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August 27, 2008


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Amen, MD! I think I'm going to start teaching my kids your philosophy. Makes perfect sense to me!


MD you have it just right. Sometimes you have to push back and kids need to learn it sooner rather than later. But as you also pointed out,they need to learn it after they learn to be polite. Well done.

Jake D.

Maybe I'm more cynical (I've been a lawyer for 15 years) but I've always thought that the "use your words" mantra was enforced by teachers to protect themselves from any liability.


I have to admit that I'm a little surprised, MD. Call me a dippy hippie but I firmly teach my children that physical violence should NEVER be used. Only bad things can happen when things get physical. No good can come out of it. And I don't think it's a lesson we should be teaching our children!


Because of this post, you are my hero. Also I have a man crush on your blog design.


I used to feel similar to Leora above but my son is now six and has experienced the negative aspect of "using NO physical violence." It simply does not work because there are kids that prey on the "weak."

I have always taught him that actions have reactions, similar to MD. I now talk to him in the same terms that they use in karate... don't be on the offensive, but be on the defensive. Attempt to disarm your opponent. So, if someone hits or pushes, my son will politely tell them to keep their hands to themselves. If it continues, he uses his defense moves. I saw him grab another kids fist as it was coming towards his chest. He held it, looked right at the kid and then swung it back towards the kid! It was brilliant. And that kid hasn't bothered him since. A friend of mine has taught her daughter-- don't start it, but if you have to, you certainly can finish it!
Metro, I think you are right. The scary part of it is that their are crazies out there with knives and guns, more so then when we were growing up, but you just have to hope that your child makes fully informed decisions and has good sense!


Hmm. I'm on the fence. This was a good story, a positive one. But.

Ideally, you want to raise your kid to be someone who just doesn't get pushed in the first place.

Not always possible, true.

What happens when the pusher just pushes back harder though, and then beats the crap out of them. Or shoots them.

I don't know. I wouldn't say never push back - but nor would I advocate getting into a fight, not at this age.

I dunno.

When my little girl, henceforth known as Olivia on the blogosphere, was much smaller, her dad finally took her to the community playgroup I'd been trying to get him to attend. A mother came in with a little boy and ignored him as he ran around taking toys, hitting kids, causing upset. He started following my daughter very closely, and her dad thought, oh no, here we go, I have to step in. Olivia just turned around and shouted 'I'M OLIVIA!!!' in his face - and he ran away! I am woman, hear me roar!


There was this little girl Sophie who was bullying my daughter every day at school. Sophie would take things from my daughter, push her, and even stole her lunch a few times. The teachers didn't do a damn thing. I don't really blame them. How can two teachers watch over 20 little kids?

However, it got to the point where my daughter didn't want to go to school. Using her words hadn't gotten her anywhere and she miserable.

My husband decided that our daughter should physically defend herself and beat up the other little girl. I was completely opposed to the idea and we got into a huge argument.

Anyway, the next day, my daughter was pushed by Sophie and decided to push her back hard. Really hard. Sophie started crying but you know what? She never pushed my daughter again. In fact, now they're close friends!


Wow, i hadn't thought of things that way. I like your parenting mantra. and obviously that other boy got what was coming, but it couldn't come from you, only from Peanut. we'll have to see how to integrate that one.

as a a side note, when i say to my girls "use your words" it's usually to say TO ME what they want rather than go from being calm directly into full blown temper tantrum mode.


@Jo regarding "Ideally, you want to raise your kid to be someone who just doesn't get pushed in the first place."

I like the idea of MetroDad teaching Peanut some TaeKwonDo or Judo and not even letting that kids hand get anywhere near her. He be on the floor crying even before he got a chance to push. that's not violence, that's self-defense.


Please, PLEASE write a book about this! I think we (your devoted blogowers (blog followers) can make it a best seller within a week and change a generation of kids... who will make sure to not make THEIR kids pussies.


I forgot to put a second ")" in my comment.


It's what I have taught my daughter.

