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My Kid, the Bully

"No! Be gentle! Nice hands!" I hear myself shout, the contradiction of my words and tone evident to even me.

But it is at least the tenth time that day I have witnessed my daughter aggressively claw at the face of another child. My sweet, cuddly, loving little girl is now a bully, somehow overnight.

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I'm not sure how this habit started. We made it through the biting phase relatively unscathed. She really only ever bit me, and while she did leave a mark or two, I was forever thankful that she never turned her teeth on other little ones.

But this? This is different. At 16 months old, she has decided that clawing her little hand up and swiftly scratching at the faces of others in moments of frustration or fatigue is acceptable. Invade her personal space bubble? She will face-claw you. Refuse to give her something she desperately wants? Prepare to defend your eyeballs. And don't even think about taking away a toy that she has claimed as her own. My little girl will go full Wolverine for such an infraction.

At first, it was only me she face-clawed — and that was bad enough. Explaining away the scratch marks on your cheeks by saying you were a casualty of toddler violence can be funny in the moment, but let's be real, those claw marks hurt! And no matter how short I clip her nails, she still keeps seeming to find a way to dig in deep.

I've felt an increasing sense of dread every time she is around another child these days. Because it was one thing to have her face-clawing me. It is another thing entirely now that she has started doing it to any little one who dares to get too close.

My kid, the bully.

I don't get it. I really don't. This little girl is so sweet and affectionate, 90 percent of the time. She gives kisses without being asked and loves to be cuddled up in my lap. She wraps her arms around necks in the sweetest of hugs, and she has been saying "love you" for at least the last month or two. But cross her, and prepare to be face clawed without remorse.

I have really struggled with what it means to be the mother of "that" kid. Most of my friends have children who are just a few months older than my daughter, and to see her being the aggressor with them particularly makes my heart sink. My friends take it in stride, understanding that this is just a phase kids go through. But I hate watching my little girl behave so cruelly to these kids who otherwise love her so much.

So here we are. My kid, the bully, forever on the verge of pulling a Jekyll and Hyde. And me, the mommy, not so secretly lamenting the fact that her child has become "that kid."

It honestly breaks my heart.

So I have tried everything I can think of to stop this behavior. Timeouts. Demonstrating gentle hands. Eye contact and a firm "no." Even once slapping her hand in the middle of Costco when she nearly took out the eyes of my friend's little boy.

She, of course, immediately started crying. As did he. And there I was in public, with two crying toddlers, feeling like the worst mom to ever walk the planet. Particularly because I have always maintained that I have no interest in physically punishing my child. Ever. For any reason.

Yet, without thought, I slapped her hand in response to her hurting another child. It apparently did not get the message across, because 10 minutes later, she was face-clawing him again.

I really am at a loss. How do you teach a child that young empathy and how to play kindly with others? Because I'm pretty sure when I told her the other day that she was on the verge of losing all her friends, the message didn't quite sink in the way I would have hoped.

So here we are. My kid, the bully, forever on the verge of pulling a Jekyll and Hyde. And me, the mommy, not so secretly lamenting the fact that her child has become "that kid" while secretly hoping that another kid will put her in her place sooner rather than later. Because maybe in the vicious world of toddler play dynamics, all it really takes to cease a bully's poor behavior is for a bigger and badder bully to take her place.

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Let some other mom worry about what it means to be the mother of "that kid" for a while. I would much rather be kissing away the boo-boos and tossing a sympathetic smile her way.

Because let's be real, kissing those boo-boos away is so much better than apologizing for them.

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