children in a classroom

Return to School and Refusals

children in a classroom

A lot of parents have been in touch to get a bit of help and guidance around the phased return to school. So, firstly, I would like to reassure you that you are NOT alone. There have been quite a few incidents of school refusal and tummy pains, and many upset children (and therefore upset Mams and Dads).

It can be difficult enough during “normal” times to settle back into school but throw the confusion of Covid into the mix and we have an unprecedented situation. The word “overwhelming” has become an increasingly common word in everyday situations. It can be mind-boggling to know what is the right thing to do for your child. We speak to them, reassure them, sometimes even bribe them! Sometimes tempers might flare. It can be so frustrating for a parent.
So now, let’s take a look at things from a child s point of view.

Remember, they have been listening – in the background – to endless conversations and news updates and conversations around Covid, which can be very scary for an adult, so imagine how it is for a child.

They have missed the “normality” of school days, school plays, activities, trips, and all the wonderful social side of school life.

They have hugely missed the interaction with their friends and classmates, and yet, I am hearing many children say they are feeling a bit awkward at the thought of being around their friends after such a long time, and they can’t understand why.

The things they were once sure of have suddenly become uncertainties. Also, a big part for some children, is doubting their academic ability – are they at the same level as everyone else, what about their spellings and Maths – are they behind the others?

So how can we as parents help?

The main thing we can do is to talk to them on their level. We can keep them informed about what’s going on, but we need to use language and words they understand.
We also really need to listen. We need to hear what it is that is upsetting them, and instead of jumping in with reassurances like “You have nothing to worry about” – which is a natural parenting instinct – we need them to know that we hear their concerns. They are very real to them.

This is validation and this is key!

  • Let your child know you notice their feelings and are there to help them manage them.
  • Let them know you realize these feelings are real and scary to your child.
  • Acknowledge them – “I know you are finding this difficult – what can I do to help?”

They need our help as parents to regulate these feelings and make sense of it. Help and support of parents is vital.
Very often, a child s anxiety manifests itself as physical. Many of us will have experienced our child s “pain in the tummy” the night before a test. Whilst we often believe this pain to be imagined or made up, it is useful to remember that our minds and bodies are totally linked and connected, so if you have something worrying you, you will feel it in your body. This is real because they have created it. Again, don’t dismiss it – acknowledge it, validate their problem and ask how you can help, what you can do to help them to make the pain go away. Allow them to have the responsibility – don’t rush in to fix it for them. Talk it out – get them to figure out what is driving this feeling – do they feel unsafe, insecure? Are they uncertain about something?
Only then can they start to deal with the issue at hand.

We can also bring the focus around to the positive things of seeing their friends, engaging in sport and school activities again.
Take the time to check in with them when they get home from school or you get home from work. Are they settling in ok or finding it strange? Remind them you are always there to listen.
Remember, this past year has been a very strange one for all the parents in the world. Please be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself or compare your family with someone else’s. We are all individual units. You are doing your best. If you look after yourself and practice self–care, the calming effect will transfer down to your child, creating a happier, calmer atmosphere in your home.

By Michelle O Brien BSc(Hons)Psych; H.Dip. Coun; MIACP

Michelle will be hosting the webinar Managing Your Child’s Anxiety on Monday, March 29th @7pm

Registration is €20 which includes downloadable children’s resources for you to use at home, places are limited.

You will learn:

  • What is Anxiety?
  • Why Learn about Anxiety?
  • What is worry?
  • Understanding why your child’s worry and anxiety is a  good thing and not to be avoided.
  • Why children need to learn about managing anxiety.
  • Practical skills to help children control and manage anxiety.

Sorry This Webinar is SOLD OUT, we will be hosting additional dates next month

Register HERE


How to Manage Your Child’s Anxiety Webinar


Are you are a parent of a child aged 7 plus, this webinar is for you. You will get practical skills to help manage your child’s anxiety with additional downloadable resources you can use at home.

You will learn:

  • What is Anxiety?
  • Why Learn about Anxiety?
  • What is worry?
  • Understanding why your child’s worry and anxiety is a  good thing and not to be avoided.
  • Why children need to learn about managing anxiety.
  • Practical skills to help children control and manage anxiety.


