Covid-19 Response

We are delighted to inform you we are currently uploading our children’s positive mental health program for parents of primary school children. As part of The Community Foundation Ireland Covid-19 Response Fund.

Parents, would you sit with your child and follow the five very simple short lessons plans with downloadable activities. For example Kin the fox knows about worry, she worries sometimes where her next meal will come from and that is ok. This module gives you as parents the resources to discover if your child is worrying about things they have not spoken to you about yet.

Lets us know and we will work even harder to get this ready in the next few weeks. Sam.

What is Relational Bullying?

relational bullying

We have had the pleasure of working in Ireland’s first award winning evidence based children’s mental health initiative for schools since 2016 and we have seen a huge shift in how children are relating to each other. Our children are by nature Kind, Caring and Empathic.  However throughout generations the children themselves have not “changed” dramatically but my, has their world. What is influencing them is, what they see, hear, have access to and very importantly the example their parents show. Little eyes and ears are always open.

We have found that Physical Bullying, getting shoved into the lockers, or physically hurt is not so evident and less subtle as Relational Bullying today. Both have negative effects and can make a child’s life very miserable indeed.

What Is Relational Bullying?

Relational bullying is a different way of bullying because the actions are usually quiet and hidden from others and happen between friends.

Relational bullying can be:

  • Exclusion: When someone is left out of activities by their own friends and other social circles as well as outside school activities.
  • Gossip and Rumours: Information, stories, or details about a person that are spread around behind their back, online and offline equally.

Relational bullying can also be:

  • Mean letters or comments online.
  • Silent treatment.
  • Eye rolling or staring.
  • Withdrawing a friendship.
  • Threatening to end a friendship, to tell others their secrets, or to tell a boy/girl about a crush they have.

If you have daughters, does this sound familiar?  Yet, I caution against believing this is a problem that only affects girls. Relational bullying touches boys too, and it effects them just as much.

  • Being ignored
  • Being left out, not picked for sports teams.
  • Mean letters or comments online
  • A boy who is friendly one day and mean the next is hurtful and confusing.

According to the NSPCC, bullying remains the top problem for children aged 11 and under contacting them and was the single biggest reason for boys calling CHILDLINE (NSPCC, 2016). The Growing Up in Ireland study found that 40% of children aged 9 reported being victims of bullying in the previous year. The EU Kids Online study reported that 23% of children in Ireland aged 9 to 16 years have experienced some form of bullying, both online and offline.

The goal of relational bullying is to hurt a child’s self-esteem and damage their close relationships. Victims feel confused and rejected by their friends and other peers as well. But the effects of relational bullying go beyond the victim and can actually hurt the entire group of friends and the classroom.

Relational Bullying in primary school is, thus, of critical concern to educational policy makers and school leaders alike. Research would suggest that some schools experience more bullying incidents than others and that schools vary widely in both their approaches to and successes in dealing with the issue.

Our “ItsCool2BKind” programs are not a fix all anti-bullying solution. Understanding how multi layered bullying is, has led us in the direction to develop the different strands and outcomes of our programs.

While many interventions are focused on supporting children AFTER they have already developed a problem, or seek to address specific issues such as bullying, our focus is on resourcing children before they develop a problem, giving them tools to cope with everyday personal and interpersonal problems. It is an early intervention method.

“We believe a child who practices Relational Bullying is very much in pain and with some guidance can learn to treat themselves with kindness before their behaviour towards others will improve.”

Some of the “ItsCool2BKind” Program Goals

For children to learn automatically how to treat themselves, with kindness and respect. 

For children to learn automatically how to treat others, with kindness and respect. 

That children may understand what it means to “walk a mile in my shoes “, and create understanding and tolerance of others.

For children will create a world where they not only value each other, but value themselves also.

The core message we aim to impart is that we are all in charge of ourselves – our actions, our thoughts and our deeds, and as such we must learn to take responsibility of these. To be accountable for our words and actions at a very early age.

And “ItsCool2bKind”, to have us deliver our program in your school email us at 

Buddy Bench T-Shirts

Will you walk, run, hop or some crawl in your chosen sport event. Let’s come together as parents, grandparents, aunts, cousins and friends to walk together, have some fun while promoting and raising awareness of #childrensmentalhealth
Building awareness for the importance of early intervention, in fact it being key to positive children’s mental health.

It is estimated that approximately 1 in 3 young people will have encountered some form of a mental disorder by the age of 13 (Cannon et al.,2013).

Our work with The Centre for Mental Health & Community Research in Maynooth University has enabled us to become Ireland’s first evidence based children’s mental health initiative. The cost of a child attending one of our workshops is €5, we have reached 50,000+ children to date and as a non-profit organisation its has been an enjoyable but tough road. Onward and upwards for September 2019.

