Bringing it back: Roughhousing play for smarter, nicer, happier, confident and more self aware kids.


Director of Life Rocks

Cover Image for Bringing it back: Roughhousing play for smarter, nicer, happier, confident and more self aware kids.
·6 min read

“Stop fighting with your brother!” The Mother insists, pulling her two boys apart. “Sit still and be good”, she says. The boys turn their gaze down and fidget with themselves, holding back the urge to grab and punch one another in the arms. They eventually become restless and start all over again. Why do boys fight so much? The Mother brushes off the thought as quickly as it came. It must be something to do with testosterone, she thinks. Little does she know, that the urge for young boys to wrestle, roughhouse and play, is a deep evolutionary need. Let’s discover why. All animals wrestle and play. They pit themselves physically against each other, building strength, commitment, awareness, balance, awareness of power, grace, timing, risk and challenge. Studies show that overprotective parents inhibit the risk awareness development in children, which leads to adults who never take risks and have higher than normal anxiety. Taking risks is part of being an adult, and being physical is part of being alive. Expert doctors on childhood development and roughhousing, Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen say that “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” When we inhibit children's play for fear of crying, injuries or upset – we impede the development of crucial areas of human life. Whilst a mother who is mostly sedentary may not understand the rambunctious behaviour of small children, she ought to develop space for it and not be a helicopter parent. Here are some tips for the more cautious parent on how they can safely introduce roughhousing into their family life: 1 – Let Dad do it. Studies performed in Australia had children wrestling with their fathers – both boys and girls. "Rough and tumble play between fathers and their young children is part of their development, shaping their children's brain so that their children develop the ability to manage emotions and thinking and physical action altogether," said Fletcher. The researchers noted better outcomes in behaviour when the father applied more skill and presence in his wrestling interactions. 2- Place some ground rules. Make it as safe as possible by setting up a space for wrestling. Wrestling in a house with the corners of furniture, hard floors, breakable objects, etc., is not so appealing. Set up some gym mats, ensure the grass in the backyard is ready to be used, and encourage the play to happen where you want it to. Also, set some spoken rule agreements: “ I am happy for you to play wrestle, but if someone says “stop” you have to stop, okay?” This shows them that you respect their activity and also that you care about them. 3 – Get them to learn martial arts, gymnastics, wrestling or contact sports. Find a coach that you like, find something your child is interested in, and maybe learn it alongside them if you can. Make sure that the teacher you choose feels respectful and enjoys teaching children. This makes a big difference. 4 – If someone gets hurt, don’t judge, yell or blame. Just allow the child to be upset. If they cry, let them cry. The child is releasing whatever emotions they have surfacing, which is healthy. Allowing your child to cultivate a strong physical presence will help them in so many areas of life. As they say, those who learn martial arts never need it. Facing challenging, painful, competitive and skilful tasks is going to make every aspect of your child’s life more resilient and equip them with the energy they need to overcome challenges and also stay out of danger. When learning these physical skills in a controlled context like a sport, game or activity, the children learn empathy and graciousness. Children who are bigger must play more nicely with other kids, just like Dads must control their strength when they play with their children. Dads don’t always have to let the child win either; it's good for the child to know that we don’t always win. We also see this in the animal kingdom, where larger animals will handicap themselves to play with younger ones just so that they can learn. Let's ditch the parenting culture that says we must protect the child at all costs from all risks. Some controlled amount of risk, roughness and challenge is necessary in a child's life to stimulate their development. And as we ditch helicopter and bubble wrap parenting, let's get a little tougher and more playful ourselves. Let's play with our children, tumble, roll and wrestle. REF: How Roughhousing and Kids Play Fighting Is a Part of Normal Development - By Amity Hook-Sopko

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Connecting Children to Nature - Asher Cloran

Roughhousing With Dad Crucial for Development, say Researchers - Michael Murray

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