The Current

Roughhousing benefits kids, suggests Quebec daycare guide

A new community reference guide in Quebec is advising daycares to allow roughhousing saying it helps build better social skills.
Is there value in letting boys roughhouse? (John Mayer/flickr cc)

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In Quebec's Eastern Townships, dozens of daycares are encouraging staff to allow for a little roughhousing, encouraged by a new community reference guide.

Advocates say the different approach to care supports healthy development — particularly in boys.

Caroline Payer, director general of La Maison des Familles FamillAction d'Asbestos, helped draft the new guide.

She says a community team looked into research that suggested boys had trouble adapting to preschool and the school environment that lead to issues later in school. The guide was created to find ways to support boys better in an educational environment.

"There are studies that show the benefits of roughhousing …. for boys as well as for the girls. So that's how we we kind of chose to put this element in our guide. But it's one in six other elements," Payer tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

While Payer says it's hard to define roughhousing specifically, it's generally seen as physical play — but in no way relates to violence.

"It could be playing with swords. But in a way that will not hurt any child," she says.

"Kids are going to have fun doing it. They're going to want to participate in it. And if it gets out of control, we have an educator there to stop it before it gets too close to violence."

The guide entitled, 'Better supporting our boys' includes six 'winning practices,' including positively welcoming war games and battle games. (Radio-Canada)

The guide suggests creating an environment conducive to building a masculine identity, something Payer explains is based on preschool teachers and educators most often being women.

"So sometimes we find that the boys, they don't recognize their placement, they don't understand their place as easily in that world," Payer tells Tremonti.

She says the reference guide is a way to incorporate various diversity of role models in the classroom, or daycare, to ensure every child has a model to refer to.

"It could mean more traditionally masculine role models but it would also mean non-traditional models … it doesn't have to be a man," Payer insists.

Roughhousing benefits

The benefits of roughhousing for boys has merit, according to Sandra Chang-Kredl who specializes in early childhood teacher education.

"I mean there is a nature versus nurture factor, and overall on a whole, boys tend to engage in more physically-active play like rough and tumble play," Chang-Kredl tells Tremonti.

"Girls tend to be more communicative and cooperative. But you know there are always exceptions."

She suggests girls can benefit from this play as well, depending on their temperament.

Chang-Kredl points to the guide as a good way of challenging "the protective instincts that we have as educators and parents."

She credits roughhousing to learning body control coordination but says the benefits are mostly in social development.
Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso says it's important to teach kids how to deal with conflict and face challenges. (

"[Kids] learn how to read other children's body language, facial expressions. There's a lot of decoding social cues when you're playing in this way — so building friendships, knowing when to stop, knowing when it's enough … and also learning to take turns." 

Chang-Kredl tells Tremonti that if children have a natural urge to play physically, giving them the message that it's wrong behaviour "is going to make the child doubt himself or herself in some ways."

Conflict resolution

Parenting expert Barbara Coloroso specializes in non-violent conflict resolution and says teaching kids how to solve conflict should also be a priority in a preschool environment.

"I mean kids are going to have conflicts, even in these cooperative activities where they are overcoming an obstacle, or climbing a rock wall, or swinging back and forth on the monkey bars," she tells Tremonti.

Coloroso suggests creating dynamic play areas — outside and inside — for kids to learn about body space and recognize when someone is struggling, to encourage cooperation.

"Children who do not fight grow up to make lousy spouses, " Coloroso says.

She urges people should be willing to enter into conflict.

"But our job is to teach them that when you have a conflict — whether it's on the playground, in the classroom, in the hallways — that there are ways to handle it non-violently."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith, Sam Colbert and Shannon Higgins.