Can Children Hit Back?

Is it every acceptable for a child to hit back?

I’ve often had to deal with a playground fight and the aftermath.

Knowing “who started it” isn’t always easy and it’s normally the case that someone says, “But my dad says if someone hits me then I should hit ’em back twice as hard.”

These situations are never easy to deal with and it’s not the first time I’ve had parents come into school to tell me exactly what they think. We have to uphold the school code of conduct and that means promoting non-violence.

Schools never encourage an eye for an eye but some parents are quite happy to socialise their children in revenge and meeting violence with violence. There is a belief that hitting back deters a bully from hitting out again and this seems to be a tactic some parents openly promote.

In ‘real-life’ physical self-defence is sometimes necessary and so the message children hear outside of school might not dovetail with what their teachers are telling them and the school code of conduct.

Children should not have to defend themselves from anyone, but that is not real life.

Our attitudes toward ‘fighting’ back non-violently are important in regulating school violence but only in part.

School is ‘real-life’ too and there will be occasions where being assertive and standing your ground simply won’t work. You can’t “just ignore them and walk away” when bullies follow you and start throwing punches. Sometimes children will have to defend themselves from harm and that will involve being physical e.g. pushing back. Judo and other martial arts actually teach defensive instincts more than attack methods. They also help children learn to recognise and react to potentially harmful situations.

I am not promoting violence – far from it – but I do think children need to be equipped with the confidence and skills to protect themselves from others in and out of school. Defending yourself is legitimate and lawful.

I oppose pro-active, intentional and instigated violence because it is harmful to the school and wider community and hitting back can intensify the cycle of school violence. As Fleischmann (2015) found,

Hitting back would amplify violence and poison the school atmosphere.

Clearly we can’t accept tolerance towards hitting back but can we accept self-defence in particular circumstances if we can prove a child had no other option than to push back? If children are being threatened and these threats turn into physical aggression then what options do they have?

Promoting children’s physical, social and emotional health by boosting their skills is the key to preparing them for everyday life. Building up healthy self-esteem and encouraging children to respect and have empathy for others are essential but sometimes this is not enough.

Everyone has the right to safety and being physical might be an effective response to a potentially dangerous situation because in some cases you might literally have to fight for your life.

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