A Punch in the Face

After Josie was diagnosed with lactose and fructose intolerance I began to wonder how years of consuming lactose-laden foods had affected her behavior, and if her behavior would change with her new diet. Of course, as I thought (fantasized?) about my girl transforming into a quiet easy going child, like other kids I’d heard about but never actually met, I didn’t like the idea one bit. I love that she’s gritty and tough and doesn’t let anyone (including her parents) push her around.

A few weeks into her new diet I’m chatting with the director of her preschool and she tells me about an incident at snack time. Josie’s sitting next to her best friend, we’ll call her Maya. Maya is eighteen months older than Josie, significantly bigger and, um, let’s call her a natural leader (aka: kind of a bully). Maya likes to be in charge and most of the time Josie is so swept up in Maya’s awesome-olderness that she’s happy to follow.

At snack time Maya takes one of Josie’s animal crackers. Now, you don’t mess with Josie’s food. Josie asks for it back. Maya ignores Josie. The teacher tells Maya to give it back. Maya ignores the teacher. Josie stands up and reaches over to her friend’s plate and tries to grab one of her cookies. Maya grabs Josie’s hand and they push and pull and push and pull. Josie’s fingers get squished and she lets go. Josie sits back down but she’s mad. Nothing has worked. The teacher hasn’t been able to fix it. That’s when Josie turns to Maya, pulls her elbow back, and punches Maya in the face.

I guess we don’t have to worry about Josie going all submissive and mellow on us.

When I heard the story I kind of felt like laughing and saying good for her. The director seemed to think it was funny. You have to know how pushy Maya is to really understand. In a way, it’s great to see someone try to keep this girl in check. Josie’s punch may have been one of the strongest messages Maya could have received – from anyone. But then, of course, rational mother steps in and says it’s never okay to hit… Ever. Or is it?

I’m thinking about all this, my brain still whirring, when my friend posts this on his Facebook page.

Parenting survey: your 4 year old daughter comes down from the top of the playground structure, crying her eyes out. She says, through her tears: “Daddy, a boy hit me in the face!!” You give her a hug and then say …. What would you say?

Oh my, the comments he got… Some parents encouraged their children to defend themselves, to hit back when provoked. Others were strongly against hitting under any conditions.

What would you say? Do you encourage your kids defend themselves?

9 thoughts on “A Punch in the Face

  1. Lani

    That is such a complicated question. We say “if someone ever tried to touch, hurt, my child I would stop them at any cost”. But then we tell them not to defend themselves. Kids do not reason with each other – they react to each other. They keep it simple. If they like you they smile, hug etc. If they are mad – they show it. They are honest. Right or wrong, they are honest. Soon enough she will learn the nuances of diplomacy but sometimes when you are 4 a punch says it all.

  2. Mary Beth Hawkins Petersen

    I’m in the its-never-ok-to-hit camp. But I have to say that what appalls me about Josie’s story is that the teacher seemed to see it happening and didn’t do more. Josie was wronged and ‘Maya’ should have consequences to her actions. The fact that teacher didn’t step in left Josie no options.

  3. Alyssa

    My daughter clotheslined a bully at age 26 months. That was one of the most difficult times to keep a straight face while putting her into time out. Since then, we have gone over “the escalator of diplomacy” (say no, ask adult for help, and then yell or whatever it takes to stop it) whenever we can. I want her to use other methods first, but I know that doesn’t always stop the problem soon enough. I left hooked a bullying 8th grader (and split the dang turkey’s lip) when I was in 6th grade (and got a: pummeled and b: a call from the vice principal telling me “nice work”). So, I think in rare cases, a shove, push, thwap, punch or slap is warranted. Not a barrage of physical attack, but a punctuation, I guess.

  4. Jenn

    I come from a never-ok-to-hit family and am continuing on with that. Now my kids aren’t really hitters nor have we really interacted with a bully that I’m aware of (they are 4 and 6yrs). My husband is an assistant principal and deals with bigger kids hitting each other by punishing both of them, no matter what. The school policy is 3 days suspension (some kids might get more time depending on their actions). I do think that the person who hits does need a consequence too. As they get older I bet they can make their decisions knowing there will be a consequence. Maybe the time-out or suspension will be time well spent knowing that the bully got what was coming? Just my two cents…

  5. peggy

    It doesn’t stop with toddlers. Yeah, we’ve been a ‘no hit’ family, too. And then came my daughter’s junior year of high school. After a mutual friend’s home was broken into over mid-winter break, my daughter and a friend contacted a police officer and spoke of some discussions they had overheard at school. When school started again, one of the perpetrators mutual friends started hassling my daughter and another friend in class. This went on for a couple of days. On the third day, the hassling spilled out into the hall between classes; the guy started throwing really low blows–taunting my daughter’s friend about the day she started her period in 8th grade and stained her jeans. At that point, my daughter’s friend began to cry; my daughter turned around and punched the guy in the face. Gave him a black eye.
    She was suspended for her effort–but the assistant principal made it clear to me that he was suspending her only because of the ‘no contact’ policy of the public schools. He shortened the ‘sentence’ by 3 days. He suspended the guy–with ‘testimony’ from the teacher–for the full 5 days. I couldn’t bring myself to punish Kristin at all. Good for her, was all I could come up with. Other than reminding her that the bully probably got way more attention from her punch than he would have had she ignored him.

  6. Laura

    To Josie’s credit she took the correct steps by first addressing the little girl and then escalating the situation to the teacher. In her little world she did everything right. (Really, two steps of conflict management is pretty good for her age!). I agree with Peggy’s analysis. In the end it’s OK to say, “that’s not how we do things”, but realize that every single situation is different.

  7. Tami

    Yeah, I would say I’m in the “hands aren’t for hitting” camp, and yet, I found myself saying “Good for you, Jo”.

  8. Harriet Glynn

    I kind of assess the environment. If both kids are on equal footing, I say duke it out 😉 Otherwise, we have to pretend and show our kids how to be nicey nice :)!

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