Psychologist makes case for teaching kids to punch back

Posted July 24, 2016

When you talk to your children about responding to bullies, the best advice you can give them is put up their fists and fight back. (Deseret Photo)

DUBLIN — When you talk to your children about responding to bullies, the best advice you can give them is put up their fists and fight back.

At least that’s the controversial new argument made by an Irish clinical psychologist, who maintains that a child is less likely to be pushed, punched, kicked or physically bullied twice if he or she pushes back the first time.

“If an initial physical attack is not met with some degree of physical response, then it tends to happen again,” psychologist David Coleman wrote in an opinion piece for the Irish Independent. “If another child discovers that they can push someone around, they often continue to do so.”

Coleman’s article was a direct response to backlash he received after making his case for fighting back on an Irish radio show. Many listeners were shocked at his suggestion that children should resort to physical violence instead of the more traditional counsel to talk things out.

Coleman says that while he understands how some people may feel uncomfortable with the idea, his point has nothing to do with advocating violence. Rather, it’s about empowering a child to take control of a scary situation.

“I want my child to feel that they can assert themselves,” he wrote. “I don’t want my child to be aggressive or domineering, but I do want them to show that they are not willing to let anyone push them around.”

If a child doesn’t stand up for his or herself, they become an established target for repeated abuse, Coleman says.

“By not fighting back they give a very clear message that they will not resist,” he wrote. “They give an equally clear message that they accept the other child’s dominance.”

Coleman argues that while it’s not OK to encourage your child to be the aggressor, it is healthy to teach them that “fighting has its place” and that it’s OK for “children to believe that it is acceptable to push back against someone who has intentionally pushed them.”

Should you choose this route, Coleman says, be sure to prepare your child — and yourself, for that matter — for a potentially painful consequence.

“Your child might lose that fight,” he wrote. “They may get hurt. The attacker may get hurt. The teachers, mentors or adults in charge may get involved … but I think it’s worth it if it prevents your child from being further poked, pushed or hit in the future.”

Coleman also made the plea to schools and educators to empower victims of physical bullying by not punishing them when they choose to defend themselves.

“They need understanding and an opportunity to stop their own proactive hitting behavior,” he told Today.

Jessica Ivins is a content manager for and contributor to the Motherhood Matters section.


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