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01st Feb 2024

Psychologist sparks debate after instructing parents to tell their children to hit bullies

Charlie Herbert

‘I think it is fine for children to hear that fighting has its place’

Giving your kids advice on what to do if they’re being bullied is very tricky for parents. You don’t want to give them advice that will make things worse, but you also don’t want to do nothing and not change things.

The old adage is that you shouldn’t react to bullies. Don’t give them the response or attention that they’re looking for.

But one psychologist has gone against this by suggesting that parents should encourage their kids to fight back against bullies.

In an opinion piece for the Irish Independent, clinical psychologist David Coleman argued that children should fight back instead of walking away from physical aggression.

Coleman, who is a father of three himself, said children would benefit from hitting back, writing: “In my experience, and the experience of many of the youngsters that I have worked with, if an initial physical attack is not met with some degree of physical response, then it tends to happen again.

“If another child discovers that they can push someone around, they often continue to do so.”

Coleman pointed out there were differences between physical abuse and psychological, cyber, and verbal bullying, and that there are “separate and discrete ways of responding to them too.”

“Responding, like for like, is not the best way of dealing with these kinds of bullying,” he wrote.


Although he said he does not advocate violence, he continued: “I think it is fine for children to hear that fighting has its place. I think it is fine for children to believe that it is acceptable to push back against someone who has intentionally pushed them.”

Speaking to TODAY, he said he wants schools to do their bit to protect children from bullying behaviour by creating policies that “ensure that the core attitude and ethos in the school is that children are welcome, and encouraged, to tell if they see bullying in action.”

He added: “This empowers both the bystanders and the child being targeted and gives them further alternatives in terms of potential responses. It also reduces the ‘invisibility’ of most forms of bullying.”

Not everyone agrees with Coleman’s ethos though, with child development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa saying: “Responding physically to physical attacks is not the right first response.”

She did agree that “we cannot allow children to become victimized” though, so if a child is “met with physical threats, he or she needs to know that they have the right to defend themselves physically.”

She said it would be “unreasonable” for parents to limit “the ways in which a child may defend themselves from attack” due to their discomfort.

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