Hitting Back and Holding Back: Letting Children Figure it Out for Themselves
Aggression is a fact of life. You may protest and say that, with the right level of understanding and communal discourse, we too could be inhabitants of a peaceable kingdom, but that (at best) is a long way off. Today, if you get up from your computer and walk outside you will be greeted by a world with equal parts harmony and hostility. People may smile, but if you take the parking space they had been spying from thirty yards back they will likely unload the brunt of their hostility on you. Children are not much different.
The main difference between us (fully realized adults willing to adhere to social norms) and children is the little fact that children, when met with hostility, often retaliate or hit back. To onlooking parents, this is horrifying. Or is it?
Ask any parent (and any child for that matter) whether hitting is ever OK, and the response will be virtually unanimous. Hitting is wrong, bad, and one should never hit. Use your words. Don’t give in to hostility and violence, etc. There I said it. But are there instances (particularly and exclusively with children) where hitting back or retaliating upon aggression might be a better option?
Often times these events occur on the playground (the weigh station between the predictability of home and the volatile nature of the outside world) where children (some more than others) find themselves in a social struggle with their peers. The majority of the time, these low-grade conflicts rarely erupt into physical violence, but sometimes there is a child (or a group of children) working through some bad juju or trying on some fantasy of their shadow self and they invariably cause some pain to others. I have seen this happen and all the parents in the area instinctively jump up to either stop the violence or impulsively reprimand with a firm, “no hitting!” We intervene because it is what we do, and we are scared to death of what may happen if we don’t.
Unquestionably, it is unacceptable to have a bunch of kids hammering one another into oblivion. No one wants that. However, what if we, as parents and guardians, hung back and allowed these things to resolve themselves? Does parent/guardian intervention stymie the natural social evolution of both children (aggressor and victim)? Would our children wind up doing the right thing anyway? And what if our child actually did hit back, unleashing an equal amount of aggression and possibly escalating the encounter, or maybe even ending it with one retaliatory advance? What would come of this? Maybe there is a valuable lesson to be learned here as well?
I would love to hear from parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children about their opinions and personal stories on the matter. Is intervention is always the best answer to aggression, or are there times (exceptional times) when fighting back may provide a valuable lesson to all?