16/08/2013 12:13 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Don't Hit Or Fight Back: What's The Best Advice For Children?

Should we be teaching our children to fight back if another child hits them? Or that it's always wrong and 'we don't hit'?

I have a child who is very chatty, and so she's never really felt the need to kick or punch anyone.

Flea is more likely to give you a hard stare when she's upset and announce that, "Actually, Mummy, you are not my best friend any more."

This is lovely, but gentle kids like mine can be targets. A couple of years ago, Flea came home from nursery and told me a little boy had shoved her. The next day, he punched her. On other occasions, he pulled her hair, snatched toys she was playing with and poured water over her paintings.
Flea had tried explaining to the little boy the importance of sharing and playing nicely, and "We don't hit" but it didn't work. Which isn't that surprising considering that he was barely two and a half years old.

The nursery staff were very sympathetic but their suggestion was to talk to all the children about "Why we don't hit". When that didn't work, I discovered they had Flea playing on her own in a separate room because if they brought her into the main nursery she became hysterical. I took her out of nursery.

My friend Louise is now in a similar situation with her son, a gentle soul who has just started reception. He's being used as a punching bag by one of the boys in his class, and Louise is worried about his confidence. "He's so gentle that he just lets other children hit him," she explained. "But as he gets older, I am scared he will end up being hurt, or it will put him off school completely."

Rather than talking to her son's teacher, or delivering a lecture about "we don't hit" Louise has advised her son to fight back. "I told him he can either tell the teacher and be known as a snitch, or he can hit the boy back," she said. "I've told him, though, that if the teacher sees him, he should expect to be told off."

I'm not sure it's textbook parenting, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is actually very sound advice. At the age of three or four, most children don't have the maturity or the verbal skills to negotiate their disagreements peacefully – instead, they push and shove and pull and pinch. If you look at a pack of puppies, they play rough, and nipping and biting is their way of understanding what is and isn't okay. It's not so different with children.

Nobody wants to think of their child as a bully, and I am not advocating that we teach our children that the way to solve a disagreement is by using our fists. But I do wonder if telling children NEVER to hit is helpful.

I think, sometimes, teaching our kids that it's okay to shove someone back if they shove you might do more to stop bullying in classrooms than any amount of talking to teachers or taking part in role-plays about peaceful conflict resolution techniques.

I've enrolled my daughter in martial arts classes and although she's under strict instructions not to use her knowledge in the playground, I hope the physical confidence the classes give her will make her less vulnerable to bullies – as well as giving her the skills to defend herself, should she need to.

What do you think?
Do you teach your children that we don't hit, or would you tell them to fight back?