When she was small, a small kid would bite her. Daycare knew who it was, but couldn't catch him in the act. Finally, they saw it go down. The kid would bite my daughter, she would push him away, and go back to playing having never cried during the whole event.

Some responses need not be so hard, but some do. My daughter has also noticed when kids don't play with someone. She takes it on herself to play with them once in awhile. She makes me so proud.

I would use the phrase, "use your words", when my daughter was young and wanted something or was mad but wouldn't talk, just sort of whine and make noises.

SciFi Dad

I wholeheartedly agree with your philosophy, although my wife doesn't, which means that we don't practice your philosophy. ;)

I wish more parents thought like you did (or, at a minimum, my wife wasn't so blinded by non-violent propaganda that she'd listen to reason).


This is a fascinating philosophy and I agree that kids are coddled too much. I'm not sure I'd take it quite as far as you do, in terms of actively telling her, "You know what to do," but I've always thought of "use your words" as something to be used when a kid is whining and crying. As in, "When you're ready to stop whining and use your words, I'll be ready to listen."

One thing to be careful of with a philosophy like yours is what happens if the situation escalates in a place where you aren't in charge as the parent. For example, if she gets in a fight at school when she's older, regardless of whether or not you think that her actions were acceptable, most schools have a policy of punishing all kids who were involved in the fight, no matter who started it. And that kind of thing can wind up on records, etc. Not necessarily the biggest deal, but it's difficult to establish a philosophy like yours when the other authorities in your child's world aren't presenting a united front.

Metro Dad,

You're awesome and I totally agree. My wife and I run a preschool, so I've got the perspective covered.

When my son was two and a half, there was another two and a half year old that started calling me daddy. This pissed my boy off in a quiet way. He took obvious note, and after about the fourth or fifth time, he asked the other child to stop. They wouldn't.

Later, at the park, the kid calls me daddy while standing at the edge (a small drop) of these metal steps. My kid pushes them over the lip, then jumps down on top of them, and says, "I said not to call him Daddy!"

Of course I had to discipline my boy, but I was super proud of him.

Writer Dad

Metro Dad,

You're awesome and I totally agree. My wife and I run a preschool, so I've got the perspective covered.

When my son was two and a half, there was another two and a half year old that started calling me daddy. This pissed my boy off in a quiet way. He took obvious note, and after about the fourth or fifth time, he asked the other child to stop. They wouldn't.

Later, at the park, the kid calls me daddy while standing at the edge (a small drop) of these metal steps. My kid pushes them over the lip, then jumps down on top of them, and says, "I said not to call him Daddy!"

Of course I had to discipline my boy, but I was super proud of him.

Eric J.

"You want to know what I teach the Peanut? That actions have consequences. That one must always take responsibility for one's own actions."

I honestly believe that these really are the two most important things we can pass on to our children. Personal responsibility seems to have gone the way of the dodo bird.


I agree with your general philosophy in that there are times when words don't work and unfortunately there are some kids who are physical and will push it until they are confronted in a like manner. My approach is don't start it, use words first, walk away if you can, but bottom line, defend yourself when you have to. I know schools have rules about fighting and it's reasonable that they do, but if my son was being bullied or similar and he fought back, I would be perfectly fine receiving a call from the school about his actions and wouldn't punish him in any way for defending himself.


Yep, totally agree. My son is big, so I worry more that he will be the one doing the pushing (please, God, let him not turn out to be a bully), but I do agree about the "use your words" thing. That's such a stupid saying.


I was just explaining to my daughter's anesthesiologist about how he shouldn't worry too much about his 14 month old daughter's brutish behavior in the sandbox. He can manage that more easily than watching helplessly as your child gets pushed around. It sucks to watch your kid not defend himself. My son used to be very quiet and easily run over by other kids (for about a month) and then grew big enough to not feel intimidated and hold his ground...and start the occasional shoving match, but I totally expect the other child to respond in kind and both corresponding parents to chime in about how to behave by using our words.

Words are powerful, but sometimes not enough.

Yours truly,
The world's biggest [w]uss.

Rattling the Kettle

That's it! I'm flying over there and kicking your ass!


