Raising Kick Ass Girls

“Someone’s being mean up there!” they call. Their indignant voices reaching us before their socked feet and caught breaths do.

My girl’s voice carries the furthest.

They still by the round, gray, plastic table. Their shoulders grazing each other in stunning shades. Caramel, coffee, chocolate.

“Oh, I’m sorry that happened.” I say, sliding Chloe into my lap, where (thankfully) she still fits. I run my lips across her hair, noting that it glitters, even indoors.

“You’re alright.” The mother across from me says, squeezing her own daughter tight.

I catch her eye and we smile, ready to send our girls back up to play.

Beside me, the third mother at our table sits a titch taller, raises her bare chin, slits her almond shaped eyes, and flips her hair behind one shoulder.

It sways against her back as her own voice carries to all of our girls.

“Hit ’em back.” She says. Their eyes widen, and I admit, so do mine.

“You don’t need to be anyone‘s victim.” She adds. “Ever.”

She looks them in the eye, not releasing their gaze.

“That’s not nice, mama.” Her own daughter says, and that’s what gives me pause.

I spend so very much of my own mothering words on, “Be nice. Be kind. Be a good friend.”

But what if my messages were equally laced with, “Stand strong. You’re strong. I’ve got your back.”

All three girls heard this mother’s message. I saw it fuse from her eyes right into theirs.

And with their own versions of shoulders back and chins titled and even eyes slitted, they turned on their heels and went back into the bouncy and the climber and the slide.

They drew Brody in between them, their arms laced around his shoulders. Each of them only a head (or two) taller than his, but they were his protecters.

And they weren’t anyone‘s victim.

So I have to ask, could you give this advice? Should we?

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  1. It’s funny you write this Galit, because my husband and I have had this conversation numerous times. He does not want our girls to fall victim, so he has taught them that if they are hit, to hit back. Meanwhile, I’m the voice of what I believe to be reason, saying, “Tell a grown up.”. But there is some validity in standing ground, of speaking one’s mind, of dare I say it, hitting back. It’s that balance right? Great post!

  2. I love that they are naturally protective of the smaller ones. I’m not sure “Hit ’em back” would be my exact words, but yes, I would tell them to stand up tall and strong, and be brave. Be right.

  3. I was planning on writing about this topic but wasn’t able to quiet my mind enough to do that yesterday. My husband and I have this conversation all the time about our older son about how to raise a child who will stand up for themselves. For me, it’s as much about the mentality of standing strong as it is about physically protecting himself. Boys play rough sometimes.

  4. This is one of the toughest parenting calls. While I have a boy, it’s still something I struggle with, and I think it should work the same for girls. I don’t ever want my child to be the aggressor, ever, but I don’t want him to be bullied. He did “get in a fight” once, and he was defending a friend who was being bullied while another kid went for the camp counselor. We all must walk that tightrope of “it’s wrong to hit, but…”

    Shades of gray…so much of parenting is in those nuanced shades of gray…

  5. Oh so hard. So hard to create that balance of standing up for yourselves and not having to be aggressive. I don’t believe children need to be aggressive to stand up for themselves or others. But it is hard to teach them how to be confident, secure, and leaders. Sometimes unfortunately it is easier to just say hit them back.

    This bullying thing is a slippery slope.

  6. Ah! There is the facebook question explained. So you know my answer already. I like this mama. I agree with her answer. You don’t have to be anyone’s victim. Ever.

  7. I like her answer. I don’t know that I’ve told my kids to “hit back.” But the message “don’t be a victim” is oh-so-important for children to learn. We spend so much time asking them to be complacent that sometimes I think we forget to give them the skills to stand strong when they need to. And I want my girls to have that skill when they’re teenagers and out on a date with a boy who wants to go 10 steps too far, for example.

    • Yes, this. Exactly this.

      The messages that we send carry over to so very many situations for our kids, most of which we won’t be there for.


  8. I have given this advice. I was bullied as a child and I didn’t stand up to my bullies. I got lucky and they got suspended and that solved my problem. Last year, however, my children were being bullied on the way home from school and we had a long talk about standing up for yourself even if it means hitting back. We also talked about not ever starting a fight. It seems like a mixed message to tell them to be nice and then tell them that sometimes it’s ok to hit. But I think it is so very important that my children feel empowered enough to stand up for themselves. I hope I can teach them the difference between standing up for themselves and being mean.

