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Roughhousing Gets High Marks From Parent Experts

Horseplay between parents and kids holds many benefits, say local and national experts.

A hands-on dad can be more instrumental in a child’s development than previously thought—and we literally mean “hands on.” New research is suggesting that horseplay or roughhousing with dad can be a strong tool for a child in developing self-esteem, emotional intelligence, ethics and critical thinking.

A book recently released, titled “The Art of Roughhousing: Good Ole Fashioned Horseplay and Why Everyone Needs It,” is gaining national attention for its suggestion that getting down on the floor with your kids is one healthy way to connect with your child while bolstering self-esteem and cognitive and emotional intelligence.

Written by Drs. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen, it explains how play, especially physical play like wrestling, makes kids smarter and encourages better bonds with parents.

Unique and spontaneous acts like Mattress Surfing, the actual act of riding a bed mattress down a flight of stairs or less difficult tasks like tumbling around the floor, horseback rides, pillow fights, airplane, bear hugs and swinging the kids around in a circle are just some of the “roughhousing” ideas presented in the book, all with easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations.

In an excerpt from the book, authors describe roughhousing as play, “which means that it is done for its own sake, it is joyful, and it flows with spontaneity, with improvisation, and without any worries about how we look or how much time is passing by.”

It goes on to say, “Roughhousing is interactive, which means it builds close connections between our children and ourselves, especially as we get down on the wrestling mat and join children in their world. Roughhousing is rowdy, which means that it pushes us out of our inhibitions and inflexibilities. Rowdiness is not dangerous, as long as we have the safety that comes from knowledge, close supervision, and carefully paying attention.”

And local experts agree. Dr. Lorraine Hutchinson, a marriage and family therapist, agrees that roughhousing is a great way for children to develop muscle strength, and finds it is an excellent tool for developing strategy and critical thinking.

“It teaches children how to handle victory and defeat and it gives them a sense of accomplishment all in the guise of play,” Hutchinson said.  “Roughhousing helps young children through their psychosocial crises of autonomy versus shame and doubt (18 months to 3 years), initiative versus guilt (3 to 6 years), and industry versus inferiority (6 to 12 years).”

Roughhousing also helps a child to feel as if they have accomplished something when they can defeat dad, but when they cannot, they also learn how to handle defeat, according to Hutchinson. “These are both valuable lessons for our children to learn, and unfortunately today, we have often gone too far to the other side to make kids feel accomplished by not allowing them the opportunity to learn from losing.”

Other key benefits include:

  • Developing self-regulatory skills
  • Helping kids manage themselves because when they’re playing rough, they have to defend themselves
  • Learning self-confidence and how to manipulate and handle their young bodies
  • Aiding children in learning how to interact with others, developing empathy and reining in personal aggression
  • Builds trust, establishes a more physical relationship with another adult
  • Increases emotional intelligence, as children have to regulate their ability to hype up and wind down
  • Furthers problem-solving skills by forcing immediate choices and results
  • Encouraging physical play, keeping their little bodies fit
  • Laughter and joy: Children enjoy this type of play, which results in giggles and requests for more

So the next time you get the urge to tackle your little one or carry your child to the bath like a “sack of potatoes,” act on it. Experts believe you will be providing your child with numerous benefits they might not otherwise be exposed to. 

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