Many of us with school age kids will or have been going through the ritual of the ‘return to school’. My three went back this past week and over dinner at the end of the first day they all debriefed on their experiences. My kids are in High, Middle and Elementary school respectively so my partner and I got to enjoy the full spectrum of the local system.

My eldest is a junior in high school and she was all about the new freshman students looking about 5 years old. Next was my middle child and he has gone into 7th grade and was all about the classes this year that he is sharing with key friends. My youngest is going into 4th grade and he was all about the ‘Buddy Bench’

When he mentioned the ‘Buddy Bench’ we all asked immediately …. “What the heck is the buddy bench”? He explained, this is a new thing at the Elementary school for this year. It is a designated area where kids can sit during recess if they have no one to play or hang out with. The idea being that if you see someone sitting on the bench, you go and ask them to join your group or game etc… was how my youngest explained it.

So my daughter being 15 and her younger brother being the largest irritant in her life, immediately says, “So did anyone come and play with you while you were sat there”? The youngest says ….”No of course not. I was playing with (names a friend in his class)”. After we admonish my daughter for being mean to her brother, my partner says I don’t know if the ‘Buddy Bench’ idea is great or appalling.

And this is the point. From the perspective of us as adults (and I am sure the educators and para-professionals at school), this is a well-intentioned idea to promote inclusion and mindfulness in the kids. From the perspective of the kids, this is the loser bench and the embarrassment or shaming that might come from sitting there outweighs the isolation that might be present to want to use it.

None of this is to say that the school is wrong in this idea or concept but have they thought about it from the mindset of the kids? They may well have and decided to institute it anyway. In The Mandt System, we talk about the importance of empathy and looking at the world from the perspective of the individuals we serve, in particular, those that have a trauma history or difficulty in forming relationships. The danger in not applying this lens is that we may end up instituting approaches that further isolate or demean the individuals we are hoping to support.

I will be interesting over coming days to hear how the ‘Buddy Bench’ idea evolves and hopefully it does not have the effect of placing a target on the back of kids for future bullying. I will be sure to update you in a future blog.

Simon Kemp – SVP Business Development