There are three simple steps to follow:
 1. Register for Sports Event 
Please register here with us
2. Sponsorship Cards 
We will post out your sponsorship cards when you fill in the form below. Please, whatever is raised please donate the amount here: 

3. Buddy Bench Ireland T-Shirts €15 (Optional)
We have chosen a light weigh neoteric fabric t-shirt in sapphire blue with our logo on the front and our hastag #childrensmentalhealth on the back. You can purchased them .

To Register please fill in your details below:

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Light Up the Night Tractor Run 2018

The 3rd annual ‘Light up the Night’ Kilkenny truck and tractor run took place this on New Year’s Eve, in a bid to highlight suicide awareness, mental health issues and the help and support available in the local areas, nationwide and beyond.  Light Up The Night is a Suicide Awareness initiative set up by a group of people from North Kilkenny and surrounding areas.

“Our reasoning for starting this event was that our local community, which is a rural area, has been hit hard by Suicide in recent years.” Freddie Farrell explained. ” At all of the funerals and in the aftermath of such tragedies, a group of us talked about doing something to try create an awareness about the help available to people in our areas.” he added. 

The Buddy Bench Program facilitators visited 5 local schools in March 2019 as funded by The Light Up The Night tractor run initiative to deliver their message of friendship, communication and emotional well-being to over 738 children from North County Kilkenny.

The participating schools included : St Lachtains NS Freshford, Muckalee NS, Johnstown NS, Castlecomer Convent NS and Moneenroe NS.

St Lachtains NS Freshford

St Lachtains NS Freshford

The Buddy Bench facilitators spoke to all the classes with specially tailored age appropriate programmes . The Junior and Senior Infants classes received “The Little Buddies” mental health program is where  children become enthralled in our interactive story brought to life by our furry woodland creatures.

Kin the thoughtful fox.

Alfe the very emotional and caring squirrel.

Red the robin who just loves his nest.

Neeke the monkey who is very different and so very very proud of the fact.

Each animal represents a thought, or a feeling. It is an open ended story allowing free will of the children’s imagination. Friends help children feel safe and we all need kindness to grow.

First to fourth class received “The Buddy Bench Aware” exclusion, isolation or fears of being left out can create anxiety for any child, so we have built our Buddy Bench Aware Program around teaching self-awareness, friendship, empathy and self-expression, using the Buddy Bench as a visual tool.

The children explore the clues other children give away on the outside about how they feel on the inside. We appoint all the children in the class the job of “noticing” and responding with kindness.

During our interactive workshop we teach children to recognise and respond to their own feelings – different emotions feel different on the inside, physically

The fifth and sixth classes received “The You Are A Hero” program

Each programme delivers a similar message designed to teach children the importance of effective emotional communication. The programme is accompanied by a physical bench which is left in the school yard as a reminder  to the children that every child is important and needs to be noticed and included and that we all need to ,”Look up, look around and look out for each other.”

The programmes were well received by teachers and children alike. There was active participation by all involved  and they were all very grateful to the Light Up The Night tractor run organisers for choosing their schools to receive the Buddy Benches and The Buddy Bench Aware programmes.

The Buddy Bench Team were also delighted to have been  sponsored by The Light Up The Night committee for the second year running to deliver their importance message of friendship and inclusion to the schools involved. Light Up The Night crew we thank you………..very much.

St Lachtains NS Freshford

St Lachtains NS Freshford

Hi Judith,Thanks for Wednesday. A great day had by all.

“On Wednesday 27th March, Judith from Buddy Bench Ireland visited us at St. Lachtain’s NS, Freshford. She conducted workshops with all the children from Junior Infants to Sixth Class. The children explored such topics as how to be a good friend and the importance of looking out for and including everybody. They learned about the importance of sharing your feelings and worries, and also that it’s good to cry! Through story and drama, they also explored the concept of resilience and being able to bounce back. It was a great day for all.The visit was kindly sponsored by the kindness of ‘Light up the Night’. A Buddy Bench was also presented to the school. We’d like to sincerely thank their committee and volunteers for including our school this year.”
Kind regards,Brendan

Children's Mental Health

children's mental health

Buddy Bench Ireland

We believe the ‘whole-school’ approach is aspirational but cannot be scaled at the moment due to curricula overload and lack of specific social and emotional training.

It demands too much of the school, presenting challenges regarding timetabling, specialised teacher training and extra administration.[1]

Rather than being the driver of a holistic approach, the school should be at the centre of a community effort[2].

