Buddy Bench, which is a bench on the school playground that you can sit on if you need someone to play with. What a great idea, I thought. I asked my son Jackson about it and he explained that if you walk by during recess and see someone sitting there, you know that they would like to play — and it signals to you that you should invite them into your game or activity.
As a parent and a child psychologist, I am a big fan of the Buddy Bench because it is an easy way for a child who may be too reticent to join a game to let others know that they feel lonely. A recess aide or fellow classmate is much more likely to see a child sitting on the bench than someone hovering off to the side and invite them to join a game or activity.
The Buddy Bench is a beautiful example of a proactive intervention. It’s simple and it doesn’t cost much. Every child knows what a bench is and has sat on one a million times, so the act of sitting on it at recess shouldn’t be stigmatizing or scary. The message — “sit on it if you need a friend to play with and look at it to see if someone needs to play” — is simple and easy for kids to understand. Plus the Buddy Bench is something that can be incorporated into what’s normal and usual at school.
In my excitement about the Buddy Bench I did a little research and learned that this is not something that my son’s school came up with, but is instead a strategy that is deployed on school playgrounds across the nation. It was amazing to learn that the buddy bench has been around for several years in America — there was even a Ted Talk about it in 2014.
If your school doesn’t have a Buddy Bench, I encourage you to look into the concept and perhaps suggest it to the principal. It’s an easy and fun way to make sure everyone has fun at recess, and to teach children to be inclusive and friendly to their classmates.
Rachel Busman, PsyD, is a Senior Clinical Psychologist and director of the Selective Mutism Service at the Child Mind Institute. She leads a team of clinicians providing evaluation and innovative treatment to children with selective mutism. She is also a clinical psychologist in the Anxiety and Mood Disorders Center. Dr. Busman has extensive experience providing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to children, teenagers and young adults struggling with anxiety disorders, school difficulties and behavioral problems. She also has specific interest and expertise in the evaluation and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
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