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My 4 year old son is big(tall) for his age but he is very sensitive and can be a bit timid sometimes. Recently I took him to a soft play area and he was just playing and minding his own business when a boy about the same age was very nasty towards him. The boy was aggressive, shouted at my son, hit him and pushed him over. I observed the whole thing and it was completely unprovoked.

My son came out of the play area looking very upset, he was almost in tears. This is not the first time this has happened and I've tried to talk to him and tell him that he shouldn't let people hurt him or push him around and that he is big and strong enough to stop them, I've also tried to give him the confidence to deal with the situation.

He went back to play again and the same boy sought him out again and hit him but this time my son stood up for himself, I was very proud of him and told him so but if I am completely honest he probably did go a little bit to far and got on top of the other child and pummelled him.

How can I teach a 4 year old what is an appropriate amount of force to use to defend yourself and in what situation is it OK to do so. I don't want him to seek out confrontation or to needlessly get into fights but I am also not the kind of parent that wants him to just be pushed around or not know how to deal with a situation himself.

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    Maybe martial arts class. Give him the tools to defend himself and the knowledge of when to use it. If I had some better references I would post as an answer – Brian Robbins Feb 23 '15 at 23:25
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Realistically, you can't. Your son is four. A four year old doesn't have the brain development for conflict resolution entailing the use of carefully applied physical force.

Your son doesn't need to learn how to physically defend himself at this age, or learn to physically deter aggressors. He needs to learn that he can trust the adults charged with his care to intervene on his behalf when situations are beyond his ability to handle.

You're in the immediate vicinity, observing these situations. When you see it happen, you should be protecting your son. You have no way of knowing how far it will escalate. Some light pushing or hitting can be normal for young children, but outright aggression can be unpredictable. It's your responsibility to intercede and prevent your son from receiving or causing physical harm.

After checking your son to make sure he's okay, physically and emotionally, you should explain to him that what the other child did was not okay. If no adult is saying anything to the children while these things are happening, then he's going to assume that getting pushed around or pushing people around is the status quo. Instead, he needs to learn that it's aberrant, unacceptable behavior that won't be tolerated, even if he can't defend himself.

You may also address the other child directly. You can tell them it's not okay to hit people, or your son. This should be said in a calm, collected manner without any hint of hostility. Nothing more needs to be said. The kid will get the picture.

By actually approaching your son, you may signal to the other child, or their parent(s), that what has happened was not okay. The other parent may be mortified and resolve the situation by addressing their child directly, which could lead to a more beneficial resolution: the aggressive child being disciplined for their misbehavior.

You may run into parents that get defensive or hostile if you get near their child. Typically, a calm, peaceful demeanor smooths things over. It's hard for a hostile or argumentative person to seem that they're in the right, even to themselves, when the other person stays entirely level-headed and reasonable.

Trying to teach your son to handle it physically isn't the solution, as you've seen. In your example, your son turned into the aggressor. He could have then hurt the other child, leaving you (and your son) legally liable for the any harm. The situation could have gone the other way: the other boy could have been more adept at fighting, and taken your son's retaliation as a reason to escalate. Your son may have gone from receiving mere emotional bruising to being the victim of a pummeling himself.

If you want your son to learn to handle these situations with physical responses, that's your prerogative. However, I would urge you to wait a few years before putting that burden on him. Right now he needs to have his trust reinforced, and see examples of positive, effective, non-violent conflict resolution.

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    +1 - "He needs to learn that he can trust the adults charged with his care to intervene on his behalf when situations are beyond his ability to handle." So true! – anongoodnurse Feb 24 '15 at 7:17
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    +1: Great answer. A good line in this situation: "I know your boy's only little, but I can't really just sit here and watch my son get hit, he doesn't like it." There's not really a valid comeback to this. – deworde Mar 10 '15 at 9:24
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    I would like to add: Your son is old enough to use his words. We tell our son: He has to say 'No thank you', or 'Stop, I don't like that'. If the other kid then doesn't listen, he should get an adult. In this way he stands up for himself, but not physically. – Ida Mar 10 '15 at 16:41
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You should ask the other boy where his mother was.

Then go over to her and ask her to please have her son apologize for his actions. If mom would not do anything, I would have gotten down on my knees and tried to tell the child that being mean is wrong and that he need to go to his mother right now before you call the police (not that you would, but it will get the child to go to his mother.

Otherwise, if the parents are not going to do anything you should probably leave the park and find another one to go to where parents actually care about their kids and what they do to other kids. Some parents are only out there to text, talk and ignore their kids hoping they will wear themselves out with play as mom cannot handle them.

You are the voice for your children, use it. Stand up to those parents.

  • Hello and welcome! This site is different than the forums you might be used to: responses to the top post are supposed to be answers, not comments to the OP (which yours are). Read more here: How to answer. Can you edit your response to offer a suggestion? You can click the edit link and revise it. If you have a question of your own, see here: How to ask – anongoodnurse Mar 10 '15 at 4:46
  • @anongoodnurse I've tweaked the question slightly to make it look more like an answer than a question. Kippie, if you don't like the edit, feel free to revert or edit further. – deworde Mar 10 '15 at 9:29

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