Northern Ireland news

‘Let children fight back against playground bullies'

If a physical attack leads to a physical response, like a shove, or a thump, there is rarely a `second go', argues psychologist David Coleman

A LEADING clinical psychologist has urged parents to give their children permission to `fight back' against playground bullies - even if it means getting into trouble at school.

David Coleman, who specialises in working with children, teenagers and their families and has fronted several RTÉ programmes, argues it is important for children who are regularly being "pushed, poked or tripped in the schoolyard" to "feel that they can assert themselves".

"I don't want my child to be aggressive, or domineering, but I do want them to show that they are not willing to let anyone push them around," he wrote in his Irish Independent column.

He said similar comments he had made recently on RTE radio had led to responses from "some parents and... (a couple of) primary school principals" who "feel that a child should submit to physical bullying".

Coleman questioned "what that will achieve, other than to identify them as a future target for more of the same".

"One child (or group of children) is attacking another. Either this happens as a once-off occurrence, or if it is sustained, repeated and insidious, it becomes bullying," he said.

"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.

"... In most cases, if a physical attack leads to a physical response, like a shove, or a thump, it may develop into a full-blown fight, but that then tends to be the end of it. There is rarely a `second go'."

However, he argues that if a child submits to the first attack "they are at much greater risk of receiving another the next day" and that continuing.

Coleman questions why one child should be compelled to accept another's dominance.

"Who gave the other kid the right to push my child around? Nobody did. But children, absolutely, have the right to defend themselves," he said.

He cautioned against parents allowing their children to think that fighting is desirable or to strike first, but insisted "it is fine for children to hear that fighting has its place".

"I believe fighting fire with fire is an appropriate way to respond to physical bullying," he said.

He acknowledged that there will be consequences, such as injury to the child or the attacker and "your child might get sanctioned for fighting" by teachers, but he said it would be "worth it" in the long run.

Coleman also suggested teaching children martial arts or self-defence as children with such skills "often exude that extra self-assurance that can even prevent an attack".

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