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Rough & Tumble Play

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Dear Elizabeth,
I have three sons who love to horseplay and wrestle. Does too much of this cause kids to be aggressive later in life? Should I limit this rough play?
Tiffany Dirmann
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Host
  • Develops social & emotional self-regulation skills
  • Provide a safe place & establish consistent rules
  • Monitor childrenís play closely
Expert Advice
Ruth Beaglehole
Ruth Beaglehole
Center for Non-Violent Education & Parenting
Rough and tumble play is children enjoying being physical together, either with a parent, a provider offering the support and guidance on how to keep it safe, or with a parent. It allows children just to enjoy their physicality, enjoy their bodies. It could be wrestling. It could be pushing on each otherís hands. It also could be elbow wrestling. It could be pretending to be like puppies, just sort of rough and tumbling on a mat together.

Will It Lead to Aggression?
I donít think that rough and tumble play will cause a child to become aggressive later in life. I actually think itís the opposite. I think rough and tumble play supports children to know what it is to be physical and to learn safe ways, to learn how to stop when somebody says stop, to learn how to respect what another person is feeling. I think it really allows that in a very safe and protective way, which is the opposite of aggression.

Staying Safe
When children are engaging in rough and tumble play, adults should lay down ground rules to ensure childrenís safety. Children should always be supervised by an adult. There must be clear rules: no touching the face or head, no pulling hair. No using toys or objects when engaging in rough and tumble play. Children must show respect to the other participant. There must be a defined space in which to engage in rough and tumble play.

Adults need to closely supervise the play to make sure it never escalates to violence. Watch the children carefully to spot signs of tension. You can usually feel the energy of the child change. Watch for clenched fists or other signs of anger or stress. While engaged in rough play, kids should be smiling and/or laughing. If one or both children are no longer exhibiting these signs of enjoyment and fun, the rough and tumble play should be stopped and the children redirected to calm down and talk.

Shy or Timid Children
Adults can encourage shy or timid children to engage in rough and tumble play. Before pairing with another child, adults can get on the floor and gently rough and tumble with a shy or timid child. Hold up your hands and ask them to push back against you. Let them watch other children and laugh and show them how much fun it can be. Pair a child with another child who isnít larger or intimidating.
Child Care Provider Comments
David Cooley
David Cooley
Father of one daughter
We absolutely allow our daughter to participate in rough and tumble play. The neighbors have a trampoline that kids love to bounce and wrestle on. She plays with boys often and doesnít back down from their physical play. When sheís playing with kids that are shy, she tends to bring out the physical play with them. She gains self-confidence from the rough and tumble play and learns not to be scared of physicality. Sheís understanding that she wonít get hurt all the time. This kind of physical play also gives her an enormous sense of courage to not shy away from things.
Marianella Hickery
Marianella Hickery
Child care provider for 20 years
I set limits for rough and tumble play -- be careful to not cause an accident or to hurt one another. I want to make sure that they donít harm themselves or things around them. If adults supervise, then there is no problem. Rough and tumble play can actually help with their emotional expression down the line as well. If things get out of hand, I will refocus the children to return things into being a game instead of becoming a fight.
Janis Sanders
Janis Sanders
Grandmother of four
As long as they are laughing and playing, I allow rough and tumble play. When there are smaller kids around, Iím more cautious about it. I prefer this kind of play to be done outside like playing tag and running around. My biggest concern is about kids getting hurt. If kids are going to engage in rough and tumble play, it has to be mutual. There is no kicking, they need to keep their feet on the floor, and they canít do anything that would be considered mean.

Rough Play Area Featured Activity:
Rough Play Area
Rough & Tumble Play Featured Video:
Rough & Tumble Play
Topic: Play & Creativity
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