I remember the feeling all too well… It was the first day of sixth grade—a new school, new teachers, new peers. Worst of all: a new lunch table.
The unfamiliarity of this large cafeteria threw me off guard. Where was I supposed to sit at 10:40 AM (as if that could actually be considered a lunch period!). Who was I supposed to sit with? How was I supposed to play it cool amidst a motley crew of middle-school strangers.
Feeling left out in youth is likely something we can all relate to in life—at least, in retrospect. I was fortunate to eventually find my own unique niche in middle school, and at that breakfast-y lunch table, but the shakiness of those first few days has stuck with me all these years. Suffice to say, the loneliness and alienation of adolescence can really make a lasting impression. (To this day, I feel awkward when I walk into social events solo.)
That’s why I was so excited to learn that Feb. 10, is No One Eats Alone Day. Schools around the country are educating children to make “inclusion the new cool,” and hundreds of thousands of students are signing up to participate in the movement to make everyone feel like they belong.
The No One Eats Alone initiative encourages students to step outside their comfort zone. Instead of sitting with the friends they already know and are comfortable with, students commit to sit with classmates they don’t know, introduce themselves, hopefully make new friends, and, most importantly, identify and include students who appear to be left out and might otherwise feel ostracized.
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No One Eats Alone Day was created by Beyond Differences, a nonprofit committed to ending social isolation and make schools more friendly, welcoming, and inclusive environments.
With bullying being a hot topic in the United States today, this initiative aspires to bring attention and mediation to the classroom, cafeteria, and beyond. In fact, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, your social circles are as important to your health as diet and exercise. As an adult, I can see how this is true for me to this day. I feel so much better about myself after I've spent some quality time with people who get me, understand me, and lift me up.
“Social isolation is a preventable public health problem affecting millions of children every day who suffer in silence,” says Laura Talmus, co-founder and executive director of Beyond Differences. “We’ve learned through teachers and families that No One Eats Alone is a powerful step and positive initiative that can change the culture in schools to be a more welcoming place for all.”
Last year over 500,00 students participated in National No One Eats Alone Day. This year, encourage your children to take part and open their minds and hearts to including others on Feb. 10 and every day.
Here are five creative ways to get your kids comfortable and on board:
- Give them an extra snack to share with a new friend... Sharing is caring. Literally.
- Bake treats for everyone... Spread good will and sweet treats! Chocolate chips cookies are the way to the heart and a sure-fire way to make new friends!
- Pack an icebreaker game to play... Starting a conversation with a new not-yet friend can feel awkward. Prepare your kids with fun questions and maybe even a game or two!
- Encourage compassion and lead by example... Show them how it's done, Mama. If you seem someone who needs help or looks lost and lonely, get involved, ask questions, and express concern.
- Keep the lines of communication open... Talk to your kids every day. About bullying. About isolation. About who they sat with and what they did at lunch time and at school. Keeping conversation alive and well will enlighten you and your children.
Find out more about how to get involved HERE.