An ever-present crisis that plagues our children’s schools and everyday lives, Kinacle takes a look at the viral story of 9-year-old Quaden Bayles and using empathy as the best way to battle bullying.
Bullying is America’s sleeping dragon. Everyone hopes and prays it stays deep in its slumber, never showing it’s beastly face, never harming our children but we all know that once in a while the sleeping dragon wakes up and reminds us of how ugly, how hurtful and how damaging it can be. And, as evidence shows – deadly.
Because of its prevalence, bullying has become a horrifying kind of “normal” that it’s sadly one of those things that children must learn to understand as part of everyday life. But up until today, it’s still happening, we’re still discussing it, we’re still looking for solutions and we’re still finding the most effective ways to put an end to bullying.
The Viral Story of Quaden Bayles
2020’s first viral bullying story was that of a 9-year-old boy from Brisbane, Australia, Quaden Bayles. His mom, Yarraka Bayles, picked up a crying, angry Quaden from school and took a video of her son miserable, resentful, expressing how much we just wanted to kill himself due to another awful bullying incident. Yarraka herself sounded extremely frustrated. You can hear the tears and sadness in her voice saying she can’t believe that she has to battle bullying with Quaden every day.
Yarraka published the video on Facebook to show teachers, school administration, other parents and children the real-time effects of bullying. Quaden’s video went viral because it was so raw, so real, and hit close to home. The whole world heard Yarraka’s pleas and Quaden’s cries for help. And the whole world responded.
People from all over, including celebrities, raised funds, sent messages and showed an outpouring of support for Quaden and his family. A GoFundMe page was dedicated to raising money to send Quaden to Disneyland, however, his family graciously declined and has since decided to distribute the money to different charities instead. The viral video itself has since been removed by Yarraka (including Quaden’s Instagram account) possibly due to malicious rumors that circulated saying Quaden isn’t who he says he is but is actually an 18-year-old scammer. It’s just sad to see that even if Quaden has suffered enough, he’s still being targeted by another toxic group of bullies – online bullies. However, those rumors have since been addressed and reliable news sources have reported that Quaden, is in fact, a 9-year-old boy.
Quaden – and others like him – are walking bullying targets.
At 3 days old, Quaden was diagnosed with Achondroplasia, the most common type of Dwarfism. He is also of Aboriginal descent, which makes him even more vulnerable to racism and discrimination. All of these things – his health condition, his overall appearance and his skin color – Quaden did not ask for any of this but to bullies, Quaden’s got all the “I’m Different” boxes ticked. And this is why he is a target.
According to stopbullying.gov, the official anti-bullying website of the U.S. government, “Young people who are perceived as different from their peers are often at risk for being bullied.”. This means anyone that other kids might perceive is “not normal” is a prime target for bullying.
Regardless of Quaden’s differences, however, at the very core, he is simply a happy, healthy and well-loved 9-year-old who is active, playful, loves sports, loves his family and just wants to go to school like any other kid his age.
Apart from asking “why” Quaden is a target, the more accurate question we need to ask ourselves here is “Why are other kids making him a target?” and “Why can’t the kids in his school see behind his differences and simply appreciate him for who he is?”
The Answer Is Empathy
In the simplest terms, empathy is the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes – to understand, in a deeper sense, someone else’s feelings and individual situations. While it seems easy and it sounds like something that you don’t need to take the time to learn, it’s not. True empathy takes years to learn.
Children, however, are naturally born with empathy: babies cry when they hear another baby in distress, toddlers may comfort one of their playmates if they see them sad or hurt. But babies and small children are not taught how to “feel” for others; they naturally display empathy that are “hard-wired” into their system during the first few years of life.
A small child’s empathy makes them such a joy to be around with – little ones smile when you smile, laugh when you laugh and put on a cute, worried face when you seem a bit grumpier than usual.
However natural acts of empathy are to young children, over time, it still needs to be taught and reinforced. According to the Parent Toolkit, a parent resource website produced by NBC News Learn, “Studies have found that when young children take another person’s perspective and apply it to their interactions, they are more likely to succeed in social settings and are better-liked by their peers.”
Research also shows that children who are consistently taught and shown empathy in their daily activities are kinder and more compassionate towards their peers. So much so that some countries around the world teach empathy in school. In Denmark, mandatory empathy classes are incorporated each school’s official curriculum since 1993. Recent news also shows Irish schools replacing homework with acts of kindness for a full month in December 2019.
The bottom line is that if we take a young child’s natural knack for empathy and develop it as they too develop and grow, we will have raised kinder, fellow-feeling, thoughtful and caring young individuals who will see past race, color or physical differences who will not resort to bullying – or stand by and do nothing while other children are bullied.
Quick Facts: Did you know that while not all Americans will experience bullying in their lifetime, a very high percentage of us witness bullying on a regular basis? Dosomething.org states that “70% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month, and 41% witness bullying once a week or more.” Studies also show startling results where most bystanders who witness acts of bullying do nothing due to fear or they simply do not know what to do. While there are many ways to take action, it is certainly not always safe. The best and easiest way to help a bullied person is to call someone in authority. A quick 911 call may help make a difference.
