When Katie Bryant learned her 6-year-old son punched another child — she didn’t get angry. Instead, she took him for ice cream.
“I don’t want my kids seeking out trouble,” Bryant, 31, told TODAY Parents. “But if somebody has made it physical and they have no better options I don’t want them to just stand there and take it or watch somebody else get hurt.”
Bryant shared the backstory on Facebook earlier this month. In the post, the mother of three from North Carolina explained that her son was trying to protect a boy who was being pushed around by a bully.
The incident occurred in in the bathroom, where there was no teacher present. Bryant's son told her he repeatedly asked the bully to stop.
“He wasn’t willing to leave that little boy alone to get hurt while he went to get someone,” Bryant told TODAY Parents.
For that reason, she said her son owes no apologies.
“My child has full permission to rock your kid’s world if they are bullying them or someone else,” Bryant wrote on Facebook. “I don’t teach solving problems with fists and I believe in alerting an adult if possible. However, sometimes it’s not possible. In that case, if they feel like they or someone is being harmed it’s ok to stand for what’s right. It’s honorable to fight for the underdog.”
Though Bryant expected to receive backlash for her message, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This is spot on. I worked as a Behavioral Specialist before kids and this is what I always preached to my clients and now teach my own boys,” one person responded.
Added another, “Kids nowadays need their butts handed to them. I commend your son on his courageous soul to stick up for someone else.”
Parenting and youth development expert Dr. Deborah Gilboa applauds Bryant for teaching her son to advocate for himself and others, but stresses that violence should always be the last option.
"The first answer is to speak up and use your words," Gilboa told TODAY Parents. "Second, you want to get someone to intervene and ideally that is an adult who is in sight. If there isn't, then start walking in the direction of the adult."
Gilboa also noted there is a difference between bullying and assault. Bullying is a repeated aggressive behavior characterized by a power imbalance and while it's meant to cause harm, it rarely involves physical assault.
If an elementary schooler must fight back, their violence can't be worse than the instigator's violence, says Gilboa, because otherwise the situation will be escalated.
"They have to match it. I'd argue that most kindergarteners couldn't have that level of discernment. They just don't have the judgment."