Often women are expected to be nice or to grin an bear it. She is learning from her father (the most important man in her life) that she should expect and/or demand civil treatment from others and that includes boys and the men in her future. Or she could develop a love of boxing...

Catherine G

You need to have your own parenting column, MD. You always bring such a great perspective to the job.

Angie in Texas

@ jess: are we as a population SOOOO concerned about a "record" of a fight that happens in the kindergarten that we instead risk raising children to be irresponsible wussies?

i practice a similar form of parenting with my 8 and 6 year olds. my 8 y.o. was being harassed last year and after taking it and taking it, she pushed the boy back. when the teacher called me to tell me about the incident, i told her my feelings about the situation. was my daughter punished? yes. but 1. the boy never bothered her again, 2. she learned her actions have consequences and 3. she's responsible for those actions.

i taught at a UNIVERSITY as a graduate student last year and it's disgusting how whiny and self-righteous some of the students were . . . as if *I* was the one who made the "D". what's worse? having parents call me to discuss the grades - of 22 YEAR OLDS.


It's funny that someone mentioned TawKwonDo. My 8-year-old daughter is very small and was often bullied quite a bit when she was younger. Two years ago, a TaeKwonDo school opened in our neighborhood so we signed her up for classes. She loved it.

Not only has it given her an inner self-confidence but she no longer allows herself to get bullied at school. She calmly uses her words when being pushed around but if kids go too far, she knows that she can defend herself physically.

Needless to say, nobody pushes her around anymore.

pixie sticks

you rule.


My parents held this philosophy, pretty much.
"Mooom Kaleb won't leave me alone"
"You figure it out."

Another time a girl at school would not stop bullying me. I tried to ask her to stop, she didn't. I beat the crap out of her, and she left me alone. Her parents called mine, and mine just said "Well, she got what she deserved. You didn't do anything about the bullying, and we're not going to do anything about the fight."

As an adult, I have found that I have a very sharp tongue. People leave me alone because I will rip them down.

Sara GH

That is a lesson that is under taught to kids today


You rock.

We filmed this a couple of months ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5CWh7kCZxM

Told Sweet Pea that if she has a problem she should tell the nearest grownup. If there are no grownups, however... she needs to be able to handle herself.


That was totally awesome. I totally agree with you. We have a bunch of children acting like grown ups in the this society.

Sleep Deprivation Ninja

It's definitely a 'mess with me once, don't do it again. Mess with me twice, get your face fucking destroyed, bitch' kinda world.

I can't tell you how many friendships I've made through getting hit and punching someone back.

Ninjas are actually believers in non-violent communication... but with the understanding that not everyone speaks the same language and sometimes, you've got to meet people at their level.

Black Hockey Jesus

The Black Hockey Kids will be wolves in a world full of sheep. WOLVES, METRODAD!

Ten Feet

I wholeheartedly disagree with the idea that violence is "never" a good thing. Life is a complicated business that has a low tolerance for absolutes such as "never" or "always".

The problem with teaching kids never to take a situation into their own hands is that sometimes authority is either lacking or not benevolent.

On another note, the world is full of women who live as victims because they've been taught to not fight back.

I think you're doing the right thing. For now, the lesson for the Peanut is that, if addressing the bully directly doesn't work, and the authority of the moment (i.e., the kid's parent) is ineffectual, she should push back and stand up for herself. I'm down with that, because that's basically the level of complexity of disputes at that age.

I think people who worry about lawsuits, permanent records, etc. are oversimplifying the matter, as though this same playground lesson would get carried unaltered through your kid's entire life. I'm assuming that, since you seem to be an intelligent and thoughtful guy, your lessons on when and how to fight back will evolve as she gets older and her life takes on more nuance.

Fighting back takes different forms, which can be learned as a person's life evolves, whether it's pushing back on the playground or filing that anti-discrimination suit against your company. The important thing is to establish early that individuals have not only permission, but the right--and the obligation--to fight back when necessary.