How Can You Reinforce Empathy At Home?
Everything a child learns starts at home. And home is the best place to learn empathy. Children respond and react to the influence of those around them. As parents, it’s our responsibility to create an environment at home that ensures our children are taught how to stop and think of how their actions may affect others. It’s also our role to teach our children about how other people have “separate selves” with different experiences and perspectives that may not be the same as our own and to teach them that hey – that’s okay! It’s okay to be different and that being different makes the world more beautiful.
According to Psychology Today, “Empathy is a work-in-progress throughout childhood and adolescence and is shaped by a range of factors including genetics, temperament, context, and environment.” This means that if parents are worried that their own children are displaying too much or too little empathy in their daily interactions, there should be no reason to worry as there are no set tick boxes or checklists for children to show empathy. The important thing is to find opportunities to teach empathy to young ones in the simplest of day-to-day interactions.
Psychology Today further provides a quick checklist that you can loosely use as a guide to determine if your child has empathy –
Empathy means that a child:
- Understands that she is a distinct person from those around her and that other people may have different feelings and perspective than her own
- Can recognize feelings in herself and others and name them.
- Can regulate her own emotional responses.
- Can put herself in someone else’s shoes and imagine how someone might feel.
- Can imagine what kind of action or response might help a person feel better.
Here are 3 easy activities for young children to teach and reinforce empathy:
1. A good old picnic or tea party with friends, pets, action figures and toys.
Interactive games are amazing ways to reinforce empathy and every child simply loves them. Outdoor picnics and tea parties are great but if you don’t have the open space for that, it’s certainly not a problem. Your little ones will simply enjoy pretend-play with you, a few friends or with their favorite toys. Make it more interesting with dress-up clothes or real cakes/pastries (store-bought or home-made is fine).
During your picnic or tea party, ask emotion-based questions that you can begin by asking about how they are, how their day or week was, or specific questions about a past situation or event like “Remember Matt’s birthday party? Did you have a good time?”. These questions will help them talk about people and events in their lives that can lead to conversations about how they feel or how the other person might have felt in a given situation.
With younger children aged 2 to 3 years old, just go with the flow! But remember to still include empathy-based responses or questions like: “Oh I don’t think Iron Man (action figure) likes his tea so hot. Why don’t you wait ‘til it cools down before you give it to him?” or “Jaden (friend) doesn’t like cake so much, maybe he likes cookies, instead?”.
2. Story Time – a classic activity and effective empathy-builder. Let’s bring it back!
Forget YouTube and Netflix, for a moment. Do away with iPads and story apps. Nothing beats good old storytime made more interesting with different voices, sound effects and maybe throw in a costume or two?
Many children’s books tell stories about different characters and situations that show children good examples of how to deal with others’ differences and how others feel. A great classic is AA Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” and Pooh’s lovely interactions with his friend Eeyore. Oftentimes sad and not wanting to join in Pooh’s adventures, Eeyore is never left out and is always asked to be included by Pooh, Rabbit, Tigger and the rest of the bunch at the Hundred Acre Wood. There’s dozens more children’s books that show lessons of empathy like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Spot the Dog Series by Eric Hill and even new favorites like Peppa Pig.
If possible, gather round the whole family for a story hour activity that will allow your youngest child to see how everyone is interacting. Encourage the family to ask questions and talk about how to story made them feel. It will show your youngest how to respect other people’s opinions and how other people might think or feel about certain situations.
On the topic of telling stories, reading books is always a great way to instill empathy. Ask questions like “How do you feel about this?” or “Why do you think that they felt that way?”. This encourages children to not only focus on themselves but on others, as well.
3. Acts of kindness at home.
Acts of kindness activities are fun things to do for your young children to do at home.
Here’s our suggestion:
- Prepare a sheet of paper with columns for days of the week for one month.
- Buy, make or print star stickers.
List down acts of kindness that your young child can do such as:
- Comforting mommy, daddy, a sibling, friend etc, when they are sad.
- Listening carefully when someone is talking about their day.
- Cleaning up their mess or picking up their toys so mommy or daddy won’t have to.
- Being a good “host” to a guest like a family member or playmate e.g. asking a guest “Would you like to sit down?” or “Do you want me to get you some water?”
- Being good and behaving well even if mommy and daddy aren’t around e.g. if their teacher or daycare provider or family friend tells you “What great company your little one was today!”
You can tell your little one about the activity or you can surprise them with a star every time you catch them doing an act of kindness. You can reward them after accumulating 10 stars or so but try not to reward with toys or treats but with an experience that might allow them to further their empathy lessons like playing in the community playground or having them accompany you while you walk the family pet to the park.
Teaching and helping young children develop their natural knack for empathy is a great way to help them become kinder and more compassionate – as a result, this will help parents raise individuals who care for the welfare of others and will stand up against bullying.
Do you have any empathy-building lessons or experiences that you’d like to share with us? Feel free to let us know.