The Importance of Roughhousing With Your Kids

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 7, 2012 · 145 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

Roughhousing. Horseplay. Wrastling. Whatever you call it, it’s one of the best things about being a dad. I love chasing my one-year-old son, Gus, around the house or pretending that the living room is a lucha libre ring and wrestling with him. No matter how stressed out I’m feeling, hearing one of his big, belly laughs erupt as I swing him around like a monkey makes all my cares go away.

Gus-Dad Throwdown

Unfortunately, in recent years, horseplay has gotten a bad rap. Parents, concerned about safety and preventing ADHD, limit the amount of rambunctious play their kids take part in. At least 40% of US school districts have eliminated or are considering eliminating recess, because  teachers need more time to cram kids’ heads full of information for standardized tests, because they’re afraid of children getting hurt and the school being held liable, and even because play can apparently encourage violent behavior; according to a principal that banned recess at her elementary school in Cheyenne, a game of tag “progresses easily into slapping and hitting and pushing instead of just touching.”

But recent research has shown that roughhousing serves an evolutionary purpose and actually provides a myriad of benefits for our progeny.  In their book The Art of Roughhousing, Anthony DeBenedet and Larry Cohen highlight a few of these benefits and the research behind them. Instead of teaching kids to be violent and impulsive, DeBenedet and Cohen boldly claim that roughhousing “makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” In short, roughhousing makes your kid awesome.

Below, we highlight six benefits of roughhousing with your children. The next time your wife gets on to you for riling up the kids, you can tell her: “I’m helping our children develop into healthy, functioning adults, dear!”…right before performing a baby suplex on your daughter.

The Benefits of Roughhousing

Roughhousing Boosts Your Kid’s Resilience

Helping your child develop a resilient spirit is one of the best things you can do as a parent. The ability to bounce back from failures and adapt to unpredictable situations will help your kids reach their full potential and live happier lives as adults. And an easy way to help boost your kids’ resilience is to put them in a gentle headlock and give them a noogie.

Roughhousing requires your child to adapt quickly to unpredictable situations. One minute they might be riding you like a horse and the next they could be swinging upside-down. According to evolutionary biologist Marc Bekoff in his book Wild Justice, the unpredictable nature of roughhousing actually rewires a child’s brain by increasing the connections between neurons in the cerebral cortex, which in turn contributes to behavioral flexibility. Learning how to cope with sudden changes while roughhousing trains your kiddos to cope with unexpected bumps in the road when they’re out in the real world.

Additionally, roughhousing helps develop your children’s grit and stick-to-itiveness. You shouldn’t just let your kids “win” every time when you roughhouse with them. Whether they’re trying to escape from your hold or run past you in the hallway, make them work for it. Playtime is a fun and safe place to teach your kids that failure is often just a temporary state and that victory goes to the person who keeps at it and learns from his mistakes.

Roughhousing also helps children learn how to manage and deal with pain and discomfort. You shouldn’t intentionally hurt your kids while roughhousing (obviously), but little bumps and scrapes are bound to happen. Instead of cuddling and kissing a child’s “boo boo,” dads have a tendency to distract their kids from the pain with humor or some other task. Learning to deal with and manage minor discomforts while roughhousing can help your child handle the stresses they’ll encounter at school and work.

Roughhousing Makes Your Kid Smarter

Image by ctsnow

Go ahead. Toss your kid like a sack of potatoes onto your bed. It will help turn him into a Toddler Einstein.

Psychologist Anthony Pellegrini has found that the amount of roughhousing children engage in predicts their achievement in first grade better than their kindergarten test scores do. What is it about rough and tumble play that makes kids smarter? Well, a couple things.

First, as we discussed above, roughhousing makes your kid more resilient and resilience is a key in developing children’s intelligence. Resilient kids tend to see failure more as a challenge to overcome rather than an event that defines them.  This sort of intellectual resilience helps ensure your children bounce back from bad grades and gives them the grit to keep trying until they’ve mastered a topic.

In addition to making students more resilient, roughhousing actually rewires the brain for learning. Neuroscientists studying animal and human brains have found that bouts of rough-and-tumble play increase the brain’s level of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps increase neuron growth in the parts of the brain responsible for memory, logic, and higher learning–skills necessary for academic success.

Roughhousing Builds Social Intelligence

I’ve talked to several parents, especially moms, who are afraid to encourage roughhousing because they think it will turn their kids into little bouncing-off-the-walls hellians who will someday wind up in a juvie center. I guess I can see the reasoning behind their concerns–five-year-old play fights with dad; five-year-old thinks violence is fun; five year old turns into violent sadist bent on human destruction.

The problem is that research actually shows the opposite outcome: children who engage in frequent roughhousing are almost always more socially and emotionally adept than kids who don’t. Dr. Stuart Brown, an expert on play (Yeah, you can be an expert on play. Who knew?) says that the “lack of experience with rough-and-tumble play hampers the normal give-and-take necessary for social mastery and has been linked with poor control of violent impulses later in life.” That’s right. Wrestling your kid around in a play fight ensures that he doesn’t turn into the next Ted Bundy. Keeping him away from the neighborhood cats helps too.

Roughhousing builds social intelligence in several ways. First, when kids roughhouse they learn to tell the difference between play and actual aggression. Dr. Pellegrini found in a survey among school-aged children that the ones who could tell the difference between play and real aggression were more well-liked compared to kids who had a hard time separating the two. The kids who mistook play for aggression often ended up returning their classmates good-natured overtures with a real punch in the kisser. The ability to differentiate between play and aggression translates into other social skills that require people to read and interpret social cues.

