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The 18 month old bully

Yesterday, Miriam and I went to a kids' play group. Miriam was standing up on the edge of a plastic pool full of bouncy balls when another girl, sitting amidst the balls, stuck her hand directly into Miriam's face and pushed her away. This happened another two or three times; it wasn't harming Miriam but it wasn't the "gentle touch" I was encouraging the girl to use. The girl's mom had been in the other room with her other daughter.
Later, Miriam was standing up on a folding chair and the same girl came up to Miriam and stuck her hand in Miriam's face and pushed. Again, this happened a couple times (the mom was in the bathroom this time) before Miriam started crying. The other girl, surprised, wandered away from the scene of the crime.
When I retold my story to Dad, he said, "bullied at 11 months!" I hadn't thought of it that way but, yeah, I guess Miriam was bullied at 11 months by a much larger 18 month old. I tend to roll my eyes when I read about all the bullying hoopla. Kids are mean to other kids sometimes. I figure it's better for kids to learn life's not fair, to stand up for themselves, and to roll with the punches (well, maybe not literally on that last one).
As I started thinking about all this, I realized I've become my parent! What did Dad always tell me? "Sarah, life's not fair." After Miriam began crying, I rubbed her back and crooned, "it's ok." I wanted Miriam to stand her ground and show that little bully who's boss! Once I realized the crying wasn't stopping anytime soon, I scooped her up and held her. Perhaps it's NOT ok. It's not ok that a little bully behaved like that without recourse and it's not ok that my little one is traumatized at play group. I was truly at a loss for what to do. The girl's mom is expecting another child; she said they've been practicing gentle touch and it hasn't been going well. Should I have told the mom what her daughter did to Miriam? What's the best way to instill strength in Miriam yet comfort her hurt soul? I'm finally beginning to understand 1) why Dad always wanted me to go back and face down the bullies in my life and 2) why people make such a big deal about bullying.

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