"Two Kinds of Cooperation"
(Is it EVER okay to hit back?)

 Teaching kids to get along with one another is way more complex than telling them to share their toys, and not to hit each other.

Cooperation, getting along with one another, is what happens when people collaborate to achieve a common goal. Teachers promote collaborative cooperation in their classrooms. Children are grouped together and given a task that will require the participation of every student in the group. Creative learning and better outcomes are encouraged through the process of teamwork. That’s cooperation all right! It’s an awesome thing when it happens that way.

It would be nice if that was all there was to it—however, for collaborative cooperation to proceed smoothly, it needs to be shored up with reciprocal cooperation.

Reciprocal cooperation, responding to others in like kind, fosters fair and equitable interactions whether there’s a common goal or not. A good deed or a friendly gesture is reciprocated with a kindness in return. We teach our kids good manners, please and thank you rolls off their tongues almost automatically. Perhaps we need to teach them to be on the look out for kind gestures. For example, when Lori picks up her brother Tony's toys, more than a "thank you" would be nice. Maybe Tony could reciprocate by clearing Lori's dishes from the table after dinner.

Be nice to your brother, and he’ll be nice back, is good advice. But, what happens when he isn’t—nice back, that is? Just keep on being nice? Share your toys. Again, good advice. But what happens when the other kid keeps taking with nothing in return. Just keep giving?

Many parents recoil at the notion of telling their children to hit back or to be selfish about sharing in response to being taken advantage of. However, failing to reciprocate abuses encourages the establishment of bully/victim relationships. Wouldn’t it be better to teach kids to retaliate when they’re wronged?

Telling kids to hit back, however, isn’t good enough. Telling them to hit back sounds like permission to escalate violence. Kids need to be carefully taught ‘how’ to retaliate. Reciprocating an unkind act with a deed more nasty or violent than the injury received can escalate interactions into a competitive power struggle, often encouraging a motive for revenge. Revenge, as we all know, can get nasty.

Hitting back can be a cooperative move, an attempt to stop the violence and abuse, but here’s the very most important part. Retaliation is cooperative only when it’s no harsher than the offense received!

Reciprocity is a two-sided coin. On the one side we have be nice back. On the other we have retaliate offenses and insults.

Please and thank you is fine, but it isn't enough. Kids need to be carefully taught how to reciprocate kind gestures—-and offenses.

There are times, however, when hitting back is a just plain bad idea. When the bully is bigger and stronger or armed, when you're outnumbered, when the odds of you getting badly hurt are high, it's better to keep your mouth shut and walk or run away.

It makes no sense at all to retaliate when you will probably never see the offender again. For example, road rage not only endangers your life, but the lives of others as well.

Can you think of some other times when it's not okay to hit back?

    —M. LaCourt