Roughhousing. I am probably not alone among mothers who internally cringe from the idea of the excited active play young boys love so much, also known as roughhousing. As a mother of boys myself, I have my fair share of getting kicked, stomped and elbowed just about everywhere by a pair of two excited little boys jumping on top of me usually while I’m still waking up in the morning.
But at the same time, I remember just how much I loved roughhousing with my own dad as a child. My brother and I jumping like wild monkeys all over him for hours was one of my favorite pastimes, second only to playing dolls with my mom.
“Play — especially active physical play, like roughhousing — makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” ~ Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen
And when it comes to working with the children at our school, we can see over and over again that for the majority of them, especially young boys, it is the most beloved way to play and interact with each other. It is true that sometimes one of the wrestling participants might get pinned to the ground too tightly, or stop enjoying it while others are still carried away piling up on top of each other. But at the same time, as we see how much they enjoy it and how they bond over these kinds of games we do our best to accommodate such interactions, making them safe by directing kids to play away from sharp objects, use the large floor mat when possible, and inconspicuously watching them while ready to intercede if they get a bit carried away.
Recently I came across this incredible article about the benefits of wrestling and roughhousing for young children, and I thought the article was making such good points I wanted to share it with you all.
6 Benefits of Wrestling and Roughhousing
In summary, the authors of “The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It” — Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen — outline the following benefits of roughhousing play :
- Roughhousing makes kid smart
- Builds emotional intelligence
- Makes kids more likable
- Makes children ethical and moral
- Makes kids physically fit
- Brings joy
Head over to this article that discusses these points in greater detail. The part of the article that stood out to me the most was this:
“First, physical play builds friendships and other relationships, and this is especially true for boys, who don’t gush all over each other, much less say “I like you.” Roughhousing can be a declaration of friendship or affection not only for elementary school boys, but for young men, as well.
“Second, kids who roughhouse are able to distinguish between innocent play and aggression; therefore, it helps children develop social and problem-solving skills.”
Roughhousing as a Learning Opportunity
One conclusion I walked away with after reading this wonderful article was that instead of teaching our little wildlings not to wrestle we should focus on helping them learn about safety and social clues through such games. A few ideas that come to mind are:
- Learning to choose a safe space for roughhousing, somewhere away from furniture, sharp objects, staircases when indoors; and icy spots, sticks and rocks, and uneven ground when outside
- Leaving sticks or sharp objects out of active games
- Do not cover other child’s face, especially mouth and nose
We should also help them learn social clues from others as well as how to communicate if they themselves are not enjoying it any more or need help. For example:
- Practice recognizing if the person (child or adult) they are playing with is not looking happy anymore during the game
- Learn to recognize expressions of pain or physical discomfort in others
- Learn to respect when someone else says NO to continuing to play the game
- Learn to be aware of the size and age of their playmates
- Learn to say things like “Stop” or “Help” clearly and loudly and keep repeating it as many times as it takes to get out the game when it is no longer enjoyable, without feeling frustrated
One With Nature
While thinking about this topic, my mind jumped to all the videos of fox kits, wolf pups, lion cubs, puppies and kittens jumping, biting and otherwise roughhousing with each other and how much they remind me of my little boys both at home and school. :)) Really, just compare the above photo of the kids piling up onto each other to this photo of their furry counterparts.
And seeing all these young creatures playing more or less the same games I see young children loving so much, I’m reminded again that this type of interaction is natural and essential for their development. Thus as a parent and teacher I do my job best when I can walk the line of teaching the children to do things safely and to be respectful of others while at the same time letting them be children — learning things in the ways that are natural to them without putting up too many restrictions and blocks that eventually take the joy of childhood away from them.
“When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.” ~ The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.