Any adult can attest that loneliness is sometimes the worst in the midst of a crowd. The same undoubtedly rings true for elementary school children. Although surrounded by peers, one study revealed that nearly 12% of children admit to feeling alone at school.
The ramifications of child perceived loneliness are significant. Studies have demonstrated that isolated children behave differently. Children who identify themselves as lonely are often less friendly, exhibit shy behaviors, and are more aggressive and disruptive.
Teaching children how to cope with loneliness and isolation is a topic that is receiving significant attention in recent years. A plethora of articles have been written about how to raise children that are "includers." As adults, we work hard to model the behaviors that we want our children to cultivate, including empathy and kindness. Despite our best efforts, school can be a difficult place for many children.
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As kids are amazing and resilient beings, it should come as no surprise that a child came up with one fantastic solution: the Buddy Bench.
Christian Bucks, currently a sixth grader from York, PA, is credited with introducing the concept of a "buddy bench" to the United States. When Christian was in first grade, he was facing the possibility of relocating to Germany due to his father's job. Christian and his mother Alyson began looking at various school websites in Germany, and something caught his eye. He noticed a unique bench on the playground in the photo. He learned that this particular school had a buddy bench. While Christian ultimately did not end up moving, he brought the idea of a buddy bench to his school, and it has caught on.
The concept is simple: If a child feels lonely or is having a difficult time integrating into play, he or she takes a seat on the bench. When another child notices the person on the bench, they go and talk to them and invite them to play.
The buddy bench is one strategy that allows children to help other children. Often, it is an adult who recognizes a lonely child and encourages the child to join play. However, as we all know, many children have challenges in learning how to integrate into groups that are already at play. The buddy bench allows lonely children to be recognized and it also teaches other children how to be inclusive, a lesson that certainly cannot start too early.
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The idea of the buddy bench has taken off. As it currently stands, there are over 2,000 Buddy Benches at schools across all 50 states. Additionally, they are present in at least 13 different countries.
Social and emotional learning is as critical to a child's development as academics. The buddy bench is one tool that helps to foster and develop a sense of connectedness. After all, what we all ultimately desire is to feel cared for in this world.