My skin crawled. The scenarios flowed through my head and I couldn't restrain myself.
"Would you tell her that if she was being abducted?" I asked.
The mother stopped and blinked a few times and then stuttered, "Well... that's different."
"Yes, it is," I said. "But you just told her that it was never okay to hit people. That's not entirely true. There are times it's okay to hit people and to hit them hard." And then I dropped it. I already felt I was stepping way over my bounds.
The mother seemed to be lost in thought for a few moments but shortly everything went back to normal.
I do not tell my son he cannot hit. In fact, I encourage him to hit and hit well. I get down on my knees and let him hit my hands or hold up a pillow and let him hit that. I work on proper hitting techniques, using the whole body instead of just his hands. We work on kicking and ground fighting. We don't do it every day, but a few times a week or whenever he tells me that he wants to. He's turning into a good little fighting and I'm proud of him.
I'll be doing the same thing with my daughter when she gets old enough to take interest in such things.
|A messy-headed four-year-old|
Frankly, it's easy to give a child a black and white set of rules such as "It's never okay to hit." That makes it easy for the parent. When the child hits he or she gets in trouble and that ends it right there. It's a heck of a lot harder to teach a child that there are certain times that hitting is appropriate and times it is not. It takes some trial and error. When my child hits I have to find out why he hit. I have to explain the difference between necessary hitting and unnecessary. Hitting someone because they took your toy is not acceptable. Hitting someone when they hurt you is only acceptable if you are defending yourself and can't go and get help from an authority figure. Yeah, try explaining that to a four-year-old.
Yes, we've had some instances of him hitting in day care. Who hasn't? If you have children you know that at some point in time you will find your child hitting another one. Hitting is a pretty natural response to feeling threatened or slighted and it takes social training to work that response out of children. I choose to channel it instead of eliminate it. He is disciplined when he hits for the wrong reasons and that will reenforce the ideals that there are times and places you can hit and times and places you can't hit. But I refuse to teach him that he can never hit another human being.
Because I want him to know that he not only CAN hit a human being if he needs to and that I EXPECT him to hit a human being if he is defending himself.
I refuse to allow my children to be raised to feel they have no options and are powerless against people who would hurt them. I would feel I failed as a parent if my child was victimized and said he thought he couldn't fight back when that was a justifiable--dare I say, necessary--option.
That being said, I know I have my work cut out for me. I have to train him and my daughter that with strength and power comes a responsibility to use it for good and for defense. Just because you know how to pound on someone doesn't mean you should and that there are consequences when you hurt the wrong people.
We talk about this every time we drop him off to day care. We encourage him to talk to the day care workers about problems he might have instead of dealing with them himself. We try to model proper conflict resolution. We teach him to protect those who are smaller and weaker than he is and to walk away from conflict when he can. We teach him to share and to not get angry or hit over toys or possessions. We reward him for restraint, compassion, sharing and patience. We discipline him for hitting when he doesn't need to or for being cruel and careless with his actions. We are actively trying to mold a child who knows that fighting--that fighting hard and dirty and ruthlessly--is an option in the right context but gentleness, compassion, care and graciousness should be his guiding principles.
I pray he never has to use violence in defense of himself or another but I feel a little better knowing that he will know its an option. When I catch him beating on our heavy bag or a pillow he hasn't been caught doing anything bad or wrong or naughty. He gets a smile and I help him work on his form and technique. He won't have that negative conditioning that says he can't or shouldn't hit under any circumstance. If, however, I were to catch him beating on his sister (which, by the way, I've never seen him do), there will be negative consequences. He's being trained to distinguish between what is acceptable to hit and what isn't and when. When play fighting with me or his dad we give him more lenience and he's doing well.
The road we've chosen as parents is not an easy one but I feel it is the right one. In the coming years he will be enrolled in martial arts. We will spend a lot of time and money teaching him to fight. It might save his life one day.
Or, maybe one day, when a young girl who's been taught it's never okay to hit is assaulted and frozen solid from a lifetime of conditioning she cannot fight back, my son will be the one who unleashes hell to save her.
A mother can dream, can't she?