8 Reasons Why Rough & Tumble Play, Roughhousing or Horseplay is Good for Kids.

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I was sent in this question for my ‘Don’t Stew- Ask Sue’ feature on  The Sue Atkins Parenting Show podcast.

My husband plays very rough with my 3-year-old daughter, but when they play, my husband hangs her upside down by the ankles at some point surprising her, for example, they are playing wrestling, he tickles her, flips her, throws her into the air and catches her, then after a while my daughter ends up hanging upside down, he has that habit of lifting her like this, I did not demand anything from him because I saw that my daughter is enjoying it and laughing, but I don’t know if it is okay. Even when it’s time to finish playing and go to sleep, my husband hangs her upside down and thus takes her to her room. ~ Yanette

Don’t be afraid to let your kids get a little boisterous with rough and tumble play. A little horseplay helps them grow!

Believe it or not, wrestling, flips, upside down games, chasing, and other rough-and-tumble play all have huge benefits for young children. Yes, it can be scary to watch, but it’s worth it.

It’s also sometimes also known as rowdy play and by around the  age  of 3 or 4 child-led rough and tumble play is at its peak—but it can also continue all the way up to age 9 or 10, and can even benefit kids older than that.

Read on to learn why.

What Rough and Tumble Play Really Is

Real physical play is active play that’s joyful but a little  more risky. The shrieks of laughter and squeals are all part of the fun!  Although you might think of it as maybe Dad’s domain, mums can (and should) join in, and so can siblings, and your kids friends, without adults.

The key is that all participants are willing. Usually, there is an arc or cycle to the play in which kids start slowly,  build up and excited, and then calm down. Ideally, you should allow this cycle to run its course, through gentle supervision but not helicopter parenting!  Otherwise, kids will be out of sync and their mood and behaviour maybe affected by not fully enjoying the whole process.

What the Experts Say

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.

  • Self-control

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.

Social skills.

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.

Safe aggression.

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.

Flexible thinking.

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.

Physical fitness.

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.

Check out:

The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It in The Sue Atkins Book Club here

What are your thoughts ?


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