Roughhousing also teaches children about taking turns and cooperation. You might not recognize it, but when you horse around with your kids, you’re often taking part in a give-and-take negotiation where the goal is to make sure everyone has fun.  Sometimes you’re the chaser and sometimes you’re the chasee; sometimes you’re pinning down your kids and other times they’re pinning you down. Your kids wouldn’t want to keep playing if they were constantly on the losing side.  Everyone has to take turns in order for the fun to continue.

What’s interesting is that animals even take part in this back-and-forth role reversal. Adult wolves will expose their bellies and necks to their cubs and let them “win” the play fight. Stronger rats will handicap themselves during bouts of play and let the weaker rat win so play can continue. Marc Bekoff posits that roughhousing may be nature’s way of teaching cooperation to animals, a necessary skill for the survival of a species.

Roughhousing Teaches Your Kid Morality

We all want kids who end up like Atticus Finch–moral, upright, compassionate. That’s exactly why you need to body slam your kid every now and then.

When we roughhouse with our sons and daughters, they learn boundaries and the difference between right and wrong. If they start hitting hard, aiming below the belt, or becoming malicious, you can reprimand them and then show by example what’s appropriate roughhousing behavior.

Also, roughhousing teaches our children about the appropriate use of strength and power. As I mentioned earlier, when we roughhouse with our kids, we often take turns with the dominant role. Because we’re so much bigger and stronger, we have to handicap ourselves. The implicit message to your child when you hold back is: “Winning isn’t everything. You don’t need to dominate all the time. There’s strength in showing compassion on those weaker than you.”

Roughhousing Gets Your Kid Physically Active

Dads have a profound impact on their children’s physical fitness. Studies have shown that the father’s, (not the mother’s), activity level and weight strongly predict what their children’s activity level and weight will be as adults. If you want your kids to be healthy, active, and fit, then you better be healthy, active, and fit yourself.

What better way to teach your kids to live an active lifestyle than by getting down on the carpet with them for some vigorous roughhousing instead of everyone vegging out in front of the TV? All that running, tumbling, and tackling helps develop strength, flexibility, and coordination in your child.

Roughhousing Builds the Father-Child Bond

Some of my best memories of my childhood were when my dad roughhoused with my brother and I. When we were smaller he’d do the obligatory “ride the horsey.” When we got a little bigger we moved to slap fighting, which consisted of my dad dramatically swirling his hands in front of him like you see fighters do in the old kung fu movies and then very lightly smacking our heads with quick open-handed jabs. Slap fights were the best.

You probably have similar memories of roughhousing with your dad. Roughhousing offers dads a chance to physically show their affection to their kids in a fun and playful environment. When Gus and I wrestle, there are lots of hugs and kisses scattered in-between pretend sleeper holds.

When you throw your kids up in the air and catch them or swing them upside-down, you’re building your child’s trust in you. As they take part in somewhat risky activities with you, your kids learn that they can trust you to keep them safe. Just don’t be like this guy when you tell your kids to jump into your arms:

How to Roughhouse With Your Kids

The beauty of roughhousing is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Roughhousing is just spontaneous, improvised play that’s both rowdy and interactive. Don’t think too much about whether you’re doing it wrong or right. Just have fun.

With that said, the The Art of Roughhousing provides a few guidelines to keep in mind while you’re tossing your kids in the air:

Safety first. While you want to get rough and rowdy with your kids, you don’t want to get too crazy with them. Just be aware of your surroundings and keep your kids away from areas where they can get hurt. Also, keep in mind that a child’s joints are prone to injury when roughhousing. Save the joint locks for when your kids are older and fully developed.

Don’t roughhouse right before bed. For me, I have a tendency to want to horse around with Gus right before bed. I’m going to miss the little guy while he’s asleep, so I want to get in as much daddy time as I can before he hits the hay. But just like adults, kids need some time right before bed to relax and ramp things down so they can get into sleep mode. Unless you want a little night owl joining you on the couch to watch late-night TV, roughhouse earlier in the day.

Roughhousing is for girls, too.  While boys are naturally prone to engage in roughhousing, make sure you don’t leave your daughters out of the fun. Studies show that girls who roughhouse with their fathers are more confident than girls who don’t. And some studies even indicate that roughhousing can prevent your little angel from growing up into one of those Queen Bee, Mean Girls that psychologically terrorize other girls.

If you’re looking for specific things to do with your kids while roughhousing, I definitely recommend picking up a copy of The Art of Roughhousing. The book features some great suggestions for roughhousing fun, along with helpful illustrations showing you how to do them. Also, you can visit their website for roughhousing ideas, too.


The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen
Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce
The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland

{ 145 comments… read them below or add one }

1 david February 7, 2012 at 6:34 pm

We all want kids who end up like Atticus Finch–moral, upright, compassionate. That’s exactly why you need to body slam your kid every now and then.

Best AOM quote ever.

2 Tyler Smith February 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm


My father’s 50 something years old and we still get in roughhousing bouts. He may have 25 years on me, but he can still go toe to toe with his boy if he wants to.

fun. fun.

3 Justin February 7, 2012 at 6:49 pm

What a fun article. And right on the money, too. Some of my best childhood memories were roughhousing with my dad, and I totally agree that it builds character and teaches lessons.

