My kid is 8 yrs old. This morning he asked me, "Mummy, you told me if a girl hits you don't strike her back. Should I continue to get hittings from her just because she's a girl?"

I was unable to answer his question, but still I managed to tell him that when any girl does that just hold her hand tightly and then he asked, "If she strikes from behind and bullies me then what should I do?"

Is there a recommended solution or set of actions?

  • 8
    What would you tell your son if it was another boy who hit him?
    – hkBst
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 14:00
  • 3
    My parents always told me not to hit anybody, yet they paid for my Karate lessons.
    – B Chin
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 3:01

5 Answers 5


As a martial arts instructor, I regularly deal with people who have been taught that defending oneself physically from a physical attack was a bad thing. They end up in my classes because other bad things happened to them, because they waited too long to defend themselves physically.

The problem is that the people teaching them failed to recognize the difference between retaliation and self defence. Retaliation says "You hit me so I'm going to hit you, an eye for an eye". Self defence says "I'm responsible for my own safety, so if you attack I will end the threat".

School anti-bullying policies are great in theory, but largely unenforceable (not getting on that soap box right now), and the high-dollar anti-bullying education industry ( http://www.blueprintsprograms.com/program-costs/olweus-bullying-prevention-program ) that has grown up around them has had, at best, "a statistically significant but practically non-existent impact" (sorry, cant find the original reference, but this one is consistent: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734016807311712 ).

Every year in the united states, 1 to 3 children dies as a result of injuries sustained in a bullying incident (usually due to head injuries). The refrain you hear from their parents is along the lines of "we taught him/her to walk away and never retaliate".

What they don't realize (until it is too late) is that they have trained their kids to be ideal victims.

When the child is alone, he is the person most responsible for his safety. If someone attacks him physically, he should respond with enough force to end the confrontation decisively, ideally without causing any permanent damage, but with his own safety being the first and foremost thought.

Bullying usually involves a group of attackers (not a single attacker). In a multi-attacker scenario there is no such thing as excessive force until you are down to the last attacker. At that point, the intended target should disengage as soon as the perpetrator stops attacking.

For further reading (yes, they're cherry picked studies, most agree more research is needed):








  • 5
    +1 for making the vital distinction between retaliation and defense. I am not certain this lesson will translate well to 8-year-olds without a good martial arts instructor giving a practical and personal lesson, however.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:26
  • Regarding the soap box you avoided ;) I'll note that human rights education has had decent success in reducing bullying; e.g. a 14% drop in school bullying incidents in Japan in 2009. But that's far from a 100% drop, so your point about self-defense still stands.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 0:31
  • 2
    Please add a citation for the lack of effectiveness of anti-bullying campaigns: "...the multi-billion dollar anti-bullying education industry... has had, at best, 'a statistically significant but practically non-existent impact'." Thanks. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 1:35
  • 3
    I did miss that point. In self defence, gender is only a minor tactical consideration. When you move to the realm of self defence, you've already determined that there is a real danger, and your own safety is your primary consideration.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 12:31
  • 1
    @Wildcard We have to agree that education in Japan is no metric for education in the USA. What works for their culture is completely different of what works for Americans.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 16:54

Physically retaliating is never a suitable response, as you and your son realise. I think if this is happening at school perhaps it might be time to involve the teachers. Your son should certainly not have to put up with this.

  • 10
    I would like to add: There should be no difference whether it is a boy or girl that hits.
    – Ida
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 21:13
  • 5
    There are most certainly times when a physical response is the suitable response - saying never is naive. You can improve this answer by describing where the line is for you personally.
    – user24631
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 0:44
  • 2
    @Physics-Compute Self-defence and retaliation are different things. Physically defending yourself is obviously ok, but physical retaliation is not. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 4:07
  • 3
    "Physically retaliating is never a suitable response" is such a polarizing stance and I disagree. Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 11:39
  • 2
    When failure to retaliate invites repetition of abuse, and the peaceful alternatives have been exhausted, it is apprpriate. But then it's still self defense, just on a strategic scale instead of tactical.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 20:07

IMO parents really need to stop telling their boys that they cannot defend themselves against girls. It's clearly unrealistic and that you cannot explain what should be done in that given situation proves it.

People have the absolute right to defend themselves, they have the moral and legal right to hit someone, regardless of gender, race, or any other physical difference, if that is what they need to do in order to protect themselves from imminent physical aggression.

I've always told me son that he doesn't have to let anyone hit him and that if he has to defend himself and that should it happen I will ALWAYS back him up and support him.

  • Walking away is almost always a better option. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 22:23
  • With domestic violence against women at epidemic levels, your advice doesn't seem particularly relevant. Commented Jun 1, 2018 at 22:27
  • @user1751825 Walking away works when it works. Unfortunately, kids in school don't have that option. Under today's policies, no matter what, the victim is going to be victimized again, whether by the original attacker or by the system. They might as well put an end to the physical threat.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 4:43
  • 1
    @user1751825 unfortunately, the myth that the worst bullies are usually victims of bullying themselves had been thoroughly debunked along with the idea that they bully because of low self-esteem. . The worst bullies have higher than normal self esteem, in part because of their dominant role in relationships in general.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 11:03
  • 2
    @user1751825 the motivation of the person attacking you is irrelevant, it does not negate your right to defend yourself. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 11:40

Speak to the parents of the girl. Speak to the principal and the teachers.

You are right about telling him not to respond by hitting back ( not only at girls though ).

Most of the times though it will make the kid look weak, since he wont know how else to respond, and just passivly accept it. This will encourage the bullies.

He can very well reason with them, or in a decisive way say "cut it off !".


It is always acceptable to use whatever tools you have available in order to protect yourself, but there ought to be an order to them/a set of circumstances that trigger them. The basic tools of self-defense are 1) words 2) appeal to a higher authority 3) physical force. If you are being attacked in such a way that you are likely to suffer permanent damage, then it is appropriate to skip directly to physical force to end the threat as quickly as possible. HOWEVER, in the case of your son, it is likely that the girl who is hitting him is not very able to inflict serious harm on him, so steps 1 and 2 should be tried first.

So. Next time this girl starts hitting him, he should say to her, "it is not ok for you to hit me, and I would like you to stop." If she does not stop, he can continue, "if you can't stop by yourself, then I will have to stop you." If she still continues, your son should next appeal to a higher authority, in this case his teacher. He can say to the teacher, "(name) has been hitting me, and I have asked her to stop, but she won't do it. Can you help me with this?" If the girl still does not stop hitting him after the teacher has taken whatever actions he/she chooses to take, then the next time the girl hits him, your son should show her that he is willing and able to defend himself, and that it has been his restraint as a respectful person, and not his weakness, that has allowed her to exercise this behavior towards him.

This advice, again, is for the situation in which she is not seriously hurting him. If she is - for example trying to push him off high places on the play structure, or hitting him in such a way that he is bruising or bleeding, he should not let her do this. In such a case he must hit her back. If she is big and strong enough that he can't make her stop through physical force, then he needs to fight back at least enough to be able to get away and get to a teacher. It is possible that your son will get in trouble with the school for hitting the girl back, even if they know the situation, but if that happens it is important that you stand by him and support his right to defend himself.

I would give identical advice if your son were being bullied by a boy. If the bully is not a serious threat, then words first. If he/she is, stop the threat first, and go from there.

  • It's a long long time ago, but I remember one girl at school who wouldnt hit, but bite. Until one boy punched her right in the face, hard, after being bitten. Strange enough, the biting stopped.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 20:14

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