You do other people a favor, too. Teaching your kid to take responsibility and act is something that benefits everyone, as long as you also teach good judgment about when it's appropriate. Bullies (whether we're talking the big, angry kid on the playground or the mean girl in high school or some soul-crushing corporation) rarely have just the one victim, but it often takes only one person to fight back to stop the abuse.


I work in a Junior High School (8th & 9th) and you would not believe the disrespect these kids have now towards adults and their peers. I think it is because they have never been held accountable for their actions. Your perspective hit the mark. Once - nicely, twice - I am going to stand up to you. And yes, be prepared to be hauled away in cuffs if you are at school. But, at times (not always) the one in the right doesn't get carted off. Oh and I would love to meet OLIVIA!


If you ever start an island Nation of MetroDad, I would like to request citizenship for me, Maddie, and Riley.

No Pussies Allowed.


We've always taught our kids "Don't start, just finish". We've been to the school many times because someone else's kid started something and ours finished it. Both kids get in trouble but in almost every situation, the other kid started it.

We raised our children to be non-violent and never resort to violence unless someone came at them first.

The hard truth is that there's a bunch of screwed up people raising screwed up kids. You gotta prepare your kids for almost anything!

As James Brown once said, "Don't start none, won't be none".

Hygiene Dad

Only you could combine another life lesson with the phrase 'Xeroxing your bunghole'. Fuck, you are brilliant.

Our son is taking Taekwondo for this very reason. Discipline is important as well as realizing that violence isn't the first method to solving things. HOWEVER, don't get your ass kicked by solely practicing diplomacy with your 6 year old classmates.

A Free Man

Interesting post, I'm not sure where I stand on this having not quiet gotten to the point where this kind of stuff starts.

I personally abhor physical violence, but recognize that sometimes that's where things end up, so I'd be setting my boy up for a fall if he didn't understand that.

Anyway, great thought provoking post.


I am in total agreement with you on this. Unfortunately, my husband doesn't really agree. I obviously need to work on him.


Amen. Its so nice to know I'm not the only one thinking thus way. Sure, I want ms daughter to try and "work it out" when she is having a problem. But I also want her to stick up did herselfwhen necessary. A push on the playground today is who knows what in high school/college, you know?


(wow. Sorry for the typos on my original comment. I shouldn't type in a moving vehicle, I guess!)


you're good. and i totally agree with you...

that's why i'll be teaching the son too.


I guess I'm in the tiny minority here. I actually use the phrase "use your words" because I found my son hitting because he honestly couldn't express himself and it was just EASIER to hit than to tell another kid that he wanted his toy back.

As an adult, I found that a number of the fights I witnessed were between two grown people who had similar inabilities to express themselves.

My son is four now. If I don't get a handle on his impulse to hit now, there will be hell to pay down the road. So yeah, I'll teach him to use his words.


I love the example you gave.

I must say, however, that when *I* told my son to use his words, it was usually because he was grunting or whining rather than telling me what he wanted. Pointing and going "ungh" is not the way to get something.


A-fucking-men! I can't tell you how many times I've wished another kid would just sock my kid! It would save me from having to give the no hitting lecture. Again.

This can be wildly unpopular, but I spank my kids for basically the same reasons. I have a litmus test for spanking: hurt me, your sister or the dog and expect a red bottom. I can't tell you how much it annoys me when people say, "but you're teaching your kids that violence is okay!". No, I'm teaching them exactly the opposite.


Agree! That's how I was raised and that's how I intend to raise my daughter. I was picked on a lot when I was little and used to come home crying to my dad. He told me what to do, and a few fights later all were a distant memory.


Oh MetroDad,

I've always enjoyed your blog, but now, I can truly say that I LOVE your blog. Amen and hear hear and all that business!

creative-type dad

Amen Brother!
I would say this applies much more for those raising boys these days as schools, and now parents are trying to demasculinize boys.

Defending oneself should never be called condoning violence.


Totally tangential, but in my world "use your words" is my response to the wordless whining Ada enjoys. I'm okay with her defending herself, but there are no snacks for a child who warbles crazily instead of asking for the cracker.

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