Michelle O BrienMichelle is a fully qualified and accredited Counsellor and Psychotherapist.  She established her private practice in 2014, where she is dedicated to providing professional, safe, accessible high-quality care to all her clients. Michelle’s main interest lies in early intervention, helping children before the problem arises. She believes it is imperative to lay a foundation of self-belief, good values, and self-worth in children. This led to her involvement with Buddy Bench Ireland, in which she has developed mental health well-being online programmes. These programmes teach the value of emotional intelligence to aid children to become kind, empathic adults in later life.
With the unprecedented arrival of Covid 19, and the closure of schools, the Buddy Bench Team looked to delivering their programme in a new way – helping parents and teachers to teach children these invaluable life lessons by ways of a parental online short course, parental webinars, and Children’s Mental Health CPD for teachers.


Join us on Monday evening March 29th at 7 pm for one hour with time for Q&As.

Hosted by

Michelle O’Brien BSc(Hons)Psych; H.Dip. Coun; MIACP

Registration is €20 which includes downloadable children’s resources for you to use at home.

Sorry but this Webinar is SOLD OUT, we will be hosting additional dates next month


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 

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

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.  


Latest News

Buddy Bench Ireland launches Little Buddies Early Years program for Courage and Resilience. Aimed at preschool children preparing to transition into primary school

Transitions are a critical time for children’s growth and development. They provide an opportunity to not just survive change, but to thrive and grow from change. Facing such a challenge, with the right support behind them, children can develop resilience and resources of strength and courage that will stay with them their whole lives.

This insight is what has created the collaboration between Kilkenny Local Community Development Committee and Buddy Bench, one of Ireland’s fastest growing social enterprises offering learning resources to children for emotional health and wellbeing. This project, funded by Healthy Ireland, will see 24 Early Years settings in Kilkenny City and County receive the Little Buddies Program for Courage and Resilience.

Delivered by local Psychotherapist Michelle O’Brien, the program uses storytelling, roleplaying and creative activities based on Buddy Bench’s recently launched CarePack Sam Builds a Nest by Jeffrey Gormly:

Maynooth University’s ongoing evaluation of Buddy Bench programs is showing us that what children respond to are creative experiences that help them to integrate our insights into their own story about who they are and how they relate to others,” said Jeffrey.

“Resilience is about being able to feel your inner strength when you need to go outside your comfort zone and take on the challenges of growing into the world and finding your place,” says Michelle. “Just like the Robin in the story has to stand on the edge of the nest, gather his courage, and take off, so that he can fly high and find his own nest!”

Sam builds a nest for courage and resilience
Sam in his nest

“Children can feel challenged or overwhelmed by all kinds of experiences. Moving to big school, moving house, a change in family make up or a bereavement, even just strong emotional feelings can make us feel as if we are outside our comfort zone,” says Buddy Bench Co-founder Sam Synnott. “Seeing my daughter go through that is what inspired me to start Buddy Bench, and bring this kind of wisdom and safe support to all children.”

It’s this kind of safety that is at the heart of the Buddy Bench mission, which has recently been featured in the BBC World Hacks: People Fixing the World series on BBC World Service. BBC Reporter Dougal Shaw says:

“I began to understand why it feels like a mission. [Buddy Bench] see it as a way to help Irish society as a whole, a kind of early intervention, to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health.”

This mission is what has enabled Buddy Bench to bring their programs to 40,000 children in over 260 schools and preschools throughout Ireland, a huge impact for a small social enterprise based in Kilkenny. Not only that, but since they were founded in 2016 by Judith Ashton and Sam Synnott, Buddy Bench have been award winners with Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, KBC Better Ireland, Google Adopt-a-Startup and the National Startup Awards.

Sam Builds a Nest is illustrated by Ross Dillon of Cartoon Saloon sister company Lighthouse Studios, and comes beautifully packaged in a handprinted box. The CarePack is available at The Hub Thomastown, Designist Dublin, and online at

For more info or to book a Little Buddies workshop for your Early Years setting, contact or 0567702027 ,{t�[ ��