You made my day. Thank you. Now I’m going to go home and play wrestle with my 8 month old son as best I can. :)

4 mike February 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm

my kids love to rough house with me, its win win, i get destressed. they spend of excess energy. they learn where not to hit me. etc and so on

5 Ben Norris February 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm

This is so true! I have two daughters, ages 6 and 4, and a 3 year-old son. Their favorite activity is wrestling with Dad. The times when we are able to work it in invariable lead to them proclaiming, “This is the best day ever!” They want to do more with me during the day and then want me home more as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Thanks!

6 Jacob February 7, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I remember growing up and wrestling with my dad and my older brother whenever I had the chance. It was always so much fun to try and fight my way out and around my dad, and to try and get out from under my brother, who figured it was a good idea to just lay on me and not let me move. Whenever I’m with my nieces, nephews and youngest cousins, I’ll play fight with them, much to the chagrin of their parents.

You gotta let your kids get dirty, get their bumps and bruises, and just have fun. I did it, my dad did it, and I’m sure when he was growing up, my grandfather was picked up and thrown around by his father.

It’s something I loved growing up, and, when I find the woman I love and have a family, I plan on doing the same. My kids will be thoroughly – yet safely – body slammed.

7 Dave February 7, 2012 at 7:59 pm

One of the best articles i’ve read in a while. roughhousing was always one of my favorite things to do when I was a kid, and still is when I go home to my parents. I still “fight” my dad, and my three youngest brothers who are 5, 8, and 10

8 Fred @ One Project Closer February 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Really good article all around. We adopted our twin boys when they were 2-1/2 years old. The day after we brought them home, I got down on the floor, and one son started jumping on me. It was clear that someone had roughhoused with him before, and that he knew exactly what the drill was–and loved it. We’ve had our boys for 5 years now and roughhousing is a daily activity.

While I like the entire article, I especially like the part about kids developing a sense for play aggression vs. real aggression. Roughhousing helps kids learn that difference and be able to respond. That’s an especially important concept when kids play sports and need to be able to determine the difference between good-spirited and mean-spirited competition (both to recognize when its coming their way, and to ensure their own attitude is right).

9 Lisa February 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm

As someone who had the best Daddy in the Whole Wide World, I can’t agree more. We’d have tons of tickle fights, roughhousing (with my Mom yelling at us to stop) and lots of playing catch in the backyard. …even though my Dad said I “threw like a girl.” :^) Those are some of my best memories.

Absolutely nothing prepares a girl more to conquer the world than to have a great Daddy <3

10 Andrew February 7, 2012 at 8:22 pm

It’s true, I see far too many kids who don’t know when it’s right or wrong to be rough, and this comes from being exposed to video games and rough kids without a father figure showing right or wrong for the kid. These kids keep developing into whiny and self important layabouts. It’s not wrong to play with your kids!

11 Ronald Squire February 7, 2012 at 8:44 pm

One of my favorite AOM articles ever! I remember the loads of fun my siblings and I would have while wrestling with my Dad. From riding the horsey to having him pin us in between his legs while he farted on us and we’d all bust up laughing; nothing but the best of memories. And come to think of it my sibilings and I all turned out well adjusted and with many friends.
Also, my wife is a child development specialist and the one thing she always recommends to the Dads is to rough house with their kids because it helps their language development! Yet another benefit to rough housing!
Great article Brett. Thank you.

12 Doyle February 7, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Watch out for ceiling fans. They are one of the most common injuries from the “toss-in-th-air” kind of fun, turning a good time into a terrifyingly bad time.

13 Doug February 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm

personal experience Doyle? lol

Excellent article. I’m 19, and my dad can still pin me down on occasion, and he’s 54. He doesn’t know it, but I let him win… HA!

14 Hunter February 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm

The thing about the social intelligence part is that it is sometimes wrong, such as my case. I am bi-polar and when I was younger, my dad would rough house with me, but when I got older, sometimes when I felt someone was making fun of me, even though they weren’t, my bi-polar would kick in and make me lash out. So if your family has a history of bi-polar, try to give even more focus to this part. (I know the way I made my definition of bi-polar was vague and possibly only applies to a few)

15 jsallison February 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Hey, I can still body slam my 4yo granddaughter, that’s manly, right? Or would the manly part be where she pins me? ;)

16 Augustus February 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Hear, Hear!!

17 Zach February 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm

I roughhoused with by dad all the time when i was a kid, and they’re some of the best memories i have. I definitely plan on roughhousing with my kids, and this article has only further cemented that opinion.

18 Gabe February 7, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I remember roughhousing lightly with my father up untill about 8, but from that point on I stayed fairly resentfull of him, this grew to me leaving home at 15, I havent touched my father in years, I occaisionally come to their house for Christmas (I am 22 years old.) the Idea of even huggin this man seems a very difficult & akward idea. I’m not sure how to try to relate, but I’m hoping I can learn from his mistakes and have my own down to earth healthy family someday.

19 Jay February 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

My old man is sixty-three, I’m thirty, and he and I still like to slap each other around. It always starts with a subtle elbow to the rib cage, and we still love it.

20 Larry Hamilton February 7, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Rassling, tickling, and pillow fight were part of the upbringing for both my son and daughter. I still have pokey fights with my 15 daughter. Helps create a lot of hugs.

21 Joe February 7, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Rough housing before bed. Something I do frequently to get my son all riled up. It drives my wife crazy.

