“Stop roughhousing!” We’ve all heard this said from a parent, or even yourself, at some point in time. Every child can get a little rough-and-tumble when playing, but is that bad? At first instinct, the answer may be “yes”; however, roughhousing actually has many benefits. It can improve social skills, brain development, physical health, problem-solving, and self-regulation.
I know it can be anxiety-inducing to watch, but it’s worth it! Continue reading to find out why. First though, let’s dive into what roughhousing actually is!
What is roughhousing?
Roughhousing is physically active play that’s fun-filled but a little unpredictable, and at times, hazardous. This type of activity can take place between parents and their children or amongst small groups of children. Roughhousing can be loud and boisterous, but it’s all in good fun! The important thing is that all participants are willing. There is typically a point where energy will peak while playing, and then come to a calm (if you’ve ever seen puppies play, roughhousing follows a similar pattern). Just make sure to let roughhousing run its cycle, or mood and behavior can become affected – definitely not something a parent wants! By the end, kids should feel worn out, satisfied, and ready to move on to a calmer activity.
Children may start to try roughhousing as early as the toddler years. From ages 3 to 4, it reaches its height, but can continue all the way up to age 9 or 10; roughhousing can even be beneficial to older children. I know my boys wrestled well into their teenage years! My sons are grown men in their 20s and will even wrestle with their boy cousins now!
What are the benefits of roughhousing?
Anthony DeBenedet, M.D., physician and dad, wrote a book on the topic, The Art of Roughhousing. Along with other doctors and research scientists, he has identified some of the ways that horseplay helps children to learn and grow. This includes the following:
Roughhousing is a chance for children to practice important self-regulation skills, such as impulse control, emotional regulation, and attention.
Roughhousing gives children the opportunity to communicate, both verbally and non-verbally. These are skills that children need to master in order to make friends and succeed in group settings. Reading body language and facial expressions enables them to interpret when a friend needs a break, or the play is getting too rough. Picking up on these things allows them to learn about boundaries and the topic of consent.
Children need to learn about safe aggression and how to persist in times of adversity. Roughhousing teaches them how to take the right kinds of risks, such as sticking up for themselves or taking on a challenging sport or hobby. It also teaches them that physical contact doesn’t have to be painful. Learning safe aggression helps kids learn to “take a hit” and keep moving. Rough-and-tumble play can also help prepare boys to be men, which may explain why most boys love to roughhouse!
Roughhousing is unpredictable, which leads to children having to think on their feet and come to solutions quickly. This develops their problem-solving skills.
Children can spend a lot of their time in sedentary activities, especially with new tech at seemingly every corner. Roughhousing gets children off the couch and burns a lot of energy. It stimulates endorphins, the body’s naturally occurring pain and stress fighters. It also promotes strength, flexibility, and coordination.
Bonding and Connection
Roughhousing is a great way for boys to bond and for parents to bond with their kids. When my boys were little, the nightly ritual after dinner was roughhousing with their dad. This mostly took place in our bedroom on the bed. They would put pillows all around the bed on the floor and then proceed to play “king of the hill,” knocking each other off the bed. They would push, shove, and wrestle to maintain their position on the bed. Eventually, one person would get crowned the “winner.” We even had a trophy that the winner would get when they won that round.
My boys have the best memories of this growing up! I do remember cringing at how rough the play would get. Looking back, it was so good for them and such a great relationship builder with their dad. They would go to bed with their emotional tanks full, plus they would be good and worn out!
At some point, kids will likely get hurt during roughhousing. This is a great opportunity to teach compassion and care, as well as resilience. Learning to care for the person that you accidentally hit in the face is a great opportunity for both the kid that hit and the kid that got hit. As moms, we tend to want to stop the rough play when this happens. Although tough to not intervene, letting kids figure out whether they want to keep playing or not is part of the learning process. This helps teach decision-making, advocating for yourself, and mutual respect.
Do you encourage roughhousing in your house? If not, give it a try, and see how your kids respond! Allowing kids to play rough, be loud, and jump on the beds or the furniture within a clear boundary, can make for a very fun ending to what may have been a very long, rough day. Let me know how it goes!
Still have a newborn or infant? Check out this post to learn how to encourage independent play, AND get some much-needed “me time.”