Life is tough. Even the most serene and emotionally intelligent people can be overwhelmed when enough stress piles on them, and life can find some unexpected ways to do that. With that in mind, it's hard for those who don't remember what it's like to be a child even to imagine how hard things can be for them.
And since very young children are rarely equipped to communicate how overwhelmed they feel, they typically express this in other ways. And since that often results in behavior adults consider obnoxious, it's easy for people around the kid to misunderstand why they're acting out. But if one story from South Carolina illustrates anything, it's the difference that some patience and compassion can make.
Meeting a young friend
Kameron Eisenberg is a student at Cane Bay Elementary School in Berkeley County, South Carolina.
And by the time he fostered an unlikely friendship, Kameron was in kindergarten. But it wasn't an easy time for him.
He was acting out
For a significant chunk of his time in kindergarten, Kameron's behavior was proving to keep his teacher and principal's hands full.
As his mother, Kelly Eisenberg, told Live5News, "We found that he was having a lot of negative behavior issues that landed him in the principal's office several times a day, almost every single day."
A new bus driver
However, it wasn't long before a new bus driver came into Kameron's life after transferring from another school district.
Everyone calls him "Mr. Charles," and he said he was looking for a new environment.
Kameron stood out
Kameron is the second person Mr. Charles picks up in the morning, but just one out of 70 students he drives to and from school each day.
But Kameron stood out to the driver, and it wasn't just due to where the child fell on his route.
Kameron had a reputation
It's hard for a child to get sent to the principal several times a day without becoming somewhat notorious at their school.
But whether that reputation preceded him or Mr. Charles saw Kameron act out on the bus as well, he took notice.
He wanted Kameron to feel supported
But rather than scold Kameron, Mr. Charles wanted the youngster to feel like he had a teammate when life got frustrating.
So as Mr. Charles put it, "I said, 'Look, you my little buddy.'"
A reasonable proposal
The bus driver continued, saying, "We're going to do this together, and every day that you be good, Mr. Charles is going to have a prize for you on a Friday."
Whether he looked like it or not at the time, Kameron was paying attention.
A new outlook
And whether it was kinship, the promise of a reward, or a mix of both motivations, Mr. Charles's words made an impact.
And whether Kameron noticed the difference or not, his teachers certainly did.
What also helped Mr. Charles hold Kameron's attention was the fact that he was driving the school bus.
According to a video produced by the Berkeley County School District, Kameron loves school buses and any big form of transportation in general.
She saw it in real-time
Special education teacher Stephanie Williams had always taken Kameron out to the school bus when the school day was out.
This meant that she was among the first to see the impact Mr. Charles' words had.
A marked improvement
To say the least, Williams was impressed by how quickly Kameron's behavior turned around.
She said, "And ever since that day, there's not been a problem. He's been fantastic and wonderful. Trying new things."
Becoming more social
One of the "new things" Williams was encouraging Kameron to work towards involved working with others at a table together.
And while Kameron struggled with this at first, it only took a couple of days after talking with Mr. Charles to turn completely around on the idea.
The motivation is clear
Williams often asks her students what they're working for on a given day, which refers to what reward they're hoping to get for being diligent and well-behaved.
And as she shared in the Berkeley County School District's video, Kameron told her he wanted to be the first person on Mr. Charles's bus.
The new leaf stuck
Kameron has since finished kindergarten, and the change his teachers and family saw in him has stuck ever since that first chat.
Unsurprisingly, it's come as a major relief for all of them.
Both these results and Mr. Charles' approach deeply heartened Kameron's mother, who had good reasons to be concerned up to that point.
She spoke of her son's behavior, saying, "It's like night and day."
Amazed at the impact of a small gesture
She was also floored by what it took to enact such a lasting, positive change.
Kameron's mother said, "And all it took was one special person to give Kameron a little bit of his time, and it just made all the difference in the world for both Kameron and ourselves."
She's not the only one
But while Eisenberg is naturally glad her son is safe and thriving, she's far from the only one.
Williams said, "I've never seen an instance where one child's attitude, behavior, and outlook on everything has completely done a 180 like Kameron's did with Mr. Charles."
Mr. Charles was serious
And a big part of Kameron's change comes from the knowledge that Mr. Charles wasn't just trying to placate him when he called him his "little buddy."
In the time since they've met, the two have enjoyed a genuine friendship that gets stronger all the time.
Keeping up his end of the bargain
And as he promised, Mr. Charles has rewarded Kameron for his good behavior many times since they talked.
Most of the time, that involves taking Kameron out for ice cream or a McDonald's run.
It's not limited to school days
In addition to these treats, Mr. Charles is also present for Kameron's important moments in life.
One example is that he shows up to cheer Kameron on during each of his weekend baseball games.
Like a guardian angel
Although it's hard to imagine this is what Mr. Charles had in mind when he wanted a change in scenery, the results have worked out better than anyone involved would have guessed.
He said, "He's very special to me, and I'm just hoping that it'll always be that way."
They're almost inseparable
Indeed, the two have now become close enough that they've decided not to limit their friendship to the school year.
They made plans to hang out over the summer as well.
Kameron is a special child
Although Williams asks each of her students what they ultimately want each day, Kameron's answers stand apart from his classmates.
She said, "The rewards the kids want, monetary things. Things that you have to buy. For Kameron, his reward has never been about all of those extra things that he's going to get."
Even a small amount of time means a lot
Although being the first on Mr. Charles's bus means only a few minutes of extra time with the driver, that time is valuable to Kameron.
Williams said, "He will work all day long, and he will behave, follow all directions all day long, to have five minutes with Mr. Charles."
It means a lot to both of them
For his part, Mr. Charles is proud of what he was able to accomplish with Kameron.
He said, "If you can make an impact on just one, you know you've done something real good."
Mr. Charles hasn't just affected Kameron
Williams pointed out that Mr. Charles's friendship and guidance haven't just had a positive impact on Kameron but the other children in his class who are now able to work with him.
She said, "This man has just made such a difference in just, not only my life, Kameron's life, but the life of every child in that classroom."
It's helped Mr. Charles too
It's easy to forget the pitfalls that can come in the life of a school bus driver, but Mr. Charles said his positive associations with kids like Kameron make it all worth it.
After receiving a touching letter from Eisenberg, he said, "Parents like that, Kameron especially, really motivate me to get up at 4:10 every morning to come to work."
With any luck, their system will keep on going
Although they've made plans to reconnect over the summer, both Mr. Charles and Kameron expect their routine to keep going as ever when the next school year rolls around.
Why mess with a good thing, right?
While being interviewed by Live5News, Kameron told Mr. Charles that he loved him.
In response, the bus driver said, "Oh, I love you too, buddy! I love you. Mr. Charles will always love you, man."
An uplifting tale of togetherness
That's clearly evident for everyone who knows these unlikely friends, but it doesn't make it any less wholesome to hear.
It's impossible to predict the difference just one person can make in life.