Buddy Bench Ireland offers school-based child-led positive mental health programs – innovative, original and engaging – that promote emotional resilience and mental well being through supporting the core competencies of empathy, creativity, self-awareness and communication.

Each program comprises of:

  • A physical Buddy Bench, installed in the school playground;
  • A 45-60 minute workshop delivered by our facilitators in the classroom;
  • An interactive, unique Activity Book for each child containing a comprehensive set of creative activities that the child can explore in their own time, at their own pace;
  • Teacher’s Resource Pack that outlines the thinking and practice behind the program’s design and how it aligns with the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘7 Core Competencies’ and the HSE and Dept of Health’s ’15 Protective Factors’, which structure the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) element of the primary school curriculum.
  • Resource for parents

This is a universal early intervention[3] for positive children’s mental health that seeks to promote a culture of self-expression, listening, tolerance, resilience, and mutual support.

Through supporting core competencies of empathy, creativity, mindfulness and communication, and promoting a child-led culture, we are empowering a generation of children to create a world where it’s OK – i.e. normal, natural, easy and fun to express yourself.[4]

We don’t overburden the school administration, nor do we add to teachers’ workload; on the contrary, our research is evidencing how we lighten teachers’ load by resourcing children to problem-solve socially at a peer-to-peer level.[5]

Our external team of trained professionals deliver our children’s mental health programs.[6]

It is easy for a school to timetable a single workshop per class per year.[7]

The Buddy Bench remains on site as both a visual reminder of the program learning’s, and also a ‘safe space’ to spend time with friends and family and to develop a positive self-image[8]

Children continue to work with our workbooks in class and at home. Parental engagement is proving to be a key factor in promoting positive children’s mental health.

Through our social media activity we engage parents and communities on the importance of supporting children to build their own resilience and emotional wellbeing.[9]

[1] “The biggest challenges to implementing children’s mental health promotion programs in schools are: funding, timetabling, programme fidelity and achieving full participation from all stakeholders” [Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[2]Schools not only provide formal education, but are also places that foster personal development and well-being” [Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S., & Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools—a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in psychology, 5(603), 1-20]

Schools are increasingly considered to be important settings for children’s mental health promotion and intervention” [Merikangas, K. R., Nakamura, E. F., & Kessler, R. C. (2009). Epidemiology of mental disorders in children and adolescents. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 11(1), 7-20]

[3]early intervention and prevention are critical in order to prevent a negative downward spiral of poor mental health and well-being into adolescence and adulthood” [Costello, E. J., Egger, H. L., & Angold, A. (2004). The Developmental Epidemiology of Anxiety Disorders. In T. H. Ollendick & J. S. March (Ed.), Phobic and anxiety disorders in children and adolescents: A clinician’s guide to effective psychosocial and pharmacological interventions (pp. 61). New York, NY: Oxford University Press]

[4] “These school-based children’s mental health interventions (e.g. mindfulness, social and emotional skills programmes) may be delivered as part of a universal preventative approach, which offers the potential to enhance the lives of all children” [Huppert, F. A., & So, T. T. (2013). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110(3), 837-861]

[5] Ongoing evaluation with Centre for Mental Health and Community Research ( at Maynooth University

[6] “educating students about mental health requires specific skills and training” [Power, M., Cleary, D., Fitzpatrick, C. (2008). Mental Health Promotion in Irish Schools: A Selective Review.. Quoted in Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[7] “At a practical level, one of the biggest challenges schools face in mental health promotion is organisational, as implementing these programmes requires timetabling and extra administration” [Power, M., Cleary, D., Fitzpatrick, C. (2008). Mental Health Promotion in Irish Schools: A Selective Review.. Quoted in Spotlight. Well-Being: promoting mental health in schools. (2012) Oireachtas Library and Research Service]

[8] “According to a consultation with teenagers on mental health, among ‘what helps’ was having a ‘safe space’ to spend time with friends and family and to develop a positive self-image” [Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs(2009) What helps and what hurts]

[9] “a holistic perspective recognises health and well-being as arising from the interactive roles of the environment and the individual whereby the environment ranges from the immediate social setting (e.g. family and friends) to the broader societal level” [Kok, G., Schaalma, H., Ruiter, R. A., Van Empelen, P., & Brug, J. (2004) Intervention mapping: protocol for applying health psychology theory to prevention programmes. Journal of health psychology, 9(1), 85-98]

Kindness @ Work

kindness @ Work

Kindness @ Work

We are increasingly talking about wellbeing in the workplace, and bringing an authentic quality to our work, being gentle with ourselves, and with others around us.
Acts of kindness within a real-life working environment shows how kindness really does create a positive ripple that affects the whole workplace culture. Generosity and kindness propagates and spreads, and it has a huge impact on the overall positivity in the workplace, and on the employees’ sense of wellbeing. Doing good feeling good !

