How to Teach 3 Year Old to Defend Himself

Updated on July 05, 2011
S.P. asks from Dallas, TX
16 answers

When my son is either at the park or daycare another child will either take his toy or hit him and he does nothing when at the park I tell him to take his toy back and I tell the offending kid to play nice so far I've been lucky that the parent of the offending child see there child taking his toy and they become embarrassed and correct their child . This week my son' s day care teacher brought it to my attention that the other kids will hit my son and he just stand there and cries the (she) the teacher let's me knows she tells the kids to stop no hitting but I know she can only do so much I know my son needs to defend him self I've noticed this problem with him every since he was 18 months old that he lets the other kids pick on him I'm at my wits end as to what to do??!! I do not want to teach my son to be violent or to became a bully just to defend himself if another kid hits him or take his toys even his daycare teacher said that he needs to know how to defend himself. I've talk to other parents so far and nothing has helped. I can't always be around to protect him from bullies, Thanks for the input .

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answers from San Francisco on

Role play. He needs to learn to use his words. He needs to get comfortable telling an offending child, "do not hit me!" in a big strong voice.
Teaching hit to hit back does nothing, it teaches him to respond to violence with violence. There may be times in his life where hitting back out of self defense is acceptable but these are preschoolers on a playground.
I think a lot of adults would be better off to learn to use their words as well :(

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answers from Austin on

Teach him to use his words. And teach him to use them "firmly".

Practice these responses to others being mean, taking toys, or hitting.
Teach him how to lower his voice and say it firmly.

"Johnny, That was not nice."
"Johnny, we do not hit!"
"Johnny, If you wanted the ball, ask to share."
:Johnny, I am going to tell Ms. Smith, if you do not give me back the ball, right now!"

One more thing.. Hitting back is not acceptable. In school there is Zero Tolerance,. Better to teach him to handle this now with his voice and body language than to teach him one way and then have to unteach him.

He is old enough to be able to ask for what he wants and to ask for others to follow the rules.

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answers from Kansas City on

I was just going through this with an almost 6 year old boy here in my daycare this morning. My grandson is almost 2 and he randomly hits. He's not mad. He just hasn't figured out yet that we mean what we say and that it's wrong or why or I'm just not sure.

Anyway, this is what I told Connor to do this morning. I told him to keep and eye on what AJ is doing and when he gets close to him and starts to raise his hand I want Connor to put his hand out, palm up, and say stop loud. I told him that he can't hit him. But if he puts his arm out and AJ runs into it, then he's not hitting and he has to yell stop so that AJ will get the message. Also, it lets me know what's going on if my attention was elsewhere.

This isn't perfect. It's possible for any child to pretend there is a problem and even yell stop while hitting. But we have to let them do something. So I'll work with them both and the other children until this phase stops.

I am HORRIFIED and rather P I $$ E D at those of you telling them to hit back as hard as they can. You need to grow up. Some kids are very strong and they could do something VERY bad. Hitting back is NOT the answer. What if they think hitting AS HARD AS YOU CAN is always right and they happen to have a sharp toy in their hand. The other kid might need stitches or WORSE.

I suppose my answer will be pulled because I'm not being supportive enough. WHATEVER. I have had parents tell me that and I've told them that their child WILL be disciplined if they hit back PERIOD. It's my butt on the line if they hurt each other. If one of my kids get seriously hurt the authorities will be citing me! So keep your rediculous eye for an eye stuff to yourself if you are going to take your angels out in public. Do you honestly think your children are perfect and won't ever be the one hitting first? What if some 50 pound 4 year old child hits back your 35 pound 3 year old as HARD AS THEY CAN and YOU are the parent taking YOUR kid to the hospital?