    • I think anyone who was touched by any sort of bullying in their lives is so much more sensitive to this issue, and sees the shades of gray that Vino Baby was talking about more clearly, vividly.

      I love what you wrote about teaching them about different situations, and of course empowering them.

  9. Yeah, that’s a tough one. Obviously, I don’t want my girls to hit other people unless necessary for their safety. But I do want them to be confident…courageous…and independent thinkers. And I don’t want them to take any crap from anyone! (including me!)

  10. I couldn’t tell them to hit back because that goes against everything I stand for (and possibly preach about!), but I teach them to be assertive with their strong (but friendly) words. There is a certain power in “I don’t like that. Please don’t hit me again.”

    • I know that this goes against all that you stand for, sweet you.

      But I worry about the times when those words just aren’t enough,

  11. We can be strong with our words which is what I try to teach my children. There is no need to use violence.

  12. I talk about this with my kiddos (one boy, one girl). They’re both very passive, which can be a good quality, but it also allows kids to walk all over them. I’m trying to teach both of them to stand up for themselves. I often tell them NO ONE can make you do anything you don’t want to do. Just refuse (Unless, of course, it’s mom or dad trying to get them to pick up after themselves!).

    I don’t advocate using fists, but instead using their voices loud and clear. And firm. Question someone when they’re being mean. Ask them *why* they’re being mean. I bet that would stop some of them in their tracks.

  13. I struggle with this one a bit too. While I want to raise strong girls (I have 2 daughters) I want them to learn to be strong with their words and their actions not violence.

    But at the same time, I will be signing my daughters up for RAD (the Rape Defence course taught by our local police force) when they are teenagers because I want them to always know when they need to fight like hell (especially when words are not enough).

    I don’t have the answer – but I don’t think I’d tell my daughters it’s okay to hit back in that kind of a situation.

    As for my son… he is 4yo and VERY active so we are working on learning how to play gently especially with his sisters so I would NEVER EVER tell him he could hit anyone right now (too mixed a message) but as he gets older… one never knows.

  14. When the kids reached those middle school and high school years, we did let them know that if they were ever attacked physically or verbally, they had our permission to fight back and protect themselves but they were never to strike first. Fortunately that was never anything they had to do, but I’ve seen too many kids who have been taken advantage of by other kids over and over and over because they don’t stand up to it. One of my best friends has two kids who went through it from elementary school through HS graduation.

    • I love that you *had* the conversation – so very important to just let them know that we have their backs and to teach them that there is a line that we skate here – it’s just not cut and dry, is it?

  15. To clarify, when I say fight back, I mean verbal for verbal and physical for physical. But you probably knew that. 😉

  16. I would probably tell them to use words first, and just TELL the person that is not nice and to be kind to others. I’m pretty humble like that. This does not mean there has not been a time when I maybe have not wanted to SEE my child give ’em a good smack. Ahem.

  17. Never. Ever. I tell my kids to be strong in their words and convictions and to let someone know that ‘it hurts’ or ‘you hurt me’ or ‘don’t do that’ but never. Ever. would I say ‘hit them back.’

  18. I would never tell my kid to hit back. However, neither would I punish them for defending themselves.

  19. I think they should verbally stand tall.

  20. Such a fine line to draw between standing up for themselves and fighting back.
    You are a great mama, Galit :)

  21. I had this same debate this week. Someone through dirt in my son’s face. My advice (to a 2 year old) “Tell him you don’t like that. And go play with someone else. Don’t ever play with someone who hurts you.”

    I’m sure my message will change through the years. But I hope the substance doesn’t. Because we, none of us, should ever play with someone who’s mean to us.

  22. Hmm. It’s tough. Absolutely yes to stand up for yourself, perhaps no to “hit back.” Let them judge the situation and see how to defend themselves. Perhaps it would be possible to resolve in a more peaceful way. If it is, I’ll bet a child would have the wisdom to do it;

  23. What the hell? I’d never tell my kid to hit back. There is a difference between standing up for yourself and perpetuating violence. They are children. If they are in the process of being bullied, it is our job to identify the situation and remove them from harm. There will be plenty of other opportunities and situations to teach self reliance.

