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Bad Dad Confessional: That One Time I Told My Kid To Punch A Bully

By jasonavant |

Last week, Mike did a post about the slightly controversial “Don’t Say Gay” video, in which one kid slaps another kid for using the word “gay” as a pejorative. You’ll get no complaint from me about the wrongness of “gay” as an insult; some of my best friends (indeed, my kids’ “godmommies”) are gay, and I just don’t do it. To me, it’s on par with the “n-word”. And the hitting thing? I’m not sure slapping another kid in the face for making a derogatory comment is called for. Then again, there’s one kid who’ll probably think twice about calling something — or someone — “gay”.

Here’s a story. Our friends belong to a local country club, our boys are close, and we’re often invited to hang out with them. A couple of years ago, we were spending a summer day with them at their pool. The pool was busy; there are two pools at the club, and this one was reserved for the kids — just a couple of feet deep with a bored teenage lifeguard endlessly twirling her whistle around on its string. We bought a cheap inflatable air mattress for Lucas, and he was loving it — it was his pirate ship, then it was his surfboard, then it was his spaceship. Lucas and his air mattress attracted the attention of another boy, a stranger. The kid was Lucas’ age, perhaps a bit older. He was brandishing a Super Soaker. At first, he just started spraying Lucas with water. Then he’d spray Lucas with water and take the air mattress from him. Lucas asked him to please stop. The kid grabbed it and took it, and of course Lucas protested and took it back, but the kid didn’t stop. After watching this a few times, I asked the kid to please stop taking Lucas’ air mattress.

Then it escalated.

The kid continued to follow Lucas around and kept grabbing the air mattress. Now the kid was adding something into the mix — he began hitting Lucas on the head with the Super Soaker. “Knock it off!” Lucas yelled. I walked over to the kid and told him to stop with the hitting, looking for the kid’s parents. I figured that they must be around, maybe they saw what was going on, and maybe they’d say something. I then told Lucas to just stay away from the kid: “If he follows you, just go to another part of the pool.”

Lucas tried, but the kid wouldn’t leave him alone. Again with the hitting, again with taking the air mattress, and he laughed at Lucas whenever he told the kid to quit it. This went on for a half hour, maybe longer. Lucas would tell the kid to please stop, I told the kid AGAIN to please stop, Lucas would go to the other side of the pool, trying to get away from his tormentor, and that kid just kept at it, pushing Lucas off the air mattress and taking it, hitting Lucas with that goddamned Super Soaker. My blood was up. I had a flashback: me in 6th grade, the new and very dorky kid in school, the gang of bullies — there were six of them — who made it a point to tell me every day that today was the day they were going to beat me up after school. I remember running home every afternoon in terror. I remember feeling completely powerless. Years later, that memory was front and center when I signed Lucas up for karate class.

Lucas took another shot to the head and looked at me helplessly. I looked Lucas in the eye, made a fist, punched the air, and nodded at him.

Lucas balled up his hand and punched the kid right in the mouth. It was a textbook middle punch. His instructor would’ve been proud.

The story didn’t have a Hollywood ending. The other boy ran off crying, Lucas ran to me, also crying — “I hurt him! I hurt that boy!” — his good nature shadowed by this singular (and, to date, only) act of physical violence against another kid. We talked about it into the evening; he later admitted to me that he’d pulled his punch at the last second, just like he was told to do in karate class (which I’m sure saved me from having to pay a dental bill). And I told him what we all tell our kids — when you’re being bullied, you find an adult to help. And then I told him a hard truth: Hitting is wrong, fighting is wrong, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to keep yourself from getting hurt. “Well”, he said, “I bet that kid doesn’t bother me anymore.” And he was right about that.

Is there a moral to this story? I don’t know. Neither of us felt good about what had happened, but Lucas was being bullied, the kid would not stop, and so, Lucas stopped him. And maybe that’s the ultimate lesson here: We can talk all we want about how we shouldn’t encourage our kids to hit other kids, but sometimes, when facing humiliation or worse, they’re left with little choice in the matter.

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About jasonavant



Jason Avant is the founder and Managing Editor of DadCentric. He lives in San Diego county with his wife, two kids, and a dog. He presides over a vast blogging empire that includes his personal site, Pet Cobra, writes for MamaPop, and has contributed to Babble in the past.

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22 thoughts on “Bad Dad Confessional: That One Time I Told My Kid To Punch A Bully

  1. Military Dad says:

    I tended to be fairly invisible throughout school, but in 8th grade, we got a new kid who just didn’t like me for some reason. Every time the teacher would leave the room, he would get up and start pushing me out of my desk, and he always pushed me around on the bus. This probably went on for a couple months before I told my dad about it. With him being about as old school as they come, he told me to start fighting back. The next day, he started in again, so I reared back to punch him. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have your son’s training, my punch missed by about 3 feet, and I got beat up anyway. I will say though that the act of fighting back appeared to be enough because he never bothered me again.

