Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Why I Don't Love the Buddy System

Photo credit: Paul Kuehnel Daily Record/Sunday News (Buddy Bench)
You may or may not have heard of the latest initiative that many primary schools across the country are rolling out.

It is called The Buddy System and it involves each child being assigned a “buddy” which is essentially someone to look out for them in the school yard or during times when they might feel lonely or vulnerable. 

It can also include allocating an area in the school yard for those who don’t have someone to play with or are feeling lonely to go to.  This area usually has a Buddy Bench, a seat for the child to rest themselves on.  Some schools use a sign on a wall. 

The thought behind the bench and the sign is, other children will notice a child who is alone and [hopefully] approach them and include them in their games.

I felt uncomfortable immediately upon hearing this.

Some kids are introverts and their energy is drained by settings like the school yard.  It can be a very intimidating place for small kids.  Oftentimes they feel a strong need to break away from the madness and regroup by themselves.  This is perfectly okay. 

Similarly a lot of kids don’t like it when attention is drawn to them.  The last thing they need is to sit on or stand beside something that, no matter what way it’s painted, shouts “Loner” “Loser” “Billy No Mates” and “I have no-one to play with.”

The Buddy System has its merits but as a parent speaking for a child who needs his own space and really dislikes people approaching him during this time, I don’t love the Buddy System.  I don’t love it at all.

He would rather die a thousand deaths than stand under such a sign, or have someone ask, no matter how well intentioned, if he is okay and does he need company.

It only serves to highlight what some kids are struggling with and striving to hide in the first place; the belief that they are the only one in the yard without a playmate and not included in the fun and games. This is how many of them see it.    

My son can feel this acutely at times but it makes it worse for him if he feels other people notice it.

Sometimes kids just want to be alone.  Maybe that stone they are examining or the trail of ants they are following is much more fascinating than a game of tag or a conversation about Minecraft.  Just maybe.

I also don’t think it’s hugely fair to expect one six year old, for example, to essentially baby-sit another in the school yard.  They are there to play, to enjoy their down time from lessons and not have responsibility that they may not be ready for, or want, placed on their shoulders.

Do teachers not monitor the yard for this very reason?

I accept it is a nice idea and very important to foster empathy and friendliness in others.  
But perhaps it is more important to recognise and understand the differences in children and what puts them at ease or sets their teeth on edge and their skin itching through being uncomfortable. 

Or just leave them be to get on with break-time as they see fit.  I know this is what my son would prefer.     


  1. Points very well made. I think schools considering or already running the buddy system should read this.

    1. Thanks Joanna. Incidentally the principal called me a couple of weeks ago when she saw how upset my boy was. I had a wonderful conversation with her and we were on the same wavelength completely about him and his struggles. She just seemed to get it! Then she mentioned the buddy system and I was all "oh oh." Sigh. Anyhow. They will be on holidays in another 6 weeks or so. Hopefully it will all have fizzled out by then.

  2. Oh this is so interesting - we don't have this so I didn't know much about it (have heard of it in the workplace). Yes I can see how it could go wrong or make things worse. I have a tendency to ask my 6yo who she played with in the yard, subtly checking in to see if she played at all. Maybe I need to leave her in peace....

    1. Kids will torment you either way - they (mine in any case) will say they had no-one to play with in the yard, they were all by themselves then a chance conversation with another parent will reveal a different tale: "your child gets on great with mine. My child never stops talking about your child," etc. etc. I'd keep asking. I still do in a "how was your day" way. It's nice because now they ask me how my day was when they see me! I love that!

  3. Good point, our school had this for a while but don't think they do any more. What you say makes a lot of sense, this system certainly doesn't suit all kids

    1. I heard about it in ours purely by chance as my son was upset one day and teacher rang me and told me about it. I know other parents who are totally in the dark about it. I think it's fine to have as long as there is no pressure on the kids. My boy was cheerful on Wednesday because it was declared a buddy free day. They mean well but like you say, it definitely doesn't suit some kids. I would have hated that system when I was in school!

  4. First time hearing about buddy system. very innovative idea... I like it