  24. Oh how this pulled at my heart. I believe so strongly in teaching my son NOT to hit. I think there are so many other ways to teach our children to be strong and stand up for themselves. I’m so surprised that other parents would encourage their children to hit. I love the way you presented this topic with the same melody of your beautiful words as always. This is such a thought provoking post.

  25. If it’s a playground kind of situation, I would never say, “Hit them back.” I would tell my daughter to say something like, “That’s not OK,” and then go tell an adult.

    Now that my daughter is in junior high school, it’s a little different. If anyone is harassing her, especially sexually, I told her to say something like, “Back off Asshole,” and then go tell the principal. And, in general, if anyone ever attacks her, go for the eyes, throat and crotch. Then run like hell and get help. Officials (i.e. police, managers, security) are best. If you can’t find one of these, look for a MOM! Moms don’t let people mess with kids.

    P.S. There was a man exposing himself to young girls in our neighborhood a couple years ago. This is when our more serious talks began.

  26. I’m not sure if I would ever say those exact words out loud in public, but I probably would in a private conversation with my daughters. I like the lady’s message, but I wouldn’t be as bold.

  27. I definitely want to raise a kick-ass girl. Enter martial arts, which I have been part of since I was 18 and I hope my daughter will have an interest in as well. I want her to learn to stand up for herself, but only when it’s really warranted.

    I probably wouldn’t say “hit ’em back,” because I don’t want to foster the “eye for an eye” mentality, but I definitely agree with kids standing up for themselves and speaking up when someone is being mean or unfair.

  28. I write about bullying all the time, but there is a difference between raising kick ass girls and girls who kick ass. Advocating to hit back is a disaster, and I believe that those are the parents who create our little bullies. Our mean girls.

    I just wrote a post about this (it’s still up) and was amazed by how many people are proud of their little bullies. Kind of bummed me out.

    Let your children stay your kind of strong.

  29. At the school my kids used to go to the entire playground had the rule that they were to use rock-paper-scissors to figure out arguments! It worked really well. I do agree that kids need to stick up for themselves but within reason.

  30. How do you remember such intricate details? My favourite line is of you brushing your lips across her hair. I do that so much with Chunky.
    I agree with Renee above in that raising kids who defend themselves is a wonderful thing but being an ass kicker is not 😉
    I know you totally get that. You’re doing a wonderful job mama.

  31. i really love this – and while hit ’em back may be a little extreme for most situations, it’s important to me that girls have the confidence to stand up for themselves (and defend themselves, when necessary!). i don’t know, maybe i spent too much time on the soccer field, where hit ’em back is part of the code… either way, thanks for a great, thoughtful post!

  32. I’m not a mom but I’m glad to hear mom’s having this conversation. Beyond sticking up for others…teaching girls to fight could save them from rape, stalking or worse. As a public figure I have been threatened with all of the above..and when it first started I was overwhelmed…because i’d only ever been taught to be nice and kind…the very type of things predators and bullies seek to exploit.

    The book the police department gave me led me to this huge discovery that we are the only species on earth where the females are not taught to defend themselves….and the result of raising to be “nice and defenseless” will affect every single choice they make in life.

    Two books every mom should read:

    “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin’ De Becker
    “Beauty Bites Beast” by Ellen Snortland

    If you teach a girl to fight the chances are much higher she will never need to as it changes the way you carry yourself.

    Go Moms! XO ; )

    • I really appreciate your perspective, and as a former teacher, mother, and woman – that last line is so very powerful.

      (Thank you also for the resources!)

  33. My James (6) has started having an issue with a kid in his class picking on him. The husband and I have opposing views. The husband says James should fight back. I say fighting back if it’s a matter of self-defence is fine. But if there is an adult present (and at his age, there always is) he should look to the adult for guidance. James himself is not in favour of fighting. He has been taught to use his words and use violence as a last resort.
    It’s such a tough question. We want to protect our kids, and yet we want them to be able to fend for themselves. Those two ideas don’t always jive together.