22 Jaime February 8, 2012 at 4:32 am

I used to get in tickle fights with my Dad when I was younger. I always thought it was awesome when I would win or at least get the upper hand in battle against him. I think I learned more about social interaction from roughhousing w/ my Dad than I ever did from the kids or teachers at school.

23 Dan Smith February 8, 2012 at 6:45 am

I’ve noticed a change in my son. Used to be, he’d know he couldn’t beat me. I think he even knew when I was letting him win. But as he’s grown stronger (he’s almost nine now), he realizes that he actually is becoming pretty strong, and on occasion, even though I still “let” him win, he feels more confidence. I’m sure someday I won’t be letting him win anymore…he’ll do it legitimately. And I can’t wait to see how his confidence soars on that day!

24 Jon February 8, 2012 at 7:11 am


First off, awesome video! Keep it up, because they grow up fast! My daughters still ask me to wrestler with them, but it gets a little tougher as they get older. We do a lot of slap boxing and I even bought a striking pad so they can just pummel me. It definitely brings us closer and gets it their heart rates up when we’re stuck inside on those long winter days. Great post.

25 David W February 8, 2012 at 7:58 am

Man oh man, what a delightful piece! Reminds me of all the good rough housing moments with my old man. I’m one of seven kids, and most certainly the girls got in on the action too!

26 Steve February 8, 2012 at 8:46 am

I found that Dr. Leonard Sax has some great books and insight into teaching and reaching out to kids. A lot of what happens in schools today are reactions to fear that most educators and parents have. It’s wrong that our kids cannot play dodge ball or that kids get sent home if they draw a “violent” picture. Boys need to be boys and today’s education system is not allowing this!

Reading the following books brought back some memories of what it was like growing up under my grandfather’s roof.
I recommend Three books by Dr Sax….
Why Gender Matters
Boys Adrift
Girls on the Edge

27 GiJo February 8, 2012 at 9:01 am

I grew up with my mom, and she would make me teach her and practice my various martial arts (karate, judo, MTKB) with her at home – full contact. I was six when I started martial arts, but have earlier memories of wrestling with her. Later on as a teenager, she admitted that although she worried how it might affect my relationships with women as I grew, she believed it was important that I had that rough and tumble parent-child bond especially as I didn’t have a father around. Personally, I think it worked out.

28 Dustin B February 8, 2012 at 9:15 am

Great read! I love wrestling with my two year old son. He loves it!

But seriously, what was with the Walker Texas Ranger clip?

29 dogbert February 8, 2012 at 9:22 am

I have 4 confident kids, 2 boys and 2 girls.

I used get the kids to stand on my shoulders while holding their hands; then they graduated to standing on my HEAD while i held their hands. Lotsa fun.

then there is how many ways can i flip the kid around my body without dropping them.
or spinning them around while holding them by the ankles.
or diving off your shoulders while swimming.
or both of you getting into the same sweatshirt.
bags of fun!!

30 JHud February 8, 2012 at 9:29 am

Great article….some of my favorite times were my wrestling around with my Dad. One time when I was 5 he was pretending to do a body slam so I put my arms up. Well, he came down a bit farther than he intended and the result was a compound fracture of my right arm. Talk about him feeling bad…but I tried acting tough, didn’t cry and told him it was okay b/c it was an accident. That moment of father-son bonding is something we’ve both carried with us. To eliminate or criminalize roughhousing would be a shame!

31 Jon February 8, 2012 at 9:30 am

I think this can be said of all parent/children interaction. Children need their parents example more than any other. God made us this way because He is our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

32 Tim February 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

I have four boys who taught me more about rough-housing than anyone. When I came home from my neat, clean banking job they would run out the door to meet me. By the time I got out of the car and headed to the house, they were wrapped around my legs, hanging on to my jacket and swinging from my belt like a bunch of monkeys. When I finally made it into the house they were taking me down. What a blast! Being a dad is so cool.

33 thump February 8, 2012 at 10:03 am

Great article. Laughed the whole way through it! This was better than starting my workday with

34 cody February 8, 2012 at 10:13 am

Great article Brett, roughhousing with dad when i was little are some of my fondest memories. Even these days we mess around and spar.

35 Owen Marcus February 8, 2012 at 10:15 am

Boys particularly need to play with their bodies. It’s interesting in the men’s groups I do often a man who didn’t get to play like this, for example they grew up with only sisters will get a huge healing when we ‘horse around’.

36 Russell Hild February 8, 2012 at 10:15 am

I couldn’t agree more. After teaching high school math in public school a couple years, its unmistakable how less resilient kids are today than when I was there age – only about 10-12 years ago.

37 timr February 8, 2012 at 10:22 am

I work with a fellow who was roughhousing with his older boy and crack! – Dad ended up with a broken neck. All turned out well and he made (is making) a full recovery. Lesson to be learned – take it easy!

38 Mark Ruddick February 8, 2012 at 10:34 am

I roughhouse with my boy (now 14) I’m finding myself needing to use a lot more strength to “win” now. It will be a proud moment when I can’t win anymore.

39 shawna February 8, 2012 at 10:43 am

This was a RAD post! And thanks for not leaving out the girls…my daughter has three brothers and we make rough housing a family affair. Although it usually does end with rug burns and accidental head butts.

40 Tank February 8, 2012 at 11:09 am

Great article! I too have fond memories of roughhousing with my dad. I’m thirty now and while we may not roll around on the floor anymore there is still the occasional slap fight or jab to the ribs when we get together.

