Rules for punching

What the rules for fighting back against a bully? On 11D, Laura tries to teach her son how to fight fairly.

Jonah got punched in the eye by Dickie McDick last week on the school bus. After he stopped crying, I told him that if Dickie did it again to punch him back. Jonah’s eyes grew wide, and he was silent for a minute or two processing this very large bit of information. After a few minutes, he got a big smile on his face. Then he asked if was allowed to punch a kid who did something to him a couple of weeks ago. No, I said. The punch must happen immediately after the other kid hits you. Then we went through all the other rules of engagement. You can’t throw the first punch. You have to respond with equal force. For example, if the kid kicks you in the shin, you can’t break his nose. You can’t go around threatening to hit people.

Several 11D commenters thought Laura was presenting a metaphor on international relations. No, she was talking about how to raise a kid who’s neither a bully nor a victim.

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  1. At the school at which I teach, students are expected–against all human nature *and* against social norms–not to strike back. If they do, they’re as guilty as the one who threw the first punch. My vice principals don’t like it when I refer to that policy as “lazy”.

    At my son’s elementary school, a student being hit is *expected* to curl up in a ball on the ground while someone hits or kicks him/her, and hope someone runs for help.


  2. Jason Bontrager says:

    Good advice for the most part. I’m ambivalent about the whole “proportional response” thing though. Breaking a bully’s nose in response to a kicked shin would send a very valuable lesson about taking submission or proportional response for granted.

  3. There’s a line there somewhere – but proportional response in retaliation isn’t it. Plus the not hitting first is a tricky call. If you’ve got a reasonable fear that there’s going to be a throw down best to get in the first shot.

  4. children’s school drills a 3-step “no-go-tell” escalation

    counseled that this approach is incomplete. If problem is still raging on, step 4 is block and step 5 is strike back … but you lose if you haven’t done steps 1-3. Message sunk in more effectively when phrased as the bully tricked you into losing but getting you to skip steps 1-3. It also dovetails more completely with “what to do if a stranger …” issues.

  5. Charles R. Williams says:

    If the school is unable to maintain a disciplined environment, it may be necessary for a child to defend himself even if this means suspension. The child should be told to expect this.

  6. We dealt with this situation with my son. We told him to hit back if hit (especially if it seemed to be a ‘picked on’ or ‘repeated’ hit). His eyes grew wide as he assured us he’d been told at school to NEVER hit (i.e., don’t hit back). We *assured him* we would back him up 100 percent, including speaking to the teacher/principle and it would be OK with us if he was expelled or otherwise disciplined for standing up for himself.

    For a lot of kids like our son, I think just the realization that You Don’t Become A Victim was empowering. It really seemed to change his mindset, including thinking about the ‘hitting’ he was receiving: i.e., there are a lot of boys that were used to a lot of roughhousing, which we don’t do. Or accidental elbows, etc. He had to *think* about what was coming his way, and choose to stand up when another child was crossing the line. Knowing that we would support him, and that, yes, sometimes it’s OK to hit back, seemed to do the trick. He was no longer the ‘class victim’ or ‘tattle-tale’ (i.e., always taking it to the teacher to resolve rough-and-tumble boyhood jockeying for status).

    But it was a rough year of 1st grade. I seriously considered homeschooling if the situation didn’t improve. I also did bring the situation to the attention of the teacher/counselor, because the flip side is that there were other kids in the class who needed to learn that what THEY were doing was wrong. Sometimes, there is just a mix of students that gets out of whack, and I think one should bring it to the attention of school officials — it just might influence future-year student class assignments!