In Praise of Rough and Tumble Play

As a kid, you were probably told at least once there’s “no roughhousing inside.” The playful wrestling you and your siblings did growing up is a prime example of what childhood researchers call rough and tumble play.

Rough and tumble play may include chasing, tumbling, and—hooray!—wrestling and grappling. However, please consider this these types of activities distinct from kids actually fighting or bullying each other!

Kids start playing this way around age two, and they will keep doing it through adolescence.

Not only will kids do rough and tumble play with each other, but they will also do it with their parents. When you see a parent or child fighting with foam swords or cardboard tubes in the park—or trying to take each other down on the mats at Horsetooth—this is rough and tumble play.

But are these types of activities and play helpful?

According to research, rough and tumble play is actually quite important for a child’s development! On the surface level, rough and tumble play is a great form of exercise for kids. Beyond burning energy, this exercise helps kids pay attention longer and can even improve their performance in school.

This physical activity also teaches kids their physical abilities and capacities. And it shows kids how to interact with others as they learn the bounds of other people, and it’s a form of social interaction between kids that helps them form relationships. The play environment gives kids room for trial and error without too dramatic social consequences.

Indeed, contrary to the popular idea that rough and tumble play encourages violence, it actually helps kids self-regulate aggression. By exploring aggression in a safe play setting and learning the bounds of themselves, others and appropriate behavior, children can develop into sociable adults. More generally, studies have also shown that rough and tumble play helps kids learn to regulate, understand and manage their emotions.

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