Sam got bullied (again) today at the Chick-Fil-A play area (same place as before! That play area is cursed I tell you). But this time, instead of two older boys who were trying to scare her away, the unsuspecting enemy came in the form of a 17-month old girl named Aimee. Sam was victimized twice; the first one I assumed was an accident, because they were inside the slide tunnel and I didn’t see it happen. Sam just came crying back to me, so in my head, either she didn’t get what she wanted or Aimee did something to provoke it (note, I don’t know Aimee and her mother from Adam — it was just one of those, “chat-with-your-fellow-mom-while-watching-the-kids-play” moments). Either way I thought it was harmless kids’ play (Aimee is younger and smaller – so how could she intentionally hurt another toddler?). I didn’t think anything of it either, when her mom called up to say, “I’m going to buy food — you be gentle!” and then she left Aimee in the care of her 3-yr old brother, who was busy playing elsewhere.
The second time, I saw Sam coming down the steps. I could only see her feet, so I watched when she stopped and stood. Then I saw an extra pair of little feet walk towards her before I heard the squeal. Another parent in the area had apparently been observing Aimee’s interactions with the other kids (he saw Aimee push his daughter or tap another child present from the back), and he said quietly to me, “She likes to hit.” That’s when I stood up, and I caught Aimee reaching behind Sam’s ear, squeezing it with her little fingers with all her might (Filipino vernacular term: nanginginig sa gigil). Of course without hesitation, my big belly and I squeezed through the opening of the toddler staircase to push Aimee’s hand away (I now wished I knocked her senseless. Sorry. Just being honest). I picked up Sam who by then was crying in pain. I got her some water, calmed her down and we left. Aimee’s mother was no where in sight (probably still buying food).
I didn’t know who I wanted to punch first, the little girl or the absentee mother. Moreso when we got home, upon further inspection, I noticed Sam had a nasty scratch at the back of her ear, a little scratch on her face and some dried blood on her upper lip, which may have been a result of a hard scratch to the face.
When my initial anger had subsided I began to think of how children like Aimee develop these bully-type habits. Even at 17-months, what she was doing didn’t look innocent, and it fit every definition of what a bully is. But how do they get to that point in the first place? And is that a precedent of becoming a bully later on?
Based on an article I looked up on baby bullying (and further reinforced by the TLC blog I just found) I presume that:
1. Her parents are too lenient with her: She does have an older brother, so could she be left to fend for herself? Or are they just too busy to notice? Is it something that she sees, like on TV (I can only imagine the violence in the cartoons that she is exposed to because of the older brother) but is not corrected because they think it is harmless?
2. She is calling for attention: Maybe her parents negatively reinforce this behavior. When she hurts her brother and he complains, suddenly her mom is all over her and she realizes that.
3. She is mimicking what she sees: Could it be her parents’ disciplining method of choice? Because it honestly surprised me that she picked the ear (or the back of it) to squeeze, and not a more obvious body part to poke. The way Annie was taught a lesson at the orphanage. So again could she have seen that on TV somewhere?
At the end of the day, Sam is fine and the scratches are fading. No permanent damage has been done and it’s playtime as usual. The incident of Aimee the Baby Bully is forgotten.
I on the other hand, have it stuck in my head — I want to believe no parent will deliberately teach their children to hurt others, and will raise them right, the best way they can. So as a parent (about to have another child!) how do you know that what you’re doing is enough, too much, or too little? And if in case this type of behavior still prevails, how do you not see it and nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand?