Retaliation: Is It Ever Okay For Your Child To Hit Back?


I’ve been in two minds about writing this, but weighing it up I thought it would be interesting to get opinions of others. After all, we’re all in this parenting lark together, right?

Last Thursday I was dropping F off at preschool, when one of his teachers wanted a quick word in private. My heart pounded as I followed her into ‘the quiet room’, wondering what was wrong. Turns out, what his teacher said next surprised me, and got me thinking about a contentious subject when it comes to parenting.

A few days previously, F was apparently minding his own business in the playground, when, unprovoked, a new little boy went up to him and punched him in the face.  Freddie’s teacher ran over to defend him and tell the boy off, but before she could, F had instinctively hit him back, twice as hard, leaving the original tiny perpetrator in tears and with a fat lip. Apparently they had been keeping an eye on said boy, as despite being small, he had been pushing and punching other children since he arrived, so had form for doing this. Freddie’s teacher said that whilst they certainly don’t condone violence, she didn’t tell Freddie off, it was the other little boy who was chastised, with then general words to the pair of them to be kind to one another. She said that from an experienced teacher’s, and a parent’s point of view, she didn’t think it was always a bad thing that a child learns what might well happen if they decide to go up to another child and whack them in the head. She wanted to tell me a. what happened ( as any good preschool/nursery would) and b. Let me know that my boy had a bit of ‘fight’ and ‘spirit’ in him, which she was surprised about as much as I was. 

Bear with me if that sounds a bit of a weird thing for a teacher to say to a parent, to justify any sort of hitting, and before you think my boy is a wee thug. You see, I know, and Freddie’s teachers know, that usually F is a kind and sensitive little boy. That’s not me being deluded as a parent, and protecting my ‘precious little snowflake’, it’s just a fact. (S, on the other hand, can be a feisty little madam and a situation like this involving her might not surprise me as much!). Don’t get me wrong, Freddie can scrap and argue with his sister, but when it comes to confrontation with other children, he’s always been the one that backs off. The one that gives up the toy when another child grabs it, the child who isn’t in to ‘rough housing’ with the boisterous boys, or the one into ‘fighting’ games, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles or Super Heroes (yet!). And weirdly this had made me a little worried about when he starts school in September. Despite being a big chap (95th centile for height) and having many friends as preschool, I have had concerns that due to his softer nature that he might be an easy target for more ‘physical’ boys at ‘big school’.

Anyway, when his teacher told me what had happened I was quite shocked, but I also surprisingly felt slightly pleased, and then really guilty for feeling slightly pleased, that my son had hit this boy back. It goes against everything in my parenting nature to want to ever give the go ahead for my child to be violent towards another, yet I actually felt reassured (and that’s what his teacher wanted me to know), that if ever F has any problems at school he quite possibly wouldn’t just sit back and be pushed around, despite his outwardly passive nature.

All sensible advice and common sense tells us to tell our children, if they were ever physically attacked, to go and tell a teacher. Which is what I would still tell either of my children if a situation like this ever arose again. However, I’ve read enough chat threads on Mumsnet and the like, to know that in these situations, some bullying has only ever stopped once a child has actually stood up to an aggressive child and given them a taste of their own medicine. 

Which leaves me asking the question: Is it ever okay for your child to hit back?

My personal view is that at primary school level, teachers should be supervising and able to sort any bullying issues out, without a child ever having to retaliate with violence. Being honest though, if it was persistent, if I felt my child was being seriously affected by being punched/pushed/targeted, it MIGHT get to the point where I would tell him or her to give it their best shot back. The thing is, giving your child the message that using their fists is okay, is one fraught with difficulty and potential danger the older they get. Watching the news and seeing all the knife crime stories involving teenagers makes me feel sick. As adults, I would always tell them to walk away if conflict occurs in a pub, club, or whenever alcohol if involved- the risks of fighting back are just too high when judgement is impaired. 

It’s such a tricky subject, one of many parenting minefields that I’m sure we’ll navigate as the years go on. 

So all this brings me back to my boy. The usually gentle giant who apparently has a mean right hook. 

I haven’t actually talked to him in depth about what happened, as preschoolers tend to have very short-term memory. When I asked him if he’d been hit, he looked a little confused, then said, in a typically just-turned-4 way “Oh yes, X wasn’t very nice to me in the playground” and that was it. I kissed his head, and said that if it happened again he should walk away and tell a grown up. Inside though, I had mentally relaxed about his ability to stand up for himself, and whilst not necessarily a desirable trait, he has shown he has a bit of fire in his belly.

But isn’t this an awful trait to be glad about? Am I a terrible parent for feeling this way?

What would you do?



Linking up with Let’s Talk Mommy and ‘Share With Me’ and Super Busy Mum’s ‘Mad Midweek Blog Hop’




  1. April 1, 2015 / 6:32 am

    Speaking as a parent with a side of teacher, I’d be pleased too. Some kids just need a retaliatory bonk of the nose, I think. I’d expect the teachers to get involved, but unfortunately there might not always be an adult around every time a bully decides to start something and I’d feel reassured that my kid could handle themselves in that situation.


    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:21 pm

      Oh good, I’m glad another teacher thinks this wasn’t a totally terrible thing for Fred to do!

  2. April 1, 2015 / 6:37 am

    I can completely relate to this… our little man is one of those sensitive little boys too; he tends to play more with the girls at preschool than the boisterous bunch of boys who rule the playground, he cuddles EVERYONE (even people he’s just met) and takes his friendships quite seriously and gets quite upset when people don’t want to play. One of the reasons putting him into a preschool environment was important to me was that I wanted him to “toughen up” a bit, to learn that not everybody is your friend and that sometimes you have to learn to hold your own. Like you, I am a bit worried he’ll be an easy target at school, especially as he doesn’t even have an advantage of height… he’s a teeny little thing.
    We have had some issues at preschool lately where he has started to play more with the boys (which is a good thing for him I think) and has been involved with a bit of pushing. This has suddenly been happening with sister at home too, and is definitely a “skill” he’s picked up at preschool. And as much as the constant seperating of my two this Easter is already starting to annoy me a bit, I’m glad that he’s found that bit of spark too. That he fights for what he wants when they play, and that he isn’t being a pushover anymore is a good thing. Although it’s a tough lesson for his naturally more fiesty and strong willed sister, she’s having to get used to suddenly not always winning everything! x

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:24 pm

      Thanks so much for this comment Lucy (and for the Twitter love earlier!). You definitely sound in a similar situation to me re your little fella at preschool, and also at home- I’m forever breaking up scraps between my two, I just want F to be more assertive in preschool, and he obviously is getting that way which is good! x

  3. April 1, 2015 / 8:33 am

    My boy is exactly the same and would always let others take toys off him and never stand up for himself but we had a very similar experience at nursery and we learnt that he only takes so much before he blows! I like you don’t condone violence or anything like that but I have to say I too felt pleased that he would stand his ground. He’s not starting it or being malicious but can’t defend himself and I think that’s important for all people personally x

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:24 pm

      Phew, glad it’s not just me Beth! x

  4. April 1, 2015 / 8:47 am

    Ooh what an interesting question! As a parent, I can completely understand why you’re relieved your son has the ability to stick up for himself. I’ve yet to see that in mine, and I do worry about how he’ll fare at “big” school too.

    As to what you should actually teach him… It’s very tricky, but I think I would take a slightly different approach to saying it’s sometimes okay to retaliate. I would teach him how to stop the other child from hitting him and keep them under control, without doing damage, with a self-defense technique rather than a bosh on the head, until the teacher comes to help. It’s what my parents did with my brother (who was always small for his age and constantly picked on, but VERY scrappy), and it was very effective. I think it empowers the child being picked on, which is especially important if the teachers haven’t seen what is going on. I realise F is probably still too young to have this level of control – my brother was about 6 or 7 when my parents went down this road. Still, perhaps it’s something to bear in mind for the future.

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:26 pm

      Thanks for your comment and wise words Eline- I think you’re right in that we should foster a self-defence approach as he gets a bit older (as you say, F prob doesn’t have that control right now!). Definitely the route we will go down.

  5. April 1, 2015 / 10:02 am

    This is a hard one. My daughter has been pushed a couple time when at on a bouncing castle and she has just pointed her finger but made it very clear that she did not appreciate it. Proud that she did not cry but stood her ground. She is 3 and it is hard to figure out what is happening at nursery these days. Sometimes I get hints that someone is being mean to her and it break my heart. I think that is the teacher’s responsibility to keep an eye on these interactions. Thank you for starting the conversation.

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:28 pm

      It’s awful as a parent to worry about what’s going on in nursery/school when you’re not there. I’ve never wanted to be a ‘helicopter parent’ but at the same time i’d love to hover all the time to sort things out, although I know this would be a ridiculous (and counter-productive) thing to do!

  6. April 1, 2015 / 11:26 am

    Oh lovely you are far from being a rubbish parent, I’d have been exactly the same in your situation. It is a tricky subject though.

    My two girls argue all the time and P would get physical, but now C is able to defend herself P doesn’t like it. She can totally dish it out but can’t take it! School is a different beast, as you said, I hope the teachers would be intervening before the violence occurs.

    Thought provoking post hon xx #sharewithme

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:29 pm

      Sasha is a bit like P- she dishes out to Freddie all the time, but can never take it, haha! x

  7. Gwen
    April 1, 2015 / 1:00 pm

    Great post. I have been where you are and I felt the same way, shocked at how pleased I was. Here is where I am now… We are doing our very best to raise gentlemen, but every boy has a bit of a warrior inside of him too. I kind of love that about them. As long as my son is not the aggressor and these instances are very rare, I am not concerned. I am relieved he can stand up for himself and refuses to be the victim. He is after all, my little hero. Thanks for posting. Brave of you 🙂

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:31 pm

      I love that thought, Gwen, that he is a bit ‘warrior’- I will remember that! Thank you for commenting 🙂 x

  8. April 1, 2015 / 12:11 pm

    There is a VERY big difference between unprovoked violence and self defence. What Freddie did was self defence. What the other child did, was unprovoked violence.

    I would be proud. I think self defence is okay and sometimes necessary. If he were a bit older, I would sit down and explain the difference to Freddie, but as he’s still little, I wouldn’t mention it again.

    For really naughty children who repeatedly bully other children, a teacher telling them off will probably have little to no impact. A child standing up to him and hitting him twice as hard, might make him evaluate his behaviour.

    Perhaps Freddie might enjoy Karate as a hobby? Sounds like he might be good at it xx

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:29 pm

      Karate is a great idea! I wonder how old they have to be to start? x

  9. April 1, 2015 / 12:49 pm

    Definitely a tricky one. I’d be secretly pleased too I think, you want to know that your child can defend themselves. I would always say not to hit back, probably more so they wouldn’t get in trouble- whereas telling tales means the original culprit is fully to blame. I am glad the teacher saw the whole thing and took your son’s side- they sound like a fab nursery! x

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:30 pm

      It’s a brilliant preschool Katy, we are very lucky that the teacher’s all have a caring, yet old-skool common sense approach! x

  10. April 1, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    Am I allowed to say that I’m all for ‘hitting back’ in this circumstance? I think children need to be able to stick up for themselves. It was clearly instinctive for F and personally, I think the teacher did the right thing. Unusual stance for a teacher mind – you’ve got a good one there! x

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:31 pm

      Thanks Suzanne- she is a bit of a gem! x

  11. Nikki Frank-Hamilton
    April 1, 2015 / 4:27 pm

    Good for him. Although he is young it seems that he processed this well. From his answer it seems like, 1. yes, he knows it happened. 2. He is pretty off hand about it 3. He did not whine about it or create drama, he is well grounded 4. You handled it in a way that will not make the incident bigger in his head 5. You know that he can take care of himself.

    Great job, all of the above are things to be proud of. He seems to be a good boy, and smart.

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:32 pm

      Aaw thanks Nikki, what a lovely thing to say 🙂 Thanks for commenting x

  12. April 1, 2015 / 4:43 pm

    A very tricky one. This is thankfully one that I haven’t had to deal with so far, but I suspect I would react much as you have. We have to teach our children to deal with situations like this in a non-aggressive way, but they do also need to be able to stand up for themselves (although hopefully without the hitting for the most part!). When a young child is pushed to their limits by another child it is hardly surprising that sometimes they hit back. I guess all we can do is help them through it and as they get older teach them other strategies too. Very thought provoking post x #sharewithme

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:33 pm

      Thanks Sara, it’s such a minefield! x

  13. morna
    April 1, 2015 / 7:19 pm

    I think I’m with the consensus here – I don’t have a problem with self defence. I was bullied a lot by my younger sister as a child and I still remember my Dad saying ‘hit her back, hit her back’. I eventually did.