41 B. Warren February 8, 2012 at 11:12 am

Im so glad that this was posted. I can now show my wife the science behind roughhousing my 2 year old twin sons.

42 Ryan February 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

Great article! One caveat, however: cite your sources more. I really wanted to read more on the correlation between roughhousing and increased BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), but all I could dig up was an article implying a corelation ( if you care to take a look; but it might be behind a paywall, unfortunately).

That paper talks about ADHD-diagnosed children having smaller frontal brain areas than normal children, and the same areas are linked to impulsivity in animals, which might be able to be reverted to normal levels with sensorimotor enrichment (roughhousing and other adventuring/space discovery).

Keep up the great articles, Brett and Kate!

43 Joe February 8, 2012 at 11:43 am

Ha! I love it. My 2-year-old son loves to play football. Step 1: throw the ball; step 2: who cares about the ball anymore – let’s tackle!

It’s great to read about these benefits. I would be interested in the benefits to parents, too, because, as you wrote, Brett, hearing that belly laugh makes my cares disappear. Thanks for the encouragement.

44 Jim February 8, 2012 at 11:57 am

I forwarded this to everyone that I could think of, it is great. I have four grandsons’, 6-9-11-13, and I am working hard to teach them how to “pull” their punches so I don’t have to quit rough housing with them, for my own safety!! They are getting a big as I am but I still can’t turn down a “shoulders Papa” request because I now prettysoon it will be my turn.

45 Ellen Jessen February 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm

My husband played “Horsey-Bull” with our 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. I watched from the safety of the couch, and laughed. Ten years later, memories of Disney World, a Caribbean cruise, and LegoLand don’t get the rave reviews they reserve for “Horsey-Bull”

46 teomatteo February 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm

My mother would scream at us four boys when we fought but my father liked it when we smacked each other around. My mother decided that her only rule was: “just dont scar his face!”
we held to that edict.

47 Christina February 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I LOVE roughhousing with my 5-year-old daughter. It’s my favorite thing to do with her. I’m not the type of mom frequently described in this article.

48 Jim McFarland February 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I absolutely love wrestling with my two daughters! And they adore me for it; they honestly can’t get enough of it. My daughters, Alyssa 10, and Madison 9 are very sociable, outspoken, confident young ladies-and they both have been commended several times from strangers on how caring they are, and what big hearts they have! I’d like to believe a little bit of that has something to do with above average Fathering- and now I know all those dogpiles with tangled legs arms and heads everywhere weren’t just a blast, but they were actually helping them too! So Men, Wrestle hard with your girls too!

49 Heather February 8, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Loved this article! I direct an after-school program and have to monitor the wrestling among the 5th grade boys regularly. I love that we can provide outside, active play that for school age kids with limited recess during the day. We support “tag” games while teaching appropriate tagging methods.

I also have fond memories of wrestling with my dad and brother and laughing until we cried.

Great perspective for parents and educators. Your video of wrestling with Gus is precious. It made me tear up! I can’t wait to have children with my fiancee and let him wrestle with our kids.

50 Jon B. February 8, 2012 at 1:26 pm

My elder daughter was about 18 months old when we had our most memorable wrestling match. She was just wearing a red diaper cover, red socks, and white shoes. She looked exactly like a mini-pro wrestler from the early 90s! My suplexes were no match for her flying elbow drops and her leg slams! :D

51 Liz February 8, 2012 at 1:53 pm

I am a 39 year old mom of two with one on the way. Roughhousing is not just for dads. I do it all the time with my kids as well. I love the touching, affection and playfulness. It makes me feel close to the kids and I know they feel the same.

52 Jeremy February 8, 2012 at 2:07 pm

“We all want kids who end up like Atticus Finch–moral, upright, compassionate. That’s exactly why you need to body slam your kid every now and then.”

Hahaha, my favorite quote of the entire article. Well said.

53 Magister Christianus February 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

I well remember the wrestling bouts with my dad on a Sunday afternoon. Our son, 11, and I wrestle in the living room, battle with foam or wooden swords outside, and wrestle each night after I have read him a story. He insists on pinning me to the bed as I pray with him, then I have to try to get out from under him. It is getting more difficult! Our daughter, 7, loves to have me sit in the living room floor and run full bore at me to knock me over. I wouldn’t exchange these times for all the money in the world.

54 Christian February 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Great article. Reading it and seeing the pics of the happy kids simply puts a huge smile on my mustached face and makes be anticipate fatherhood more.

“That’s right. Wrestling your kid around in a play fight ensures that he doesn’t turn into the next Ted Bundy.”

This quote should be this article’s tagline:)

55 Mary Jo February 8, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Great article and right on. We have three awesome kids and a roughhousing dad to prove it!

56 Monique February 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Infully agree, both my husband and I roughhouse/wrestle etc with our 2 boys (7 & 10) They love it especially when they get to beat me :). I love it because I thinkit’s fun and has raised a girly girl and now that I have 2 boys I just roll with the punches :)

57 Larry February 8, 2012 at 6:55 pm

My son and daughter would clear the living room floor as soon as they got called to dinner. When dinner was over they would holler “Time to WRESTLE!” My wife would shake her head, wave me out of the room, and clean the kitchen herself.
This weekend my daughter’s 2 year old son spent the night with us. we were rolling around on the bed, “Body SWAM”ming each other when I realized he wasn’t just dropping on me. He was going full fledged, flat out, AIRBORNE!! and laughing his head off, as was I. I had forgotten how much fun this was until he joined our world!
Our kids had rules 1. NO shoes 2. NO belt buckles. 3 NO punching 4. No keys (oops!) 5. NO Farting.

