Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111
www.habitot.org


Roughhousing Helps Children Succeed
As parents, we want our children to be kind and gentle, good at communicating, skilled at negotiating relationships and ambitious enough to succeed.

While it may seem counterintuitive, roughhousing with your kids can achieve all of these goals. Many parents shy away from roughhousing, believing incorrectly that it produces aggression and fierce competitiveness, but years of research show that when well-framed, it actually has the opposite result.

Anthony DeBenedet, MD, co-author of The Art of Roughhousing says rough play is good for the brain. It stimulates neuron growth and supports emotional memory, language and logic. Intense physical play helps children develop not just cognitive intelligence, but emotional intelligence as well. While pinning a squirming pal down on the floor, children learn to read body language, facial expressions and other social cues ~ like when their friend has had enough. It also gives them playful experiences of leading and taking direction, and negotiating with others. Learning verbal and nonverbal ‘rules’ that children agree upon through physical play and roughhousing are a wonderful preparation for professional success as well as successful interpersonal relationships. In fact, how well kids roughhouse is actually correlated with how well they do in their early years of school!

One of the most surprising findings about roughhousing is how beneficial it is when parents participate. In addition to creating a close, secure bond with their children, parents tend to encourage appropriate risk-taking and other exploratory behavior. Parent-child roughhousing enables kids (both boys and girls) to explore aggression within the context of an emotional bond. They get good feedback on when to pull back or push boundaries further. And by practicing moderated aggression in a safe setting as a child, they understand better how and when to take appropriate risks as an older child/adult, whether by standing up to bullying or asking for a raise.

“When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back,” DeBenedet writes. “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.”

And by the way, roughhousing is for moms and girls, too. While we tend to think of roughhousing as boys’ play, there are benefits for everyone who engages in it. Studies show that girls who roughhouse are more confident than girls who don’t, and mothers are great at roughhousing too!

So, plan some roughhousing time today – moms and dads! Here are some tips for roughhousing safely with your children:

  • Safety first. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep your kids away from areas where they can get hurt. Also, keep in mind that a child’s joints are prone to injury when roughhousing, so while it’s OK to play rough, don’t play too rough.

  • Set clear boundaries from the beginning. Make sure that kids are in the right frame of mind before you initiate rough play, and establish silly code words to signal when either of you have had enough.

  • Provide clear feedback if play gets too rough. If you say “too rough” and reign yourself in a little, kids will almost always listen and follow suit. A brief “time out” from play can achieve similar results. Creating boundaries in this way helps children learn self-control and limits in other areas of their play and lives.

  • Balance your role between letting your child “win” - thus giving her feelings of strength and pride - and winning yourself. Experiencing the occasional loss within the safety and trust of a relationship with a parent will help children learn to handle losses in other situations they encounter.

  • Don’t roughhouse right before bed. While evening may be prime playtime for working parents who miss their children all day, kids need time right before bed to relax and slow things down so they can get into sleep mode. Save your roughhousing for daytime or weekends.
 
Resources:

The Art of Roughhousing. Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD. Quirk Books Publishing. 2011.

Roughhousing: A Primer for Parents. Jessica Michaelson. 2014.
www.parentmap.com/article/roughousing-a-primer-for-parents

6 Benefits of Roughhousing for Kids. Therese Borchard. 2011.
psychcentral.com/lib/6-benefits-of-roughhousing-for-kids/0007973

Roughhousing: Aggressive or constructive behaviour? Carol Toller. 2014.
www.todaysparent.com/family/parenting/roughhousing-aggressive-or-constructive-behaviour/

 
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