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Imagine that your child is no longer a toddler. He’s outgrown the impulse to hit other kids for no apparent reason. He understands that hitting hurts. He’s not a bad kid but every once in a while someone hits him. Do you tell him to hit back?

This is not an easy question. No one wants her child to be picked on. We all want our children to stand up for themselves and get some respect.  Certainly we don’t want to raise a bully but we don’t want our kid to be a victim either. Is it ever okay for a child to return violence with more of the same?

Let’s think this through.

If your child hits back occasionally, he will occasionally get into trouble. It will not help your child if he says you told him to hit back. It will not help your child if you tell the authorities you want him to hit back. Hitting back escalates a situation so that instead of one hitter in an encounter, there now are two. Your child is likely to earn the same punishment as the one who started it all.

If your child hits back often, so that hitting becomes his way of dealing with problem people, he will get a reputation for violence. Other kids may goad him, trying to make him hit and getting him into trouble. No matter what the provocation, your child will be looked on as a bully and as someone who goes looking for trouble.

If you still think hitting back is a good idea, see if you can say “yes” to each of these statements:

There’s a difference between hitting back and defending oneself in a mugging.  Fighting off an attacker in a life-and-death situation is quite different from the sort of playground justice we’re talking about. If you feel your family is in constant danger from violent persons, then there are bigger changes needed in your life than just matching the level of violence around you.

What should your child do instead?

  1. Speak up loudly.  He could first tell the hitter, “Hey! Don’t hit me!”  or “Stop it!” Never underestimate the power of speaking up.
  2. Leave the scene. No child should stand for violence against himself. Leaving the area or even going home can stop an altercation.
  3. Go to a safe area. On the playground or at the rec center, a child can move to a more populated area, especially one where adults are. Hitters don’t want witnesses.
  4. Tell an adult. This is not tattling, it’s getting help in a situation that has got out of hand. Unfortunately, when children tell an adult (you) they are sometimes told to hit back. Don’t do that. Safeguard your child but don’t advise him to do things that will increase his troubles.

Gandhi said, “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”  Hitting back doesn’t resolve a situation; it only pulls your child down to the same level as the person who hit first.

Help your child find solutions to social problems instead of creating more.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.