  34. I feel my daughter is still too young to understand all this. I tell her to use her words to stand up for herself, and to never hit. We have had issues with her being aggressive, mainly because of her speech limitations. She has hit out of frustration at her inability to communicate and we’re working hard to stop that behavior. Telling her to “hit back” would be far too confusing at this point. Maybe when she is older we can talk about specific situations and how to respond to them, but we are not there yet. So for now I tell her to say, “No. Don’t do that. That’s not nice.” And to find an adult and tell them what is happening.

  35. keely weiland says:

    Ugh. This post and even the comments give me a tummy ache. Don’t agree with the “hit ’em back” advice at ALL. Ever. Not even a little bit. Ever. Maybe on of the few situations where I fall firmly planted on one side. I hear both sides and am thankful to read so many opinions. But no way, no how will you EVER find me agreeing with a violent solution. Yuk.

  36. I tell my daughter that she should stand up for herself. If someone tries to hurt her or come into her personal space uninvited, she has every right to stop them.

    Use strong words. Be assertive. Tell an adult what happened.

    In most cases words will be enough, but there are times when defending yourself or protecting yourself can only be done with actions. I want my daughter to know that if she ever finds herself in that position, she can act quickly without pausing to wonder if she will get in trouble later.

  37. I’m not sure I would’ve said ‘hit them back’, but I do like don’t be anyone’s victim.
    With 2 daughters, this is my concern – how do I raise them to be confident and strong and “kick-ass” without being mean, or resorting to violence.

    p.s. I wonder with such words if she was once a victim.

  38. I go back to what I said on Facebook- you teach them that you use the least amount of force necessary to keep themselves (and siblings) safe. You teach them how to verbally AND physically disable the aggressor so that they have those tools if they need to use them.

    I don’t know that I would ever say ‘hit ’em back’ in a playground setting. I won’t say never though. I love what a previous comment said though- girls who are already equipped with the tools are less likely to need them because it does create confidence.

    I was bullied as a kid. I tried everything- and one day, I punched her back. A teacher saw it, and walked away because if he got involved, I would’ve been the one suspended, per school rules of ‘anti-bullying.’ She never picked on me again- and I never saw her pick on anyone else again.

    I agree that violence is never the answer. But I do not believe that it is violent to protect yourself- even if it might mean hitting back.

  39. oooh….
    I will say that we’ve told our children that if someone is picking on them and the adults nearby continually do nothing to help the situation we’ve said it’s okay to defend yourself if necessary…
    No need to be a doormat, but our kids know that it isn’t the first or second solution to the problem

  40. This is so tough. Maybe it depends on the age, and which situational nuances they can understand. Or maybe it depends on the child and what they each can handle. I tend toward the “tell an adult” camp, but my heart is saying “stand up for yourself.” I know my husband cheered our 17yo son when he fought back against some bullies – I don’t know if he’d have the same reaction toward the 10yo doing the same, though.

  41. I don’t think my words would include permission or a direction to hit someone, but certainly, it would be to NOT be a victim. I don’t know HOW to do it, but I am trying to teach my kids to be their own best advocate, and a protector to their siblings. This is a great post, and so well written, Galit!!

  42. There is a balance. And it’s impossible to find one, I fear, because when the other person is bigger, stronger, or many, no amount of fighting back can prevent you from being a victim. But, at the same time, not fighting back and being passive still makes us victims because we are frozen by the fear of what can happen and it can lead things to be done to us that are terrible as well. I pray that my daughters are surrounded by good people who will join in with them to protect them. Well written, Galit.

  43. I will start this with I am the mom of 3 boys. There are so many mean people out there, but I try to teach my kids to treat people the way they want to be treated. Last year my then 6 year old was being bullied. I told him to ignore it and instead ask the kid to play or how are you today. It didn’t happen overnight, but the day of the bully’s birthday my son was the only to show up. The bully seemed to understand that my son was not scared and willing to be friends. The tone changed. I teach my boys to kill them with kindness. Of course, the boys do karate, but I don’t ever want violence to be their first reaction.

  44. That’s a tough one! I think I would be inclined to say “it’ll be alright” but I could see that “stay strong” might be a better choice. Maybe not “hit em back”, but definitely “stand your ground” and “protect each other”. As long as we don’t teach them to mean in return…that could be an easy line to cross.

