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What is a forgivable reason for your child to have a fist fight? Is self-defense the only justifiable reason? How about defending another child? If preventative measures were the cause, (another child was threatening yours, and yours decided to beat them to it), how would you handle it?
When it comes to justifying the use of force by one child against another, there are few absolutes. In most cases, self-defense and the defense of others would warrant the use of fists. But consider these scenarios:
- Billy likes to pick on other kids. He goads a boy into throwing the first punch, then beats him up.
- A bully starts a fight with Billy, who ends it by beating the snot out of the kid, not stopping until the boy loses consciousness.
- One of Billy’s friends gets into a fight, and buddies on both sides watch the action. Billy deals himself in, and the tussle turns into a brawl.
- One of Billy’s friends insults or offends someone and receives a well-earned punch in the jaw for his trouble. Billy then retaliates on behalf of this friend.
Do these situations reflect a boy defending himself or others? Technically, perhaps. But Billy still deserves a stiff punishment for those fights.
All of the incidents listed above warrant an improper use of force, and few institutions tolerate such behavior these days. But unfortunately, in an effort to stamp out bullying and prevent injury, our society has overcompensated. In too many cases, our municipalities or schools paint all combatants the same color.
No-tolerance policies often punish the victim as well as the instigator, in hopes that everyone learns a lesson about resorting to violence. In theory, that approach makes sense, as most adults would acknowledge that working out differences verbally or backing off and dropping the argument before it gets violent are better solutions than duking it out.
But this conflict-resolution theory does not always translate well into real-life practice – mostly because if one party cannot be dissuaded from fighting, it makes little sense for the recipient of the first punch to continue responding with logic and reason. If an argument turns violent and someone throws a punch, the recipient of that slug often has both the moral and constitutional right to defend himself. Remember the political adage: “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose.”
Bottom line: If your child throws the first punch – regardless of his reason for doing so – severe punishments should follow. If your child starts a fight to pre-empt someone else’s starting it, key on the words, “your child starts a fight.” If a child believes an attack is imminent, appropriate behaviors include adopting a defensive stance, ducking for cover, calling for help, or running away, depending on the situation. Striking the other kid without warning is not the answer. Where I come, they call that a sucker punch, and children with a sense of honor don’t resort to such tactics.
Wise parents will not tolerate bullying, picking fights, or overly aggressive behavior in young children, because such habits die hard.
A pugnacious 5-year-old can be disruptive. But if parents don’t stop the behavior, that same kid can graduate to dangerous 10 years later, after he gains height and muscle.
If someone else starts the fight, consider the reasons for action on both sides, taking into account provocation and other influences. A child who genuinely fights to defend himself or a weaker friend should receive either a light punishment or none at all. Treat these incidents on a case-by-case basis.
I’ll close with a last word of advice for parents. If Billy must consistently fight to defend himself, consider whether his own conduct has caused most of those fights.
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