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answers from Williamsport on

My son was 2 1/2 when he was being hit and picked on every day at my gym daycare by a 3 year old. My kids were all FIRMLY disciplined for hitting before age two, so my son KNEW hitting was wrong and he didn't hit back (and they say spanking teaches kids to hit). He was crying when I dropped him off, and finally I found out from the daycare lady that a certain bratty kid, who was aggressive with everyone, had been targeting my son. She was putting him in time outs (just like his mommy) so of course every time he popped out of time out, he would slug my son. I didn't blame the daycare provider for not being able to effectively discipline the kid-not her job, but I did blame the mom. I confronted the mom and asked her is she was disciplining her kid for hitting, because he was always hitting mine. She gave some load about logical consequences and time outs (I know what the logical consequences are for slugging people actually, and it's not that the victim will put you in a time out).

That DAY at home I taught my son that if a bully hits you, First you yell "STOP IT!". If they hit you again, you hit them back. I then rehearsed with him and let him hit me and knock me down by pretending to be the bully. The next day at the day care, my son was getting nervous at drop off, so I reminded him and encouraged him what to do about the bully. I told the daycare worker my son had permission to defend himself and she was all for it. I heard the screams from the treadmill. The bully hit my son, and my son hit him so hard he fell down. The mom was in hysterics (the kid was also a tantrummer, so he had everyone convinced that falling on the carpet had caused him insufferable damage and was screaming at the top of his lungs). I gave her that "really?" kind of look. The kid never hit my son again. He did however, hit an infant in the head with a heavy toy truck -which the infant's dad did NOT take kindly to-at which point they finally quit coming to the gym.

Now my son is 3, he speaks up and yells at aggressive kids at the park. He knows how to identify the mean behavior and not to side with bullies EVER. He hasn't had to fight back again, but he knows he can and should, and when he's 4, he's going into Tai Kwon Do (the starting age here). I had the same lessons and rehearsals with his big sister, now 5, and they both defend their youngest sister (2) who has a large birthmark on her face which draws a lot of mean comments from other kids. She'll be getting the self defense lessons big time soon.
If my kids ever get into fights at school, I'll know if they were retaliating or not, and I'll have their back one hundred percent. And if they get in trouble for fighting at school, even for retaliation, I'll back up the school in their measures, and home school during their suspensions, but they won't be in trouble with me, because the important thing is that other kids know they are not targets. So that whole, "You're kids can't hit back because of school policy" is not my concern. My kids know right and wrong, and they can hit back.

Explain to your son, if someone snatches his toy, he can yell at them and snatch it back, or let it go if he doesn't mind. Rehearse. If a kid speaks meanly to him, he should speak up right away, "Hey, that's mean." Rehearse. If a kid hits him, he should yell "Stop" and tell someone, or hit back. Rehearse. He needs to get comfortable with this, because if there is a delay in self defense, the bully gains power. Speaking up right away will put the bully off onto easier targets. These are not things a nice kid from a good home will know on his own. (mine didn't). Teach him how to react, step by step, clearly. It's actually good for the bully too, to learn at an early age what happens when you mistreat other kids, in case their parents aren't being clear enough.

Kids are really undisciplined and mean these days and their parents make excuses for them. I have heard really evil things being said to my youngest about her "ugly face" by 4 and 5 year olds while parents sheepishly laugh and ignore it with a "kids don't know better" shrug and NO action. My kids would NEVER get away with that kind of cruelty. You have to arm your son.

And there are lots of parents out there like SLM much more worried about the retaliators than the kids who struck first. Why isn't your butt on the line when a large child strikes a smaller one for no reason? Are you just as firm with the parents of hitters as those of retaliators? The whole point is that some parents teach their kids to ONLY hit back while others never even bother teaching their kids not to hit. My kids know I do not allow them to hit others (first) AND that other kids would hit them back if they attacked them. Both valuable lessons.

