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'The plan we put together when my twin daughter started exhibiting aggressive behaviours.'

My father first taught me how to fight when I was in primary school. I remember it vividly.

I was standing in the kitchen wearing nothing but my SpongeBob underwear, pretending to be Jackie Chan. Dad stopped my air punches to pull my thumbs out from my clenched fists.

“Stand up straight,” he said. “Left shoulder forward. Legs shoulder-width apart. Knees slightly bent. Hands strong. Chin down. Eyes up.”

It was playful at first. I thought we were just doing “guy stuff”, but then he got serious.

LISTEN: Sean explains why he’s teaching his twins to fight back on Mamamia’s latest podcast for new parents, The Baby Bubble:

“You need to use your words” he said, looking me directly in the eyes with his hands on both of my shoulders.

“And while it’s important to always try to walk away, self defence is necessary sometimes. I just want you to feel confident that you would know how to fight back if you had to. Do you understand me?”

I did understand him. I’ve always remembered that moment and the proper way to throw a left hook. But what really stuck with me was that my pops never actually taught me how to fight. Only how to fight back.

I myself became a father, of boy-and-girl twins, 17 years later. I didn’t have time to think about passing down my father’s “don’t fight, fight back” advice at first, because babies just cry and poo all the time.

But as our twins learned to sit up and started noticing each other more and more, my daughter started to exhibit quite aggressive behaviours.

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"At first, we just brushed it off as harmless child’s play." Image: Supplied.

She would hit her brother in the face when she got excited, or pull his hair if she wanted something he had. In fact, a few times I actually caught her climbing onto his face like a WWE wrestler and bouncing on his head with glee as he shrieked in distress.

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At first we just brushed it off as harmless child’s play. But when it became more frequent, we decided to put a plan together. We taught her to “be gentle”, repeating the phrase as we stroked his arm or head. We taught him to move away if he didn’t like what she was doing. Then we taught her to wait her turn if she wanted something he was playing with. And finally we taught him to... well, to not refrain from fighting back.

It made sense at the time. But in hindsight, it was a double-standard that reinforced tired gender norms. I’m a gay man who waxes poetic about eliminating gender stereotypes. Yet here I was, teaching my daughter that women shouldn’t fight, and my son that he should. Enlightened, right?

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"She would hit her brother in the face when she got excited, or pull his hair if she wanted something he had." Image: Supplied.

Look, it may be true that boys are filed with more aggressive impulses than girls. But we can teach them to control those impulses and find non-violent solutions. And even if girls are more inclined to empathy and collaboration, they can still be taught to defend themselves and fight back if they have to. In fact, they should be.

So we changed tack. We started teaching our son and our daughter the same principles: Wait your turn, use your words, stay strong when attacked, and fight back if absolutely necessary.

We want them both, regardless of gender, to have all the tools they need to walk through life without fear, and to handle whatever’s thrown their way.

As adults, we need these tools to stay safe and sane. And it all starts when you’re still in nappies. Or in my case, SpongeBob SquarePants undies.

Do you teach your children how to fight back? Tell us in the comments section below. 

To hear me and my The Baby Bubble co-host, Zoe Marshall talk more about teaching our three children to fight, listen to the third episode of The Baby Bubble podcast! Get it in your ears.

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