    I have a slightly different perspective as I’m the mother of a thug. Much as we try our 3 yr old is very physical and hits her older sister and our friend’s children. We’re very disappointed by this behaviour and of course are trying to work to stop it. A couple of weeks ago Sally came home from pre-school with a story that she had thrown a brick at a little boys head. The next day she said he had hit her over the head with a frying pan! I have to say was my response was ‘well you did throw a brick at his head!’ I don’t approve of hitting in general however in this instance I think I would feel pleased that my child had defended himself and I’ glad the nursery were enlightened in the way they handled it.

    On a totally unrelated note I just wanted to say how lovely the look of your blog is – It’s a pleasure to read 🙂

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:35 pm

      It’s interesting to hear from the ‘other side’ Morna, especially as our little girl has more physical tendancies! She has been known to push and push Freddie (despite her tender age!), and then he will snap, and we will then often say to her “you were asking for that!”. Thanks for stopping by, and for your lovely comments about my blog! x

  14. April 1, 2015 / 9:10 pm

    Becky, I’d have felt exactly the same in your situation. My 3 year old is very laid back and will let others take things from him but his feisty side comes out when he is with his cousin. I don’t know if it’s because he feels more comfortable with him because he knows him better but if he tries to take anything from O he does give him a wallop (and I don’t actively discourage him, his cousin is a sod for winding him up). I think theres something a little reassuring about knowing they can stick up for themselves when they need to. xxx

    • Becky
      April 1, 2015 / 9:36 pm

      I definitely think they feel more relaxed with close friends and family children- both of mine can argue with their girl cousin of a similar age like no one’s business! x

  15. April 1, 2015 / 9:48 pm

    I completely get this. You’re right, it’s a tricky subject and a maybe a little different for me as I have a girl but Ava is starting pre-school in a couple of weeks (sob) and she is so tiny compared to the other children (she was in age 12-18 month leggings the other day for crying our loud!) and to be completely honest, I’m a nervous wreck thinking about her getting pushed around or bullied by the bigger, older children. I think part of me would feel relieved if Ava whacked someone back. I’d know that she could handle herself. xx

  16. Merlinda Little ( @pixiedusk)
    April 2, 2015 / 8:48 am

    I would be very proud if my son did this. Its really hard to explain but sometimes some kids needs to know that they get what they give. I would worry if before this incident my son is naughty or he is the other boy who hits other people. But he is not. #sharewithme

  17. emma fair
    April 2, 2015 / 8:24 am

    good on your son! hopefully this boy will know not to mess with him again. kids need to be able to stand up for themselves these days especially as they get older. well done

  18. Amanda Walsh
    April 3, 2015 / 12:37 am

    I would definitely be secretly proud, whole I don’t condone violence what Freddie did was self defense. Other children can be awful and I think we do have to teach our children a level of self defense and sticking up for themselves #MMWBH

  19. Ashley Beolens
    April 3, 2015 / 12:33 pm

    While it does give a conflicting message, you shouldn’t hit people along side, you can hit back, I think as a parent most of us would agree, violence as the instigator is wrong but self defence (as long as not taken too far) is acceptable.

    I think we all worry our kids won’t be able to stand up for themselves until they do 🙂

  20. April 7, 2015 / 9:30 pm

    Interesting. I am a teacher of Year 1 and this sort of thing is something we deal with frequently. I agree that while fighting etc should be discouraged, there are lessons to be learned from the consequences of such behaviour, as there are from the other sorts of mistakes we make. With my own kids, we can’t possibly mediate every conflict – we have twins who’re 2 and a bit and at the moment they are constantly at blows over this toy or that. We are just happy the biting phase seems to be over. I have no idea how out hothead twin will cope at school. Both are surprisingly bad at sharing, even with others. :/

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