You can teach them to walk away and tell someone now, but it will be harder to teach them to stand up for themselves later than if you teach it from the start. All the most recent bullying studies have concluded that the turn the other cheek and walk away mentality was great back when society was stricter and your teacher or parents would actually handle bullies, but now kids must defend themselves, and walking away and ignoring will show the bully you're scared and they will continue to harass you. Most of the bullied, depressed, suicidal kids today never fought back.This is for slightly older kids, sure, but learning younger only helps. My son was like a new happy kid with the weight of the world off his shoulders once he knew what to do about a bully, He hasn't had to do anything since, and he's not aggressive. He's just not scared and crying before daycare now.
You know who doesn't like the "It's OK to hit back" philosophy? Parents of hitters who don't want to discipline it and want everyone else to tolerate it.

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answers from Phoenix on

Why not teach him to stand up for himself in a civil manner? At that age, the adult supervising can & should get involved - kids are too young to have to work everything out on their own at that age.

It sounds like he is passive or has confidence issues, so I think working on being more assertive & avoiding mean kids or walking away from bad situations would teach him more in the long run.

I don't know that teaching him to hit back is the best idea, personally. When he goes to school, he will get in trouble for hitting, whether or not he started it. Schools don't condone fighting, period. What if a girl hits him? Are you going to encourage him to hit a girl, too? What if a one year old kid hits him & he hits back & hurts the kid? He's only 3, encouraging him to hit back could get confusing for him.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I told my daughter at that age, never to hit first, but that if someone hit her, she was to hit back as hard as she could.
Your son won't "became a bully just to defend himself."
Bullying isn't defending yourself - it's attacking another person without cause. Defending yourself is simply responding to an attack and refusing to allow someone to continue to hurt you.

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answers from Seattle on

Require him to use a "strong voice" in all situations. Get him in the habit of doing so, always, even with you. A strong voice is loud enough to be heard clearly, not mumbled, fairly low-pitched (not whiny), and spoken directly towards the person who needs to hear it (not to the ground). Eye contact is good, if that's within your cultural norms. A strong voice is not aggressive, nor passive, just clear assertive communication.

"Juice please!"
"I'm ready to go now!"
"Thank you for the candy!"

If he is in the habit of speaking loudly and clearly about everything, it will be easier for him to say "don't hit me!" in a loud clear voice. This will both help get bullies to back off *and* draw the attention of parents and teachers who can help.

I wouldn't recommend teaching him to hit back at this age. Most childcare/school groups have at least one manipulative kid who loves to provoke a kid into whacking them, then play the victim. Not all bullying is overt and obvious. The kids who have been taught to "fight back" are often the easiest victims for manipulator-type bullies.

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answers from Redding on

Role play. How do YOU want your kid to respond? You have to teach them what to do.

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answers from Seattle on

For being hit, pinched or any kind of physical violence I teach my daughter (3.5) to remove herself from the situation and find an adult to tell. Physical violence is unacceptable in our daycare (and as far as I know in the schools as well) and the offender will get a timeout (not just being told to stop).
In our daycare it is NOT OK to hit back. As a matter of fact I don't know even of any school where it is ok to hit back. If kids do get in a fight where both are hitting, both kids will be punished, no matter who started it. I personally would not want to teach my child a behavior that will get a suspended from school in a few years...
I also tell my daughter to be assertive and use her words. Few kids of that age hit randomly (other than younger kids, which still may lash out at random to test reactions). There is usually something leading up to the incident and I try to teach her to recognize conflict situations and try to resolve them before it escalates (like telling the other child what she wants instead of just taking it, asking for a turn, telling someone it's her turn and they can be next...).
It''s hard to see your child in a conflict, but it's important they learn conflict resolution without adult intervention. Hitting though is never ok.
Good luck.