Be a Buddy Bench Warrior !

We have two strands of fundraising ideas for the workplace:

Kindness @ Work I Where your colleagues wear blue for a day and then donate a sum of their choice, please see poster to download. All monies received go towards a school that is struggling for various reasons.

Kindness @ Work II You choose a local school and raise funds in exactly the same way. 
It all depends on your timeframe and energy. Whichever you decide we are extremely grateful for your support. If you need any more information we are here to help.

Wear Something Blue: It’s your choice – jeans, jumper, club or county colours; wear a blue scarf, wear a blue bungee in your hair, you could even paint your face blue! Be a Buddy Bench Warrior!

Donate: All money raised goes towards to a Buddy Bench made with TLC by the Men’s Shed and the Buddy Bench “ItsCool2BKind” Program for a school, promoting friendship, kindness and emotional wellbeing for all. Doing good is feeling good!

Sign your workplace up by emailing and get your Kindness @ Work CERTIFICATE

Buddy Bench with the BBC World Hacks

The school playground can be a lonely place for a child if they haven’t got anyone to play with. But a special type of bench is helping pupils make friends and get people talking about bigger issues too.

One day, during her usual chat with her eight-year-old son about school, Tracey Cooney got an answer she didn’t expect.

“There was nobody to play with. Everyone was playing in their own little groups,” he confided.

She was surprised because he was usually outgoing and confident. But two of his friends had been sick that day, so they weren’t at playtime.

Cooney felt a little upset, but remembered something she had seen on social media and wondered if it could help children in his situation. It’s called a Buddy Bench.

The idea is simple – if a child feels lonely, they can go to the bench as a signal that they need someone to play with. Another child will see them, go and talk to them and include them in their games.

So Cooney asked other parents and the head teacher at Castlemartyr National School in Cork, Ireland, whether they would be interested in getting one – their answer was, “Yes.”

Buddy Bench
Image captionCastlemartyr is the 247th school to receive a bench from Buddy Bench Ireland

Also known as friendship benches, these pieces of playground furniture have been around for a while, in various countries.

But the people who make them in Ireland are trying to do something different with them.

“We use the bench as a reminder for children of things like communication, mutual support and opening up about feelings,” says Judith Ashton, a psychotherapist and co-founder of social enterprise Buddy Bench Ireland.

Hear more

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench

Her team delivers a day of tailored workshops about empathy, built around the arrival of the bench.

There are role-plays and children learn a song that reminds them to “look up, look around and look out for each other”.

It’s something that’s easy to forget, in an age when even young children can be engrossed in smartphones, Ashton says.

Buddy Bench workshop
Image captionThe courses are led by specialists trained to work with children

Apart from reducing social isolation and improving mental wellbeing, the hope is that the benches can tackle another problem found, to some degree, in most schools: bullying.

“I’ve been teaching 39 years,” says Jane Flannery, the principal at Castlemartyr National School.

“When I was a younger teacher we were more blasé about it and told people to get on with things. But I don’t think that’s good enough any more, we need to try something different.”

For her, Buddy Benches are that “something different”.

Co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland, Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton
Image captionSam Synnott and Judith Ashton are the co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland

But do children actually use the bench? And are they worried about how it makes them look?

“They don’t see it as stigmatised,” says Sinead McGilloway, director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at Maynooth University, who led a study of 117 pupils at three schools which have benches.

Forty per cent of the children she questioned said they had used the bench, and 90% said if they saw someone else sitting on it they would talk to them.

Buddy Bench class
Image captionChildren role-play to practise what it feels like using the bench

However, a small sample of parents did raise the concern of stigma.

And this is where the bigger aim of the project comes in, because the Buddy Bench team wants to tackle a problem that affects both young and old in Irish society: a reluctance to confront mental health.

“People spoke out of the corner of their mouth about it,” says Michelle O’Brien, one of the workshop leaders. Thinking back to her childhood, she says a mental health issue was seen as a fault in the family.

“Instead of the word depression ever being used, it was, ‘Their nerves are at ’em.’ It was a lot of factors, I think religion was a massive part of it.”

The Buddy Bench team aims to reach every pupil in Ireland, seeing this as an early intervention to tackle mental health problems across the generations.

