My 3.5-year-old son has learned in the kindergarten, you do not bite, hit or kick another child. But some children bite, kick or hit my son.

I told him, he must tell the kindergarten teacher or kick/hit/bite back. But I think the kindergarten teacher does nothing and my son says he doesn't ever hurt other children.

What can I do? How can I teach my son that it's ok to hit back?

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    The first real question is: Is it okay to hit back? Are there other ways to solve this problem? – Nova Jul 17 '15 at 13:02
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    It's always ok to protect oneself. If hit more than once in clear succession, I'd usually accept hitting back as the appropriate response. – zugzwang Jul 17 '15 at 13:54
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    I would remind everyone answering this that it is not acceptable in an answer to argue with the premise of the question. If you wish to discuss whether hitting is appropriate, please do so in Parenting Chat or in another question; or ask in the comments here whether Sunlog is also interested in teaching his child how to deal with conflict without hitting back. – Joe Jul 17 '15 at 14:45
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    That said: Sunlog, are you specifically asking how to teach him to hit back, or are you interested in teaching him how to manage these situations in general, potentially including nonviolent responses as well? – Joe Jul 17 '15 at 14:46
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    I can't answer the question, since I don't agree with the premise, and I'm not interested in soapboxing or enforcing my personal culture. However, I would like to know whether or not you've verified that it is okay for your son to hit back? In many school systems, all students involved in physical altercations will be considered at fault, even if one was "defending" themselves. Outside of school district policy, you may also be dealing with local laws involving assault. Also, have you tried communicating these issues to someone above the teacher, such as their supervisor or the principal? – Web Head Jul 17 '15 at 18:17

You really have 2 problems here

1) How to teach your toddler when it's ok to defend themselves by retaliation.

There isn't a way - toddlers lack the reasoning skills to be able to judge when is an appropriate time to hit back that we adults have. They also can lack the empathy to understand when retaliation has been a successful deterrent (and to stop doing it). As a result the only correct action is to say that it IS NOT acceptable to hit back in line with the kindergartens rules.

Apart from anything else if they see a child hit then that child is the aggressor, it's the one they need to deal with - so if your child doesn't hit then that will become apparent.

2) The kindergarten aren't dealing with a child who is hurting other children at the setting.

This is a different issue and you have to consider that you're only getting half a story from a toddler. Toddlers are not renowned for their 100% flawless recall of stories and situations.

Take the situation where your toddler snatches or takes a toy from another child who then lashes out. All children do it and it's a part of learning to share that sometimes they just get it wrong. But is it then ok for them to hit back? Of course not. Is your child going to tell you that's what happened? No. Did your child even link the two events together? Probably not.

What you'd need to do is ask the kindergarten about the situation and find out if there is a problem or if it's children just learning how to socialise. If there is a problem with another child then they should have a plan or process for doing something about it. If they're unaware or not doing something about it then there may be questions over the level of care they're providing and that is something you'd need to work with them to address properly.

This could be a serious bullying problem, or it could be young children's lack of impulse control, teachers lack of attention to children at play time, or a number of other issues. It is hard to know if these behaviors are actually "bullying", and I think the best place to put most of your effort into is your child.

Knowing how to protect oneself is indispensable; but it is also not very useful if you don't know when to defend yourself. When you teach him to defend himself, make sure you include clear guidelines/rules for how/when to apply these skills. Of course, I also make it clear to my children, that when you really feel your safety is threatened, and there is no one around to help, all rules are off regarding the safety of the aggressor (in fact, the rule is to inflict as much pain as quickly as possible- but this probably does not apply to the 3-5 range).

I would think it is unlikely that he is going to be seriously or permanently injured (physically) through bullying in kindergarten, especially while at school, but it could lead to long-term problems and setbacks socially, emotionally, academically, etc. It is important to address this problem quickly, but it is not likely something that will just disappear after a talk or two with your son.

I think the best thing you can do for him is to:

  1. Boost his confidence
    Get him to believe in himself and develop his own sense of right and wrong. With a strong sense of what is right/wrong, he can better decide when he is being mistreated, and with a high level of confidence he is more likely to act in his best interest without overreacting. A good way to do this is through roughhousing with your kid. See this Art of Manliness article about the benefits of roughhousing.
  2. Help him develop his sense of right and wrong
    Hitting and biting aren't wrong. Hitting and biting hurt, and hurting people for fun, or to get your way, or to show your better than them, or to get back at them, etc., is wrong. Hurting someone to keep yourself safe is not pleasant (shouldn't be pleasing), but is perfectly acceptable. I also like to make it clear to my older child (not the 3-year-old) that not everything we learn in school is actually useful, and not everything we are told in school (or by every adult) is actually true.

Around here, we have some "formal" roughhousing games in addition to "free" roughhousing. The games are:

  1. Flick or Kick This game involves one person asking the other (the rules should be explained first) a question, "Flick or kick". Depending on the answer, the asker either flicks or kicks the other person. You then switch roles.

  2. Punch or Munch After having the first explained, you can probably guess this one. The initiator asks "Punch or munch?", and depending on the answer, either begins punching or munching (pretending to bite) the other. This one tends to be messier as drooling (but no actual biting) frequently occurs.

General rules of roughhousing in our home:

  1. We don't intentionally hurt others
    Actual biting, hitting with inappropriate objects, hitting too hard, or hitting vitals of any sort immediately ends any roughhouse game.

  2. We keep our bodies under control If one person starts to get upset, too aggressive, scared, etc., we take a time out to calm down. This is normally snuggly time.

The games sound brutal, and are in concept, but they are a lot of fun, and no one has gotten (seriously) hurt. Check the article on roughhousing and follow it up with some of the supporting material and searches of your own. It might be one of the best tools you have for addressing this type of issue.

  • Art of Manliness is great reference. – wast Oct 17 '17 at 8:07

Perhaps speaking with the director of the school will be helpful. You might want to consider looking for a different school.

A few appointments with a social worker for play therapy might help your child feel more self-confident in his social skills, which might help him project a more assertive attitude. This might prevent some of the attacks.

If the attacks are serious, and the school does not respond reasonably to your complaints, in the U.S., you can go to the police -- I'm not sure about where you live.

If you have the bad luck to live in a culture where teachers turn a blind eye to physical attacks, and a deaf ear to children's and parents' complaints, then you might look for some martial arts classes, such as judo. These techniques would not be directly applicable at school, but they can be helpful indirectly.

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