58 Nicholas February 8, 2012 at 7:04 pm

What a great article! As the father of a 14-month-old daughter, I couldn’t agree more. Our best times are those spent horsing around and have her laughing and giggling and smiling to her heart’s content.

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are precisely the all-out tickle wars with my dad. And I still remember my Mum telling him not to do it, but I am thankful he still did it anyway, even if at times there was the odd bruises, fall or broken furniture.

And believe it or not, for all the horsing around, I still turned out OK!

It pains me that the schools are so PC that kids cannot be kids. A school principal in Toronto recently banned all balls during recess, I mean, how crazy is that? They have already removed 99% of basketball hoops in the city for safety concerns. Yikes! And then they have to gall to complain that kids today are not active enough. Come on people!

59 Grant February 8, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I absolutely agree with this article, for another example, I once saw a video of a Japanese grandfather at a wedding who was doing Wing Chun with his granddaughter who was sitting beside him, Wing Chun which is like this:

Of course he was doing it far more gently and slower but you could tell the granddaughter was having a great time, and somewhat more importantly he is teaching her so many things like respect, self-defence, self-control and various other things.

It makes me sad that parents nowadays are over-protective about everything, I honestly like nothing more than seeing a parent who lets their child do the things I would do as a child instead of sheltering them from everything. Quite saddening.

60 father muskrat February 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm

One of the earliest pieces of literature written by me that’s still in my parents’ house is an explanation of playing “bull” with my dad when I was in kindergarten or 1st grade. I dictated to my teacher (who actually penned the essay) something about his chasing me around the den on all fours and butting me like an angry steer. Then I drew a really awful depiction of this game in crayon.

30 years later, I can assure you I’m a brilliant, well-adjusted adult because of this.

61 Bryan February 8, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Its been more than 45 years ago when me and my brother rough housed with our Dad. Even though he is up in years and much time has passed, reading this article brought back the memories of being in a lovingly applied headlock and laying on a few atomic body slams of my own. You can bet I’m forwarding this one on. Good job AOM!

62 Brent Pittman February 8, 2012 at 11:56 pm

The Art of Roughhousing is great book with cool tricks that increase in difficulty as the kids get older. My son also loves to wrestle, it’s one of our favorite times together.

63 Mike February 9, 2012 at 12:54 am

I have roughhoused with both my daughters their whole lives. They are now 18 and 20. My youngest has suffered through two back surgery (to correct at congenital defect). The doctors were amazed at her ability to handle the pain that normally causes people to be laid up for weeks. My older daughter played competitive soccer for a number of years and would as a goal keeper. I have seen her get kicked in the head and continue to play. Both of them are also able to protect themselves because they learned to punch. As matter of fact, I don’t play slug bug with them anymore because they hurt too much . I don’t worry about some guy abusing them. They will kick ass on anyone who tries.

64 Ted A. Hunt February 9, 2012 at 2:47 am

What a terrific article! I’m as happy to see how well it was received as I was to read it. I was teaching in public schools in the 80s. It was strange to me that so many kids lacked any sense of what was and was not appropriate in social interactions. How sad to think it’s because no one played with them, and how much worse it must be now.

65 Heather February 9, 2012 at 9:35 am

Thank you for this! I’m the parent who wrestles…with my girls! I hope this is still okay?! I remember big carpet pile ups with my brother, sister and Dad when we were younger and LOVE it still. Because of our wrestling, tickling and acrobatics, I’ve learned where each of my girls have different boundaries and try to respect each of their individual space, while trying to push them a bit out of their comfort zone, but respecting them when they don’t seem happy. I try to get my husband into tickle fights with them to get him involved as well, I definitely think it is a healthy family activity (and I get in trouble for doing it too close to bedtime as well:) Thanks – from a MOM who roughhouses!

66 priest's wife February 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

In the book (written by psychiatrist) Preventing Homosexuality in Children for Parents – one of the ways to do this is for dads to wrestle with their sons- sons need to have overtly masculine activities with their dads so that there is nothing intriguing/forbidden about it and they have direct (safe, chaste) contact with a male body before puberty sets in- it’s an interesting book

67 Tim February 9, 2012 at 10:26 am

Father Muskrat, thank you for your post. Your final comment made my day!

68 Jane Eyre February 9, 2012 at 11:20 am

My husband is in his 50′s and my daughter is 8. He has been roughhousing with her every since she was very small. She loves it and to this day she is much closer to her father than to me. Maybe if I had rough housed a bit more with her we would have a stronger bond. Helps tire her out more too.

69 Oliver February 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm

My dad’s roughhousing technique has always involved a lot of roaring. I’m eighteen, still living at home, and just the other week he was kneeling on my chest, deafening me with his blood-curdling war cries and trying to pin my shoulder to the floor. He never got it down. :) Wrestling is an artly, manly parenting skill to have.

70 James S February 9, 2012 at 4:30 pm

My oldest son (4!) calls our roughhousing “Boom!” because of our sound effects. Hence he calls wrestling on tv “boom” as well. so much fun watching him flex his muscles :)

71 bMac February 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I fondly remember roughhousing with my son Ian. We had a game where one of us would be “just walking down the street” when a mugger would suddenly jump out at him. A kung-fu, wrestling match ensued with the good guy always winning over the mugger. My wife hated it because as she said eventually one of us would start crying! Ian is 28 now and we still talk about those games. He’s a security guard, and I wouldn’t want to suddenly jump him now!!

