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Rough and Tumble Play

Dear Debi,
I care for some very active kids. They do cartwheels and somersaults, and even play-wrestle. Iím always worried that they will end up hurting eachother. Am I being too overprotective? Should they be allowed to play this way?
Terry , Montebello, CA
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Stay in charge and set limits
  • Intervene to redirect kidsí energy
  • Break the negative play pattern
  • Reinforce positive play
  • Donít automatically ban R&T, use it to work out kidsí issues
Expert Advice
Greg Uba
Greg Uba
Former Kindergarten and Pre-K teacher
Rough and tumble play allows kids to take some risks, as far as physical activity. Adults are sometimes uncomfortable with rough and tumble play because, to them, it symbolizes aggression, whereas to children, it symbolizes competence. Adults have forgotten how to play and instead construe the rough play as aggression and conflict.

Rough and tumble play is different from aggression. Kids arenít always smiling during rough and tumble play Ė sometimes theyíre working hard to demonstrate their ability to be competent Ė but generally, itís in the spirit of play. Aggression has a spirit of dominating and intimidation.

Boys find it especially appealing because rough and tumble play addresses their need for power and motor skills competence. Theyíre imitating what society gives them as male role models. Often, theyíre imitating how adults play with them at home. For boys, it gives them an opportunity to touch each other. Society doesnít give men and boys the opportunity to touch each other. Rough and tumble play enables men to have contact with each other in a way that society agrees with.

A child care provider should manage rough and tumble play so it doesnít turn into aggression. You should constantly supervise the play and have children help come up with the rules. Make it part of the structured day. Rough and tumble play doesnít have to always involve touching other children or being combative. It can be a noisy center with cans to kick, or plastic bottles to throw against. It can be an obstacle course or even a punching pillow. It could be lifting medicine balls or running with 5 pounds of flour.

A child care provider should make sure the play doesnít turn negative by checking in with them regularly. Ask the kids, ďAre you playing or are you fighting? Do you both agree with this play?Ē Give both of the kids the opportunity to option out of the activity. Children are exposed to too much media violence which could negatively influence their rough play. Our society is moving toward where everything needs to be more and more extreme. Itís something society has to reflect upon as far as the images that are presented to children. Kids can wind up getting frustrated, however, if you donít let them have an outlet for their energy. Rough and tumble play can help provide that release.
Child Care provider Comments
Verdis Ferraro
Verdis Ferraro
Child care provider for 23 years
In my program we try to set up rough and tumble play in a safe environment. For us, rough and tumble play is usually a planned activity. If kids want to do tumbling on a mat or tug of war, thatís different than tackling someone because they took your toys away. Physical contact is hard for some kids to handle. Itís not necessarily a comfort zone for them. Itís not something we push, but itís something we offer kids if they want to participate.
Consuelo Ducoing
Consuelo Ducoing
Child care provider for 14 years
We do rough and tumble play at my school. We set up rules for whoever wants to wrestle Ė you canít touch from the head up, no shoes, etc. You need to set up the rules beforehand and let the kids know that they can say stop when they are ready to stop it. Rough and tumble play needs to be supervised. I wasnít comfortable doing it at first, but once I saw how they liked it and how it encourages them to engage, I saw its benefit. Once they expend that energy, they come back inside and can focus better.
Family child care provider for 4 years
Rough playing can turn into aggressive play if it isnít monitored. If one kid hits the other hard, they will say, ďI didnít hit you that hardĒ and it can turn into a fight Ė with boys or girls. When they are playing, they arenít trying to hurt each other, just rolling on the floor and laughing. But when you see serious faces, you need to get involved and stop it. Itís up to the adult to tell the difference.

Kid-Friendly Wrestling Featured Activity:
Kid-Friendly Wrestling
Rough and Tumble Play Featured Video:
Rough and Tumble Play
Topic: Play & Creativity
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