A child hits your child – what do you do?

Growing up, my parents were very good at instilling a sense of right and wrong with me and my brother. We didn’t always follow their advice, but my brother knew it was wrong when he hid my favourite Barbie (Crystal Barbie, obvs) and I knew it was wrong when I dropped the keyboard of his ZX Spectrum +2 on the floor.

Alison Perry, Rod Begbie, Tillicoultry

One of the clearest messages that sticks in my mind was my parents telling me over and over again: “Never hit someone. Even if they hit you, just walk away.”

Sound advice, isn’t it? And it’s the same advice that I’ve been giving my nearly-two-year-old who’s started gently and tentatively lashing out when she’s annoyed or frustrated.

But here’s the thing. I (generally speaking) followed my parents’ advice and I was picked on, bullied and teased by various classmates and friends from around the age of six. I remember being surrounded by other kids on a number of occasions, with one or more of them hitting/kicking/pushing me. One time, when I was around nine, a group of my friends (if you can call them that) actually dragged me along a path, by my hair. Nice stuff.

The advice my parents gave me about never hitting anyone contrasted starkly with the advice some of my friends were getting from their folks. I remember hearing the mother of one of my best friends telling her “If someone hits you, hit them back – harder”. That friend was never picked on, or bullied. It could be nothing to do with the differing advice given to us by our parents – perhaps I was just a bloody annoying kid and she wasn’t. But it’s made me think.

Yes, the right thing to teach your child is “Never hit anyone” but do the kids whose parents (possibly secretly) train them to stick up for themselves end up stronger and happier because of it?



  1. Helen
    June 23, 2012 / 3:29 pm

    Difficult question. However I have to say I don’t think violence is ever ok and as we don’t live in a country where we have to use violence to protect our lives then I will continue to teach my children to turn the other cheek. How do you know that if you do teach them it’s ok to hit they won’t grow up thinking that violence is the answer to everything?

    • June 23, 2012 / 10:40 pm

      Very true. The bare bones of the message is important to avoid them growing up thinking it’s OK to lash out at anyone.

  2. June 23, 2012 / 4:33 pm

    I think I would differentiate between ‘hitting to be nasty’ and ‘hitting to protect yourself’. I condemn violence and I will teach my little girl not to hit someone just to get her way, but if someone picks on her or gets physical, I will tell her to defend herself. Sometimes you can’t walk away, because bullies won’t let you. My niece was only recently in this situation: a girl in her school constantly punched her in the arm and pushed her into the toilet cubical when she wanted to get out of the situation. She punched back harder and the bully started crying in front of all her friends. The bullying ended there and then after numerous fruitless attempts by their school.

    • June 24, 2012 / 1:23 pm

      That’s my point – is it OK to advise kids to hit back to defend themselves? Does the message get muddled and they then think it’s OK to hit in general?

    • June 24, 2012 / 1:24 pm

      Also… Sorry to hear about your niece being picked on. Kids can be horrible.

  3. mummylimited
    June 23, 2012 / 7:25 pm

    I’ve been thinking about a similar thing recently now that I have two boys. My 3yo can be quite physical with his 1yo brother and I always repeat that “We don’t hit”. By the same token I am looking forward to the baby being able to ‘fight’ back. However, they are siblings and I think that is slightly different.

    I think that there are probably lots of kids that have been taught that hitting is bad who haven’t been bullied and so I don’t think the two things are necessarily linked. I think we should continue to teach our kids that hitting is wrong, because….well, it is. These lessons are not just for kids in the school playground, they are to help them as adults too.

    My OH is a primary teacher and they do lots of work with the class about taking the bully’s power away through words, rather than fighting. I hope that if my child was being bullied that kind of support would be available to help me get them through it.

    • June 24, 2012 / 1:25 pm

      That’s really interesting about teachers being advised to take away the bully’s power – how do they do that exactly?

  4. June 23, 2012 / 9:03 pm

    Hmmmm….tricky one. I think you have to tailor your message to your child based on their age/ circumstance etc. For a two year old – clearly they just need to know that we don’t hit. Keeping it nice and simple. But you would be able to have broader discussion when your child reached an age and maturity where they understood that in very specific circumstances, for example – they were being attacked and had no other options available to them – then it is acceptable to defend themselves.

    • June 24, 2012 / 1:26 pm

      Good advice. I definitely agree that at a young age, the message should be “don’t ever hit”.

  5. LisaO
    September 25, 2013 / 4:09 am

    I came across this looking for info on how to help my 3yo daughter as her little 2.5yo buddy often lashes out, kicks, pushes, and hits her in the face. her mum is doing what she can but it keeps happening. i don’t want my daughter to hit anyone BUT i am soooo tempted to tell her to smack her one back, as she keeps doing it and it is shattering for my little one to have a friend she had been peacefully playing with suddenly lash out.

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