Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yes, My Son, It Is Okay To Hit People

A couple of months ago, while attending a play group with my four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, another little two-year-old girl lashed out and hit another child. Her mother, ripe with indignation, swept the girl into her arms and scolded, "No! It is NEVER okay to hit people."

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
And now I will pause to acknowledge the horror of some parents who may read this blog and think that I'm turning my children into violent sociopaths. To them I would say that I am teaching my children how to hit when they need to hit and giving them a healthy outlet for their aggression instead of forcing them to bottle it up or suppress it to the point it's inaccessible in a time of need.

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?


  1. Very good thoughts. I've been wondering, however, how you deal with a situation where the child has to defend himself in school against bullies beating on him. From what I understand, nowadays they usually have a "zero-tolerance" policy where they punish anyone involved in a fight. I'm not sure if it gets to the point where they'd literally punish a child for curling up into a ball and allowing himself to be hit--in which case, might as well teach him to fight back. But if they'd punish/suspend a child for defending himself, how do you deal with that?

    Is it better for a child to learn the facts of our modern life early? That even if you rightfully defend yourself, you'll likely have consequences from the authorities? Is a six-year-old or even a twelve-year-old actually capable of civil disobedience or asserting his Constitutional rights?

    1. Zero Tolerance is the worst ideas that schools have ever come up with. It is effectively striping the masculinity of this entire generation and teaching them to be oppressed by anyone who chooses to harm them. Lima posted another stupid Zero Tolerance thing on her Facebook today where a kid turned a pop tart into a gun trying to make a mountain and got suspended.

      It is my feeling that when my son gets to school age if he is suspended for defending himself or another then it will be a vacation for him including rewards, however should he be suspended for picking the fight punishment will ensue at home as well. Had Zero Tolerance been a thing when I was a kid I would have been suspended in 2nd grade, the only time i was ever in a fight, because a bigger kid decided to beat up on me, protecting yourself is not wrong and kids should not be punished for it.

    2. While I concede that legitimate use of force is one of the hardest lessons to impart, the modern practice of pretending it doesn't exist is a moral abrogation.

      Zero Tolerance = Zero Judgement and Zero Brains.

      As parents, its our jobs to teach our children right from wrong, and when it comes to deployment of force, the right and wrong circumstances to deploy it.

      It is also our parental duty to deal with the conflicts that are beyond their capacity, which means that we have engage and defeat on behalf of our children any so called "authority figures" who would poison their minds and blunt their spirits.

    3. Even back in the early '80s when I was in primary school and bullied mercilessly every day all day long teachers never touched the bullies yet would punish me if and when I dared defend myself.
      They were just too scared to take action against "popular kids" because it could lead to a riot in the school playground they wouldn't have the manpower to stop (or the means, even then teachers weren't allowed to touch kids even to pull them apart during a fight).

      So I learned to always stay close to a door, never out of sight of a teacher or playground guard, never stand with my back to the rest of the kids. And when hit, never fight back but protect my face and genitals as well as I could against the worst abuse.

      It wasn't "zero tolerance", it was pragmatism on the part of the school staff. One victim to patch up rather than having all classes for days disrupted by constant shouting and other interruptions.
      And that's the harsh reality of primary school life for the victims of bullies. They learn the hard way they have no friends, the bullies are in charge, can do whatever they want.
      It's what breeds in the US school shootings, in Europe (where guns are impossible to get legally, and afaik quite hard illegally) ever higher numbers of child suicides.

  2. I taught my kids to fight as well and always re-assured them that if the fighting was justified, I would deal with the school authorities. The last thing I wanted was for one of my children to freeze up.

  3. Well, good luck on making your children all you can, but I think you have the right ideas and you are with your children and their growth. When they get really old enough, rifle marksmanship is a good step and skill. Appleseed, Scouts, 4-H.

  4. The desire and ability to protect oneself is being trained out of our young people. They are more easily controlled as adults as a result. The indoctrination is thorough - only those of us parents who understand this are resisting it.

    1. Indeed. The encounter with the other Mom reminded me of a tagline I used to use about how we all agree that sticking knives in people is bad, but only pacifists demonstrate against surgeons outside hospitals.

  5. When my son was in school, I taught him that he would get suspended if he was in a fight. He knew he would answer to me if he started a fight but since he would get suspended anyway he was entitled to finish any fight someone else forced on him. He managed to avoid troubles but he always had a plan.

  6. I absolutely love this. I was raised not only to think I couldn't/shouldn't hit people, but that I should not even be rude to them - raise my voice, behave in an unladylike manner, and so on. This works just GREAT when you are confronted with people trying to bully you, or worse. My mother might as well have tattooed "victim" across my forehead before sending me to school.