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.
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?