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answers from Dallas on

Your child is at a very young age to be taught to hit back as some others suggested. That will only cause him to go up to be aggressive toward others. He needs to learn to tell the child "no" and go to an adult. A class like karate or Tae Kwon Do can give him that confidence. My daughter is 3 and takes Tae Kwon Do and loves it. However, she is taught that she only punches or kicks in class or when she is practicing with Mommy or Daddy. Several people say that the day care provider can only do so much. You need to be an advocate for your son and tell them that something needs to be done to protect your son. They need to remove the other child from the situation for an extensive amount of time if he is being hit. If that doesn't work, he needs to be moved to another class or have toys taken away.....whatever works for that child. There is always something that will affect the child and cause them to not want to hit anymore. I am very sorry that your child is dealing with this.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I am a firm believer in teaching boys to hit back if they are hit. They are not being bullies by defending themselves either so don't look at it that way. Take the previous poster's advice and role play with your son so he knows what to do.

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answers from Gainesville on

One of the things they do in my daughter's music class is sing the song about Bunny Foo Foo and one of the parts they stress is the mouse telling Bunny "Stop! That hurts me!" when someone uses their hands not their words. My daughter was barely 2 and she's would tell her brother that phrase if the was playing too rough with her.

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answers from Dallas on

I have had this same issue with my son since he was 2.....he's 5 now. He hasn't been in the hitting situation, necessarily, but more on the taking-the-toy, cutting-in-front-of, pushing-out-of-the-way situations. My son just lets it happen. I haven't known what to do all these years. I've always just told him if a kid(s) are being mean, saying mean things, not playing nice, to just say to him/her "If you can't play nice/share/stop saying mean things, I don't want to be your friend." I've told him, then, if it continues one more time, walk away and play something/somewhere else. My son is very shy, so he's never used those words, just walked away, which I'm okay with. If he only learns that walking away from a situation he's not comfortable with is the best thing to do, I'm happy he's listened to that part of my advice.

As far as the hitting, that's a tough one. Since you have a boy, it's important he learns to defend himself...HOWEVER, he IS 3 years old. That might be too young to teach what protection means. I'd wait on the teaching of defense and just focus on teaching him to walk away/get a parent or teacher to make it stop. I am enrolling my son in tae kwon do this fall in hopes that he can learn the PROPER ways of defense in case that situation ever comes up for him.

Good Luck and God Bless.

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answers from Dallas on

I think your child is acting completely normal. Some kids are more aggressive, some are more passive. I taught preschool for a bit and there were those that were hitters, and those that were hit. I would not encourage him to hit the child back or anything like that. Defending himself will come with time, I don't know that you can "teach" a 3 year old that, especially when it's happening at school and you aren't there to coach him. If you were to see someone hit him at home, you can go to him and say "that hurt, tell John 'NO HIT'". That's about all you can expect from a 3 year old. If someone takes his toy, same thing, "tell him you are playing with that and maybe he can borrow it when you are done". The rest will come with age.

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answers from Bloomington on

I don't know what the answer is. But I agree that violence isn't necessarily the answer.

I do think he's old enough to be asking nicely for the toy back and letting them know it's his toy. Also he'll defend himself when he's ready. He needs to learn he can ask for help and get help from an adult, but don't jump in on your own. Unless it's something major. A kid takes a toy, it's not too major.

When he's older there's always Tae Kwan Do classes and such. But for now, all you can do is give suggestions on how to help his situation.

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answers from Washington DC on

While I don't condone violence - I TOTALLY support Tae Kwon Do or other martial arts training and the age of 3 is NOT too early!!!

It also sounds like at this young age - this hurts me, sorry - that he has no self-confidence and doesn't feel worthy of himself to stand up and say NO. With my kids - I have told them it is OKAY to SAY NO!!

Ask your son WHY he lets people treat him this way...when someone takes the toy or hits him - WHY does he LET them do it? Keep it simple at 3 - the vocabulary isn't stellar - but TALK with him and find out what's going on..

My 11 year old is a black belt. My 9 year old is a red belt in Tae Kwon Do - it does NOT promote violence - it TEACHES self-control, self-defense and much more.

I wish you much luck and hope that your son is able to know he's a valuable person and deserves to be treated that way!

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