It is easy to get caught up in the wave of safeguarding everything for children. One primary responsibility of a parent is to ensure his or her child’s safety; however, it is possible that we as a society have gone a little too far with safety. No one wants a skinned knee from roller skating in the driveway or an accidental black eye from playing baseball with friends, but there are lessons innate in these activities as well as the experience of temporary pain and even failure. Some elementary schools are rapidly decreasing the amount of daily recess time children have and teachers are compelled to watch the students’ every move. One aspect of a child’s life and a potential casualty of today’s culture, regarding safety and non-violence, is roughhousing. Not only is rough play beneficial for growth and developmental, it is a part of human evolution. Animals roughhouse with their cubs, and dogs have the inherent ability to play bite their owners.
Dr. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen co-wrote a book entitled “The Art of Roughhousing, Good Old Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs it”. They argue the there are not only physical but also emotional benefits from rough play. Roughhousing with your children will subconsciously teach them about strength and power, and how these qualities can be used in appropriate ways. When treating some of my clients at Children’s Therapy Works, social skills and appropriate play are often a big concern. Aggressive play with others is not always intentional, but sometimes occurs; however, through acceptable play, children will learn how to engage with others appropriately (i.e., without unintentionally hurting others). For example, ball pit play of being tossed into the balls or onto large crash mats are not only fun for the child, but they also provide proprioceptive input (i.e., deep pressure similar to a relaxing massage). For some, who seek out this type of input, restrained roughhousing can be a way to not only bond with your children but facilitate his or her sensory needs simultaneously. Debenedent and Cohen describe how roughhousing with children can teach “self-control, fairness, and empathy”. Additionally, if we let children win *wink wink*, it can boost confidence and “demonstrate winning isn’t everything”.
Remember, play is a child’s number one occupation (i.e., daily activity); we cannot underestimate the possibilities this occupation has for learning and development in so many ways. Something as simple as getting on the floor with your children and rolling around with him or her is a great start. My father was not a couch person, he always laid on the floor to relax and watch TV. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing with him on the floor and using him as a “pillow”.