72 Brian February 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

My son has autism, and I know by experience, that roughhousing with him is very therapeutic. He has trouble connecting socially and making eye contact, but when I am pretending to be a dementor from the Harry Potter movies, he looks me straight in the eyes and yells, “EXPECTO PETRONUM!!!” (sp???)

He loves being chased. I think peril (however mild) stimulates his brain.

He also has tactile issues, and the deep pressure of wrestling is soothing to him.

Much love to AoM!!!

73 andrea February 10, 2012 at 12:55 am

What a great article! I remember roughhousing with my dad when I was a kid.
Now, as a mom, I do it with my son, I love when he laughs! My dad, gets on the floor to play with his grandsons. Its definitely good you!

74 Claude February 10, 2012 at 10:48 am

My dad wasn’t around when I was a kid, but I was lucky to have two older brothers that were more than happy to provide this kind of training. The best thing I got from it was confidence. I had been “beaten up” before, so I was afraid of it possibly happening again if a bully starting getting aggressive.

Be careful what you call these bouts though. I clearly remember my oldest daughter (5 years old at the time) telling a group of adults what she loved best about her daddy was “when he beats me”. Took a little explaining.

Great article.

75 Luke February 10, 2012 at 11:50 am

You are one cool dad.

76 Jake February 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

This is awesome, especially the part about including girls. I’d love to see a post on feminism from your point of view. Maybe a little bit on gender roles and gender equality.

77 Eric W February 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Couldn’t agree more. I lightly rough-house with my 8-month-old daughter and she absolutely loves it. She’s even started crawling towards me and ramming me (albeit quite slowly) with her head. One of my favorite parts of the day.

78 Piper February 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm

This is an excellent article and very true. I volunteer as a preschool teacher quite often in Ecuador, but never for the life of me would ever volunteer as a teacher in the USA. The things I do in Ecuador, such as spinning my kids around by the arms, having tree climbing contests, and foraging for berries that grow wildly around the school would probably land me a lot of trouble here the States for being “unsafe” and “unsanitary”. On the other end of the spectrum, we have lots of cuddle time when reading books and one little girl loves to get a kiss on her cheek when she comes to school in the morning, things that could put me on the sex’s offenders list here. All my kids are active and hyper and none of them on any drugs for it. They’re children, the way children are meant to be. Why is it here in the States, with all our funded and researched “knowledge”, we have a fear of letting our kids be kids, letting them be rolly-polly bundles of energy that get into scrapes and mud and at the end of it they just want to be hugged?

79 Ariana February 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hey Mothers can roughhouse too!!! I’m the first one to slam, toss in the air and shadow box with my Sun! Mama gets ROUGH! Lol

80 Howard February 10, 2012 at 6:47 pm

I’d first like to say that this was an excellent article. Not only was it insightful and full of interesting research, it was also humorous and well-written. It was a pleasure to read it from start to finish.

Speaking as a father and now a grandfather, I have always espoused the need for rough-housing with your kids. I have the advantage of looking back on many years of roughhousing with my son and daughters and grandchildren.

Another benefit that wasn’t mentioned in the article is that adults tend to suffer from what one writer called “skin hunger”, the need to touch another human being. He pointed out in his book, whose title I can’t remember, that after about age six, most people begin to experience a lessening of physical contact. This varies from person to person, but is almost universally true in America.

Recognizing our need for human touch is important. The older we get, the more emotionally deprived in that way, men, especially, tend to get. Again, a superb article. Keep up the good work.

81 Wyndborne February 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

A brilliant article, and one that brings some much needed light to a sadly frowned upon subject.

I never had any close contact with my old man, but instead was roughhoused by trainers and older students alike at my dojo. I have since grown up (unfortunately replacing toys with bills), and started to instruct myself. The best part of this is definitely roughhousing with the younger kids, and I have never once had a parent complain. A few of the fathers started to train with us, with one old-timer stating that “no way was he gonna let the wee’un beat him”. Made me laugh, and even my sensei cracked a smile at that.

82 Drew February 10, 2012 at 11:44 pm

One of the best memories I have of ‘family’ stuff is when I first started kickboxing and got shinpads/gloves for Xmas – dad and I took turns using them and he was doing his best to play the role of martial arts expert with generic HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYAAAAAAAAAAH’s and all. In the end our entire extended family was rolling around on the floor in hysterics, it would have been hilarious to watch.

83 Dave February 11, 2012 at 3:47 am

Well I guess I did one thing right as a parent! I was blessed with 5 kids, and even though they range now from 21 to 32, they still talk about “Attack The Giant”, the game we would play where all five of the little rascals would join forces to try to move the giant (me, pretending to be asleep on the floor), up into an armchair! The best part was when “The Giant” would suddenly “wake up” with a roar, and go on the attack! I can still hear those terrified screams! Great fun!

84 Tyler February 11, 2012 at 11:04 am

Moms shouldn’t leave all this to dad. There are so many single moms in America they had better take up rough housing with their kids. I know it’s not really in their nature to snatch up the toddler and toss him around, but someone has to do it.

85 Mike February 11, 2012 at 11:51 am

Great article. Unfortunately in this day and age, you are liable to get a call from child services for giving your kid a noogie. I remember as a kid, my dad would always give me “horsie rides”, then buck me off when I wasn’t expecting it. It was all in good fun even though I cried about it every once and a while.

