two kids play fighting


Here’s Why I Think Roughhousing Is Good For My Kids

Apr 19, 2018

My seven-year-old has this annoying thing that he does. He will stand as close to his older brother’s ear as possible and make a very distinctive lipsmacking noise over and over again. It. Is. Annoying. It usually doesn’t take too long for violence to erupt.

As a younger brother myself, I know that this kind of thing is our secret weapon. We find our adversary/sibling’s weaknesses and use those against them. So I try never to come down too hard on the little bugger. I never come on to the scene knowing exactly what has gone on before, but I know from my own experiences that older brothers rarely get the worst of whatever provoking, prodding and/or punching is going around.

Relevant Reading: Why My Husband and I Believe in Fighting in Front of Our Kids

That’s one reason that I absolutely love roughhousing. It lets everyone get their aggression out without too many screams, bruises or hurt feelings. But that isn’t the only reason I love it. I also know that roughhousing teaches my kids to be more loving, more empathetic, more resilient and more respectful. And there is plenty of research out there to back me up.

The book The Art of Roughhousing brings a lot of that together along with a wealth of suggested games. Authors Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen even argue that roughhousing will make your kids smarter. Personally, I think everything my kids do — that isn’t explicitly harmful — makes them smarter. So, I may be less impressed than I should be by the science on that particular point. But the bottom line is: I think roughhousing is good for kids. I know this is true because I have seen the magic in action.
I have two boys and a girl, all of them fairly close in age. There is nothing quite like cuddling up with them — all red-faced and breathless — after a vigorous wrestle. In our house, roughhousing almost always ends in laughter and cuddles. The key, as I have learned through much trial and error, is having really solid ground rules in place. Roughhousing, by which I mean mostly wrestling between kids and/or adults, can be pretty emotionally intense for kids and pretty terrifying for adults.

So here are some basic rules we’ve cobbled together and/or stumbled upon.

Our House Rules

  1. A safe word can save the play. A safe word is, of course, a specific word that someone can use to indicate they are no longer having fun. When the safe word is invoked, play is paused until the problem is fixed. You should have one and respect it.
  2. No tickling. A tickle fest can be great but tends to get a little intense when mixed with rough play. Trust me.
  3. Keep it clean. No punching, kicking, biting and so on. Grappling, rolling and tossing will seriously reduce the injuries.
  4. Establish a cuddle zone. A handy cushion or soft chair makes a great refuge where roughhousers can rest and recuperate.
  5. Pause for pain. When someone gets hurt, everything stops until they feel better. There is always time to figure out how things could have been done differently when the injured party is calm and recovered.
  6. Parents go easy. It’s just like the movies — it's more fun when the underdog wins. 

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And that's why we have our rules.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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