Buddy Bench materials - cuddly toys and books

Mental Health Stigma in Ireland: Studies and Statistics

40% of Irish people would conceal a mental health problem from family, friends and colleagues (The Green Ribbon Report, 2017)

64% of Irish people believe that being treated for a mental health difficulty is seen as a sign of personal failure (survey by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, 2017)

52% of Irish people have experience of people with mental health problems (The Healthy Ireland Survey by the Department of Health, 2016)

In a symbolic gesture, the Buddy Bench Ireland team has its benches made by members of the Men’s Shed movement.

There are more than 400 Men’s Sheds in Ireland. They are a kind of hobby club where men, usually middle-aged or older, come together to make things.

It’s proved a lifeline for many coping with issues such as divorce and bereavement, by helping them to open up and talk about what they are going through.

John Fitzgerald, from the Carlow Men’s Shed, is one of the people who handmakes the Buddy Benches.

Men's Shed member John Fitzgerald
Image captionJohn Fitzgerald says he would have benefitted from a Buddy Bench

“I had a religious-based education and they brought us up to be men, in other words to be self-sufficient. If you were in trouble you just put up and shut up.”

The Buddy Bench would have been a nice idea for a quiet boy like him, he reckons.

Like a Men’s Shed, it is “a safe space” where you can speak about “difficulties, vulnerabilities and problems in your life”, he says. “It would have been beneficial for our generation.”

Children carrying a Buddy Bench

After the workshops have taken place at Castlemartyr National School, a small group of pupils are chosen to carry the bench into the playground.

By the time they reach the far end, a huge number of pupils has flocked around them.

A grand, triumphal procession slowly takes shape.

When the bench is finally put into place next to a wall, you can’t even see it any more.

There are too many excited children swarming to be the first to sit on it.

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench with more children gathered around

You can follow writer Dougal Shaw on Twitter: @dougalshawbbc

You can listen to Dougal’s full report on Buddy Benches in the latest People Fixing the World podcast from the BBC World Service

Our Schools

We are extending our reach daily both North and South of Ireland.  With the support of Buddy Bench Ireland, a child who is fearful, anxious and confused about how they feel can communicate it.

Our Vision

Our vision is a future where each child is supported to thrive throughout their school years in a community that priorities their mental health.

Ultimate Goal

We are working alongside others to build a generation who will not only be able to express themselves with ease and compassion, but also help those around them, and those they care for in future, to do the same. Improved mental fitness will have associated benefits for the home environment, schools, workplaces, the health care system and society as a whole.

The Aim

Our aim is to deliver the Buddy Bench Aware programmes to 2020 schools by the year 2020!


The Idea

Buddy Bench™   “It’s Cool to be Kind” are evidence based school positive children’s mental wellbeing workshops that empowers children to foster friendships, kindness and help eliminate loneliness in the school playground.children's mental wellbeing

  • We as educators have the ability to grow mindsets of caring and compassion in our children.  

  • We teach children the importance of being kind to themselves and others.
  • We help children to recognise and respond to their own feelings – different emotions feel different on the inside, physically.  If you can identify your feelings and are aware of them you can make choices of how to appropriately respond to them or change your mood.

  • Children can feel how positive qualities such as kindness and compassion feel in their bodies.
  • We explore what exclusion FEELS like in our bodies – lonely, scared, unworthy, sad.
  • We talk about how inclusion makes us feel accepted, warm, safe, valued.
  • We help teach children to notice how others are feeling on the inside by the clues they give on the outside.  

To become more resilient we need supportive relationships and emotional awareness, understanding and how to express feelings in constructive ways.

We can learn to practice kindness and empathy to others.  Children can learn social and emotional skills that will build resilience and well being in their lives into adulthood.  


The Challenge

What is Mental Wellbeing?

A state of well-being in which the individual realises his or own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community. The best children’s Mental Wellbeing strategy is one that prevents issues from arising in the first place. Early intervention is central to the Buddy Bench approach.

A mental health risk factor is an internal or external condition that increases the likelihood of a mental health problem. In the school setting mental health risk factors include:

• disengagement, absenteeism, isolation and alienation • bullying and relationship difficulties • low academic achievement • violence/aggression • learning disabilities • cultural differences • low self-esteem • stressful life events • difficult school transitions • poor connection between family and school • harsh and inconsistent discipline

Even though we can’t always protect our children from stress but we can teach them the lifelong skills to cope with life’s challenges. It is normal for children to experience some stress throughout childhood and adolescence. Many children may experience heightened stress related to peer pressure, family conflict, transition from primary to high school, increased demands of study, performance expectations and body image. According to the R.C.S.I., 1 in 6 young people aged 11-13 experience some kind of mental health challenge, while high levels of anxiety affect up to 20% of children and young teenagers.