86 arman February 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

wasn’t that the dad from the wonder years too?

87 ME February 11, 2012 at 11:58 pm

LOVE THIS!!!!!!!
My most favorite childhood memories are when I was rough housing wiht my uncles (my dad was absent)

we love to rough house with our kids and It is my favorite activity with the kids.

Thank you for this article. I am saddened by the no recess part. I recently started home schooling my children and am happy my kids wil not have to miss out on their favorite activity during the school day

88 Kory Leach February 12, 2012 at 2:11 am

As the son of a father who in his younger years loved to play rough with the kids I loved the article and enjoy playing with my own now.

That said, on a more personal note to the McKay’s I want to thank you for the Manvotational book. My father passed earlier this week and after writing his obituary my “creative juices” were running pretty thin due to stress and lack of sleep. I had purchased your book a couple weeks prior and was loving how the book echoed the teachings of my dad. I used your book as a template for my eulogy at his funeral yesterday. After the rifle volleys I had people who I don’t know come up to me and congratulating me on the speech. I am under the impression that the whole service was recorded and will be put on a dvd for posterity. I am planning on uploading my portion to the contest currently running. I have no expectations of winning, but I hope you see it and understand that I am thankful to you for helping me give appropriate words to the man who guided me to be the man I am today. Thank you,


89 Kory Leach February 12, 2012 at 2:19 am

If you care to see the obit I was busy writing.

90 Johnathan Masterson February 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm

This was a wonderful article. My father used to play monster attack with his children to get us all into bed. (Bed was the base–a safe spot from the monster). As I have grown older, I have found that I am less active with my children from my second marriage. I have five boys and three girls under the age of ten-years-old. Four of my sons and one of my dughters love to roughhouse (when dad is in the mood). It isn’t for every child, though. I have one son who is such a compassionate and gentle soul that I worry about him when he goes to school next year.

91 MadMusial February 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm

I can completely relate to the horsing around right before bed. It doesn’t help that I get home right at bed time either. Great article will have to check the book out.

92 lisa February 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm

As a mom, I love this article. My husband and I roughhouse with our two young girls frequently. I think it’s especially important for my oldest, who is extremely sensitive. I want her to be able to cope on a playground, without being the “crybaby”. She’s halfway through Kindergarten now, and seems to be holding up just fine, so I guess we’re doing something right.

As a teacher, it is really frustrating to deal with kids that don’t know how to play. Tag is banned at my school as well, but it’s not like we have some hidden agenda against fun. It’s because the kids honestly can’t handle it. By and large, the kids don’t know the boundaries of free-form games like tag. They can play touch football (which is of course, a variation of tag) without problems, and my own class of 30 students can play tag or dodgeball during our P.E. time without problems, but as soon as it’s recess, there are kids on the ground, getting kicked in the ribs.

When I’m on yard duty, my main concern is keeping two hundred 10,11, and 12 from killing each other for 15 minutes (when I haven’t even had a chance to pee in two hours). I’m not about to waste my time being yelled at by some parent because I wanted to let kids be kids. So yeah, I have a total double standard as a teacher and a parent.

93 Claude February 13, 2012 at 1:51 am

As a coach I deal with blind spots. I never fully apreciated the value of the rough and tumble that I used to thoroughly enjoy with my daughters – helicopters, racing cars, horse rides etc.

I often wonder how such a young father could produce two of the most amazing daughters.

Thanks to your article Brett, I now know one of the things I did right. (one of the other was marrying an amazing woman)

Keep up the good work.

94 jschenker February 13, 2012 at 7:11 am

Unfortunately, these days parents need to be vigilant about the dark side of roughhousing and tickling. Abusers invariably use some form of play, roughhousing or tickling to entice and desensitize children to inappropriate touch. Parents need to be aware of this fact.

95 E. February 13, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Just when I thought AOM could not get any better.. Brilliant article, brill-iant!!

96 Nat February 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm

“Prevent ADHD”? – You can’t prevent it , because thats how the brain works for those who are ADHD,the y are born with it. If a child has ADHD Roughhousing could be very good for them to take out the extra energy, to learn control themselves and not being impulsive, the emotional aspect of the parent & child bond for his confidence and so much more.

97 Dave February 13, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Great Article! I have roughhoused with my kids ever since they were old enough to walk.

98 Chris February 13, 2012 at 9:17 pm

This is my first reading of an article from AoM and I’m now hooked because of it!

For years, my sister got mad about me getting her 2 boys (now both wonderful, well-adjusted teenagers) all revved up with roughhousing. I now have full justification!

I can’t get enough of tickling my little toddler (the squeals of laughter are priceless) and am really looking forward to that developing into roughhousing.

This story also echoes part of the excellent book “Raising Boys” by Steve Biddulph: Aussie context but globally applicable.

99 Chris February 13, 2012 at 9:18 pm

This is my first reading of an article from AoM and I’m now hooked because of it!

For years, my sister got mad about me getting her 2 boys (now both wonderful, well-adjusted teenagers) all revved up with roughhousing. I now have full justification!

I can’t get enough of tickling my little toddler (the squeals of laughter are priceless) and am really looking forward to that developing into roughhousing.

100 Chris February 13, 2012 at 9:19 pm

For years, my sister got mad about me getting her 2 boys (now both wonderful, well-adjusted teenagers) all revved up with roughhousing. I now have full justification!

I can’t get enough of tickling my little toddler (the squeals of laughter are priceless) and am really looking forward to that developing into roughhousing.

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