Anthony DeBenedet, M.D., is a physician and Dad who’s on a mission to promote rough-and tumble-play. He wrote a whole book on the topic, The Art of Roughhousing. He and other doctors and research scientists have identified some of the unexpected ways that horseplay helps kids learn and grow by giving them:
Bigger, better brains.
Intense, physical play stimulates and helps develop areas of the brain that control emotional memory, language, and logic. Research shows that when kids play rough and tumble at home, they do better in school and have better relationships with friends.
Parents, usually without even thinking about it, hold back when they play with young children, holding back some of their strength and force to keep things safer for everyone. Kids pick up on that to learn a valuable lesson about self-control and handling an imbalance of power. Plus, children have to let off steam sometime. When they have opportunities to play rough and tumble at home with loving adults, they are less likely to play too aggressively or take unsafe risks when they’re away from parents’ watchful eyes.
Research has also shown that after a stressful or frustrating day doing Star Jumps, or dancing or simply moving or running around releases endorphins that help release stress inside the body helping a child to regulate their mental and physical health.
Rough-and-tumble play gives kids an opportunity to read each other’s body language and facial expressions. Those are social cues all kids need to master to make and keep friends and succeed in group settings, like classrooms and teams.
Aggressiveness doesn’t seem like a quality we want our kids to have, but they do need to learn persistence and tenacity and how to take the right kinds of risks (think: sticking up for themselves if they’re falsely accused of misbehaviour, or pushing themselves to try a challenging new sport). Boys, in particular, can learn that physical contact does not have to be violent. And girls gain confidence in their physical skills.
Rough-and-tumble play is unpredictable, so it makes kids think on their feet (or while hanging upside-down, or clinging to an adult’s back). That translates into problem-solving skills. And figuring out, together, what’s fun and what’s not helps kids learn how to negotiate and be leaders.
Children tend to spend a lot of time in sedentary activities, particularly during this pandemic with lockdowns & too much technology, but their muscles need to move every day. Rough and tumble play challenges those muscles and gets kids up off the couch, away from screens and active. Plus, it stimulates endorphins, the body’s natural pain and stress fighters, as well as oxytocin, the hormone we get from physical contact, which makes us feel loved.