  45. My rule is, “you have to be nice first, but you don’t have to be nice last.” We’ve had a lot of experience with a bully already. I finally had enough and told BG that the next time it happened I wanted her to haul off and punch that little b* in the nose. And oh yeah, I used the “b” word. She wasn’t comfortable with it at first, and I made it clear she shouldn’t do it if she didn’t want to. The next day she came home and said it had happened again. “I punched her momma. Right in the nose.” And I could tell she felt empowered. And that girl? Has never messed with my girl again.

  46. TheNextMartha says:

    My son once pushed a boy and then the boy hit him back . My son then came to me and said that the boy had hit him. After I got the whole story and corrected my son, I figured it was all over. Then the dad walked over. He explained to me that his children hit back if they’ve been hit. Now, keep in mind his kid was 3 at the time. I didn’t know what to say but didn’t think a 3 y/o has the mental maturity to just fight back at whim. That is not how I parent. I don’t want my kids pushing or hitting but I don’t want them to be sitting ducks as well. Now that my son is older (9) I still encourage him NOT to hit and luckily I haven’t had any issues to deal with.

  47. I wouldn’t tell my kids to hit them back, but I do try to teach them to stand up for themselves. There are ways other than violence to do that though, which is what I try to show to them.

  48. It’s a fine line that we walk when it comes to teaching our kids strength. I want mine to be strong and confident but never so much so that they are the mean kids but I also don’t want them to get walked all over. Can I just keep them in a bubble?

  49. Wow, I don’t think I have anything to add to all the wise and great comments here! I’m in the ‘stand up for yourself’ department. That, and sticking up for others. Every girl needs to learn to be courageous and kick-ass. :)
    It’s funny. I just wrote a post on thinking for yourself and being who you are and…here you are…with this great and important post. Love this.

  50. Oh sweet Galit, you know neither of us are going to tell our kids to go and stand up for themselves with violence of any kind while they are still so young. We have always told them that hitting is wrong, it is not about to change now. Words are a good thing and when they are still little, we can use ours to protect them. We, as their Mom’s are the ones to step in and set right with their worlds.
    Maybe when they are older, as Liz said, we tell them to react and protect themselves … but until then, its up to us.
    For me, having my girls home, I feel as tho they are protected … by me.
    I want them to be strong, but I don’t want them to stoop to the level of the aggressors.
    They are better than that. Later, there is later … maybe tae kwon do 😉

  51. It’s funny how a message can be conveyed. While I think “stand tall,” and “defend yourself” are wonderful, sage words to convey to children, I don’t think “hit ’em back” is ever the right response. Just my opinion, of course.

  52. well…I am a girly feminist. LOL…and while I am raising boys, I also have a lot of thoughts about raising girls to be strong, independent and take no BS. I wouldn’t ever want my boys to the be the one to start a fight or confrontation, but if they were engaged, hurt, bullied I think my first thing to say would be…”try to diffuse it with kindness” and if that didn’t work, if they were offended, made fun of or hurt I would tell them to defend themselves or each other.

    My husband and I are not confrontational, but I come from a violent background where I lived in fear of lots of things, including being hit. I don’t want them to ever feel that way…not by me and esp not by outside people.

    with girls it’s more of a slippery slope isn’t it? Aggressive might translate to b**chy or worse. Defensive is submissive…etc. I would want my daughters, nieces, friends’ girls to know that they are strong, beautiful and capable and that they need not fight back, but if their family or well being is being threatened it’s important to take a stand.

    This has given me a lot to think about. Thank you Galit. xo

  53. We say it in our house amongst the brothers fairly often… the alpha male cannot exist in our happy home so we think each needs to understand the limits and respect the other. We step in when necessary, of course.

    BUT I agree with the Mom and with your thoughts… yes be nice but also be strong. Strong is often more important and if you’re strong I think nice comes naturally. Strong means confident to me… I hope it’s something I’m able to give my girls.

  54. I don’t have a daughter but I wrote about this (as you know and commented on) for Smart Mom Style. Such an important lesson and it sounds like you are doing it just fine, my friend. Keep it up. xoxo