The Importance of Rough & Tumble Play

Posted on Oct 10, 2016 | 0 comments


When we hear the words “Roughhousing” or “Rough and Tumble”, it often calls to mind kids wrestling, fighting, and crying. For many parents, this type of play feels uncomfortable and aggressive. However, there is a huge body of research that shows that rough and tumble play is highly beneficial for children and provides benefits that no other type of play can. Let’s start by redefining Rough and Tumble play:

What is Rough and Tumble Play?

  • Tickling
  • Wrestling
  • Chasing
  • Tumbling
  • Spinning
  • FUN!!

What are the benefits of Rough and Tumble Play?

  • It helps develop the prefrontal cortex portion of the brain. This portion of the brain plays a pivotal role in executive function. Executive function is what allows us have self-control, allows us to problem solve, and is involved in memory recall… In other words, roughhousing actually makes our children smarter!
  • It helps children encode and decode social skills. Rough and tumble play gives children a safe space to practice social skills such as reading facial expressions, exhibiting self-control, displaying empathy, and figuring out how to work with others.
  • It helps with physical development. Rough and tumble play is natural aerobic exercise. It also allows children to gain experience in falling without getting hurt, develop their vestibular and cerebellar sensory systems, and gain confidence in their physical ability.
  • It helps develop confidence. Rough and tumble play involves taking risks and may involve getting hurt. As parents, we must remember that getting hurt a little is OK. This gives children practice with coping with hurt, allows them to become aware of their own body’s limitations, make better choices at which risk to take, and results in them becoming hurt LESS.

How can an adult facilitate Rough and Tumble Play?

  • Set the rules
  • Watch and intervene (check in, reinforce rules, remind a child to self-regulate)
  • Offer suggestions
  • End the play if it doesn’t end naturally.

At The Kids’ Co-op, we allow and encourage rough and tumble play at school. Our school has provided the following guidelines that we hope will help our parent volunteers facilitate this type of play at school:

  • Rough and Tumble Play must have an adult supervisor
  • Everyone who is playing needs to WANT to play.
  • BEFORE Rough and Tumble play begins, help children establish guidelines or rules. These rules might sound like, “no kicking” or “tag with open hands only” or “wrestle while kneeling”.
  • You may also need to pause rough and tumble play to establish new rules. Some phrases to facilitate this might be:
    • Is everyone having fun?
    • What are the rules?
    • Looks at his face. He looks scared/mad/sad… he’s not smiling anymore.
    • Let’s make a new rule.
  • When the smiles stop, the play stops. Anyone can leave the play when they want to.
  • Rough and tumble play happens outside on the grass only.
  • Rough and tumble play should be accessible to anyone who want to participate.
  • Rough and Tumble play rarely lasts longer than 10 minutes.
  • NO pinching. NO punching.

I’m uncomfortable doing Rough and Tumble Play. How can I play with my children at home?

  • Play “airplane” by laying on your back and putting child on your feet. You can also pick smaller children up and have them “fly” around the room in your arms.
  • “Squish”- start on your hands and knees with your child lying under you. As you count down from 5, gently lower yourself until you are “squishing” them. Have children practice this on you too!
  • An extension of this is the “steamroller”. From the hands and knees position, grab your child and roll, pulling them on top of you. Then continue rolling until you are over them, supporting your weight on your hands and knees. Continue this all the way across the floor.
  • “Monster Chase”. The adult chases the child around, with much fanfare, running and roaring, and silly slips, but rarely manages to catch the child. When you do catch them, play a silly game like tickle, or pretend that they are locked up and will NEVER escape, only to allow them to slip away accidentally.

We hope this will encourage you to get uncomfortable or do a little more of this type of play with your child. We know they’ll be happy!