    Like your post, I’m not saying there’s a moral to the story, but I also know how scary bullying can be, and it was nice to go back to being invisible (except with the girls).

    Military Dad

  2. Beta Dad says:

    Violence is never the answer. Except when it is.

  3. CuteMonsterDad says:

    I completely blame the parents of the bully. Where were they? The kid simply didn’t have the self restraint to back off. Your son did the right thing. I commend him for not resorting to violence initially. He demonstrated a tremendous amount of patience, maturity and courage. Yet I am left wondering if the bully, himself only a child, will get the attention he sorely needs to correct his behavior.

  4. Raúl Colón says:

    I grew up in a rough neighborhood so hitting back was needed especially when abuse had been started.

    I preferred not to fight but sadly when I fought back was when I did not have to deal with future abuse.

    As a new dad I want to put my daughter in martial arts so she can defend herself. On the other side I clearly see how being able to tolerate is a great attribute any kid should have. But also having the ability to defend themselves when all other resources have been used is even more important.

    I guess sometimes you have to tell your kids to fight back.

  5. Holmes says:

    I see no fault here other than maybe that other kid’s parents. The fact that Lucas didn’t feel good about what happened shows some high quality character on his part.

  6. Sarah says:

    It sounds like your son was incredibly tolerant and patient with that little brat before it got to be too much for him.
    I think I would have been tempted to smack that other kid in the face! Or maybe get down on his level, and hold around his arm just hard enough so it hurts him a little bit, and tell him very quietly that, if he doesn’t stop, you will kick his a$$.

    I have a very clear memory from a mall play area- I must have been about 3 or 4 years old. Another kid kept bothering me in some way; I don’t remember how exactly. My mother, a very genteel ladylike woman, knelt down on the ground by the other kid, grabbed her by both arms, and said “You will NEVER do that again”. I got to play undisturbed for the rest of the time.

    Children can be horrible people too, and I don’t think it’s wrong to let your kid defend himself. He made a really good effort to deal with it diplomatically, and that failed.

  7. mikeadamick says:

    Have been in your exact same shoes and gave the exact same advice to my daughter. How many times does a kid have to run away, talk to an adult or seek outside help before dealing with shit in a way a bully really understands?

  8. Mandy says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’m the mom of 2 little boys ages 2 & 4 and I have often wondered how I will advise them when they eventually face this situation.

  9. candice says:

    you know when i was a kid thats how you delt with bullies you delt with it till ya had enuff then you defended yourself and it stpped now days kids cant defend themselves with out fear of stiff punishment and what has that led to??? 8 yr olds hanging themselves cuz they cant get help cant defend themselves and feel they are left with no other choice! im not saying violence is always the answer but sometimes…well sometimes people just need a good butt whooping to get the point! kudos to your son for defending himself but also having the good morals to feel bad…and kudos to you for being such a great parent!

  10. MommyofTwoDarlingBRATS says:

    Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the situation demands) my children are 13 months apart; one is currently entering his terrible twos and the other is less-than-gracefully making his exit. All I can say about this is that I hate watching my boys beat on each other daily, but when a little boy (five) at daycare continually harassed my littlest one, taking his toys and finally biting him on the arm, his big brother grabbed the older kid around his body and threw him to the ground. I was horrified when I was regaled with the tale (somewhat because my sweet boy did this but mostly because I was so PROUD of him for standing up for his little brother.) I had to tell him what he did was wrong… but I didn’t object when his daddy gave him a ‘secret’ high five.

    I don’t know that violence will stop violence. But I do know that when you’re protecting yourself or someone you love, there are worse things than taking a bully down a peg or seven.

  11. candice says:

    course i come from a time when please and thank you came out your mouth when you talked to anyone young or old and yes mam and no sir better come out your mouth when talking to anyone more than ten years older than you. a time when a couple of swats on the butt or a pop in the mouth was considered parenting and not abuse. and if you called the police for it most likely the person on the other end would ask you what you did not send 6 patrol cars and an ambulance. a time when a fight amoung peers at school equaled licks from the principal, a few days detention and probably a few more licks at home not jail time fines and loss of education. and when you failed a paper or class or grade THEN YOU FAILED cuz that what you earned and thats what you got. a time when teachers were allowed to teach and parents allowed to parent.

  12. Van says:

    Thank you for this article and the comments.

