Why Rough And Tumble With Your Children Is Important

14/08/2014 16:59 | Updated 20 May 2015

Why rough and tumble with your children is important

How often do you wrestle with your children? I'm not talking WWF slamming them on the mat, more what Americans call "roughhousing" - basically, physical, contact play.

It wasn't something that I ever really did with my two boys - or at least I didn't think I did - until I read The Art of Roughhousing (Good Old Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Child Needs It) by Anthony Benedet and Lawrence Cohen.

I picked it up because Cohen's book Playful Parenting is one of my favourites, and also because I'd read somewhere else that it's important to rough and tumble with your kids.


The book begins with the many benefits of roughhousing – apparently it's good for emotional intelligence, physical strength, motor skills, it can 'nurture close connections, solve behavioural problems, boost confidence'.


As I was reading I was thinking it all sounds great, but did I really want to wrestle? Not so much. Plus I had no idea how to go about it. Where do you even begin?

I needn't have worried. In the next chapter, the authors give examples and they're as simple as putting the kids in a trap (you know, with your arms or legs around them rather than an actual trap) and challenging them to get out. Or sitting down on your child and pretending you don't know they're there. Or standing palm to palm and trying to push each other over. Or simple horsey-rides on your knee.

Alexandra Roumbas Goldstein, mum to Ramona, is a fan of this kind of play: "I find myself drawn to silly games like 'I bet you can't break out of my cuddle... ohhh! You're so strong' and she immediately comes back for more. I worried for a bit that I might be teaching her that my physical presence overrides hers, but I'm very clear on stopping if it's ever not fun. It's such a fantastic bonding exercise, and so hard to explain without sounding nuts."

I decided to give it a try with my eight-year-old, Harry. Lying on my bed, I started to do stuff like grab him with my legs and roll him over. Looking both a bit surprised and a bit thrilled, he joined in. I told him if either of us wanted to stop and get free we could say a word like "Peanut" and the other person had to stop immediately.

He said "Peanut!" I stopped. I said: "Didn't you like it?" He said "Un-peanut!" We started again. I was surprised at how strong he is - I had been planning to let him win (at least at first), but as it turned out, I didn't have to.

Emma Johnston's 10-year-old son, Jack, can beat her at wrestling too: "He's a big lad, actually weighs the same as me now, and when he runs at me, he literally floors me!

"He's an only child, and a big softie in heart and mind, and I've always roughhoused with him, to show him where the limits are when messing with mates, to show what's acceptable, and if his friends go rougher than he wants, that he doesn't have to take it. Kids are rough, and playground can be a real dominance exhibition, and I never wanted Jack to feel bottom of the pack."

One thing I particularly enjoyed about wresting with Harry was that it's not the kind of thing I usually do with him. Friends have noticed the same thing in their own families.

"My other half has always done 'tumble time' with our three-year-old and I tend to leave it to him," Emily Davidson says. "But last week my son started running at me and I'd grab him and kind of fling him to the ground. We wrestled for ages and he loved it and so did I. He particularly seemed to like that it was me and not his Dad."

Mum of two, Sarah Painter says: "I didn't roughhouse with my kids at all and it was something I worried about, as I can absolutely see the benefits in terms of confidence-building, closeness and fun, but I was concerned about my (extremely gentle!) son getting over-excited or aggressive and somebody getting hurt.

"I'm a very 'calm play' kind of person and, also, a control freak, so it's just the kind of thing that alarms me and makes me feel uncomfortable. After reading about it, I realised that it's a game with rules and not just a 'free for all', I felt able to give it a go. I felt self-conscious and, to be honest, and it was more of a cuddling-session than anything else, but it was fun and something I plan to continue/extend."

Of course it can be dangerous - part of the appeal, for the children if not for the adults, is an element of risk - and it's possible that someone may get hurt (in our family, it's usually my husband getting a stray knee or elbow in a sensitive area), but as long as you use common sense, don't do anything you or your children aren't comfortable with, you should be fine.

I'm just pleased to discover something that can make a real difference to my parenting that's easy, free and fun.

As Benedet and Cohen say, "Play - especially active physical play, like roughhousing - makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, loveable and likeable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful."


All that and you can do it lying on a bed. Win-win. (But don't be surprised if you lose.)


Do you wrestle/rough and tumble with your kids? Do they love it?

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