  13. Bella_Rose says:

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. It sounds as if your son exhausted all the other options available to him, and sometimes it’s the only thing that will get through to someone.. If only more people would do that when it was necessary maybe we wouldn’t have so many jerks running around…

  14. Trina says:

    Violence is never the answer. It is the question and the answer is sometimes “yes!”

  15. Amanda says:

    I tell my kids to stand up for themselves! I don’t think he did anything wrong. Shame on the parents, hopefully the bully learned his lesson, and as for the boy who hit the bully and felt bad. I agree he has a good heart. He is the victim here.

  16. Karli says:

    I try to teach my kids that you don’t ever start it, but you sure as heck finish it. This also goes for if you see someone hurting someone else who can’t defend themselves.

  17. Jason says:

    I would like to say that even though the word “gay” has been used in a derogatory way, it is only because our society has made it that way. I define the word as being happy, or full of glee…if you will. Calling someone gay is nowhere near being on par with the word nigger. Yeah I said it. Its just a word. Its one that can be hurtful, but if they can call each other that all day, then they should fuck off if they have a problem with me saying it without trying to hurt sometimes feelings.

    My point is that people need to stop being such politically correct crybabies and grow a thicker skin. They are just words, not a gun pointed at your head.

    Merry Christmas.

  18. Bethany Herwegh says:

    Here is the thing, lets say the exact same scenario happens at school: a kid is bothering your kid and wont stop. You notice the other kid never got physical with your kid. So your kid punches the kid to get the kid out of his face. Guess who gets suspended. YOUR KID! In a different time I would say you handled the situation just fine. But this is 2011 and YOUR kid will labeled a ‘bully’ for hitting the other kid. The principal will say the other kid never got violent and therefore your kid is at fault, especially because your kid threw the first punch. Gd forbid your kid goes for the other kid’s nards because then he will be suspended for sexual harassment like that 7 year old in the news. What you ‘should’ have done is said to the other kid, “if you bother him one more time I am speaking with your parents” and then followed through. BTW, this is what happened to my 6 year old. Yes, my 6 year old was suspended because he hit a kid that was calling him names. The other kid wasn’t punished. Oh, and the mom of that other kid came up to me SCREAMING that my son was a bully and how dare he hit her son. Frankly, I am surprised the parents of the boy your son hit didn’t confront you in regards to your son hitting him. *sigh*. I wish we lived in a time when boys could be boys, but unfortunately we dont. So next time, get the parents involved, dont have your son hit because the consequences can be very severe.

  19. heather says:

    heck yea!! id be proud. but as a parent i couldnt sit and watch him bully my kid. i would grab him by the shirt and make him take me to his parents.

  20. Ashley says:

    My first thought when I saw the headline was “Bad dad! Violence is never the answer!” But after reading your story, my heart goes out to poor Lucas. The bully was relentless and you and Lucas did everything you could to ignore, avoid, and tell him to stop. Violence is sometimes necessary, but should always be a LAST RESORT, just as it was with your story. I hope Lucas never has to use his fists again to solve a problem. You did the best you could, and honestly, I don’t know that I would have done anything different in the same situation.

  21. tina says:

    i say if my child was in that situation (which he has been) and the parent confronts me (which they have) i have no problem pointing out that my child was defending himself and that it is this particular action of sticking up for their son’s wrong doing that lets the child think it’s ok. if the parent feels the need to show their bullying side to me i have absolutely no problem defending my child and his actions. my child is VERY passive, i have seen how much he can and will take before it is too much. i thuroughly despise bullying and i, just as much, despise parents who let it happen. with that being said i also have a daughter who was being a bully and i took care of that… quickly! bullying is never ok! i have been bullied… horribly bullied…. and then blamed for it when i didn’t even act out against it. there is no way to protect your child from the school system when there is a situation, because a lot of schools have decided that even if only one child is name calling or hitting they are both guilty. i will never strip my children the right to defend theirselves. violence is a terrible thing, but i am a mother who doesn’t like to see her children hurt and miserable. disagree with my opinion, if you will, but it will not change. say negative things about me, my parenting, and whatever else and it still will not change.

  22. Apri says:

    I don’t like advocating violence. I am very anti-bullying though so I can understand why you were upset, but don’t condone violence ever.

    Why not approach the lifeguards or management about it? It could have gotten that family kicked out. Serves them right. Why not ask that kid where his parents are? Why not look around till you find that kids parents? Why not grab the supersoaker away from that kid yourself and tell him he can have it back when his parents come talk to me to get it back so I can tell them how you were acting? All other ways to deal with this.

    I am not afraid of getting onto another kid or even getting rough with another kid. If anyone is getting violent, it will be me. Not my kids. There was probably another way to deal with this. I would have gotten lifeguards and management involved. That is their job after all. That probably would have taken care of it.

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