The Truth About Roughhousing And Its 5 Surprising Benefits!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 11/30/21 •  9 min read

Roughhousing…

For many mums, rough-play conjures up feelings of worry, dread and anticipation of tears as your little one runs around giggling, laughing and carelessly diving into the sofa and your partner…

But contrary to popular belief, roughhouse play is actually SUPER IMPORTANT in child development and teaching your child how to handle their emotions, understand their physical strength and have fun whilst doing so!

So relax, take a deep breath, and keep reading to understand the complex and wonderful world of roughhousing…

What is Roughhousing and what does it mean?

Roughhousing with younger children is also known as rough and tumble play… 

And it is the term given to physically active play between a child and a trusted adult, using your bodies as the play instrument.

Roughhouse play can also take place between two children but this is usually better reserved for the slightly older children, who can understand when it might go too far.

Is roughhousing good for kids?

Yes. As long as all parties are willing to participate then roughhouse play can be VERY beneficial to young children. 

In fact, there is a lot that children can learn from this type of play!

I am the first to admit that it is easy to be very wary of roughhousing and, as parents, we can often put an end to any rough play because we fear someone may get hurt… 

We can also worry that roughhouse play can make our children more susceptible to accepting abusive behaviour or that we are encouraging aggressive behaviour…

However, well-managed roughhouse play can actually teach your children to have healthy boundaries and learn how to stay the word, ‘STOP’.

Most importantly, roughhousing does the complete opposite to encouraging aggression in young children!

When managed correctly, roughhouse play helps our children learn how to control their emotions. 

Feelings of anger and frustration are natural human emotions and rough and tumble games are the ideal way for children to learn the essential skill of dealing with and controlling these feelings in a healthy way.

How does roughhousing help child development?

So, how does roughhousing play help child development?

Roughhouse play is good for emotional development, is a great physical workout and can teach your little one self-control!

It is also a great outlet for aggression and can help children to come out of their shells. As well as help your child understand the limits of their own strength and teach them to understand and respect others’ personal boundaries.

Interestingly, Anthony Benedet and Lawrence Cohen, authors of the book The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, claim “Play – especially active physical play, like roughhousing – makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likeable, ethical, physically fit and joyful”

So, roughhouse play obviously has a lot to offer!

Roughhousing Helps Child Development

1. Improves physical fitness and body awareness

Roughhousing can be a great way to have physical exercise by making children use muscles they may not normally use. 

However, roughhouse play is not all about building physical strength… it also involves body control, motor development, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness.

During roughhousing, children also get the opportunity to learn how to control their movements. 

They become more aware of their bodies and what they can do which is hugely beneficial to their motor development!

2. Develops social skills

When children are engaged in roughhousing, they start to learn the art of reading body language and facial expressions which are all social play skills necessary for children to succeed in group settings and to maintain friendships. 

When your young child roughhouses safely with you, they are developing essential skills that they can use socially. 

Through roughhouse play, they are learning how to assess situations, read emotions and interact with others!

3. Teaches negotiating skills

Roughhousing can also teach negotiating skills as rules are put in place as to how far the roughhouse play can go. 

Having input to the rules of play develops your child’s ability to understand the concept of fairness and sharing too!

4. Models safe aggression

Finally, roughhousing is a safe outlet for aggression. 

Boys in particular often need to learn that physical contact does not need to be driven by anger and that it can be controlled and fun. 

For girls, roughhousing can help them become more confident in their physical abilities.

What is the ideal age to roughhouse with your children?

Roughhousing is most beneficial for children aged between 2 and 8 years of age. 

For the younger end of this age group, I prefer to call this type of physical activity rough-and-tumble play.

Typically, roughhousing for toddlers takes place between an adult and a child and young children will especially love gentle chasing, tickling or wrestling with a parent.

Roughhouse play with peers is better reserved for when children have reached primary school age. 

This is because roughhousing between children can easily escalate out of control and there needs to be a level of understanding when enough is enough and emotional maturity to understand when the play went too far.

5 surprising ways children benefit from roughhousing

As well as being amazing at helping your child develop, roughhouse play also benefits children by:

5 Benefits Of Roughhousing

1. Feeding their brains

The kind of physical play involved in roughhousing releases a chemical known as Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) that acts as food for the brain. 

It also stimulates growth in the areas of the brain that are responsible for learning, language development and memory!

2. Building friendships

Physical play is an ideal way for young children, especially boys, to express their friendship or affection. 

Young children who are given the opportunity to roughhouse learn how to tell the difference between innocent play and aggressive play, thus improving their emotional intelligence!

3. Modelling self-control

When adults engage in roughhousing with their children, they model self-control by holding back and showing empathy. 

By not dominating the physical play, we can show our children that winning is not everything and that our feelings and physical strength can be controlled in a positive way.

4. Releasing built-up stress and anxiety

Roughhousing can often be a great way for your children to get rid of anxiety, stress, frustration and pent up emotions. 

Young children have a lot going in their brains and lives in the early years as they learn about the world around them… 

And roughhousing can help release some of that natural brain and emotional overload that often leads to meltdowns in young children.

A well-timed session of roughhouse play can be the perfect way to reset your youngster’s emotional wellbeing.

5. Brings a feeling of happiness and joy

Importantly and maybe surprisingly, roughhouse play can bring feelings of joy. 

Humans are actually hard-wired for roughhousing (just like many mammals are). 

And as studies have shown… when the physical play circuits in the brains of mammals are activated the result is a feeling of joy!

How to create a safe roughhousing scenario

Remember that roughhousing does not have to mean fighting and this is especially true when playing with toddlers. 

Spinning, tickling and playing simple chase games are also great ways to enjoy early roughhousing. 

In order to get the most out of roughhouse play it needs to be safely managed. 

Try and ensure you have the following in place for those fun physical moments with your toddler:

It is quite normal for children to sometimes get hurt during roughhousing and it may end in tears. 

If this happens, offer comfort and support and let your child feel the emotion. 

Very often the crying may seem excessive to the cause, but this is a perfectly normal release for children and one of the ways in which roughhouse play can help relieve stress and emotional build up in your little one.

TOP TIP: I would always recommend that a parent participates in roughhousing with children under the age of 5. 

Two children roughhousing alone together in this age group have not yet learnt enough of the skills necessary to roughhouse safely and successfully.

For the older child who is roughhousing with a peer, these should apply as well:

For some great ideas on how to safely roughhouse with your child read The Art of Roughhousing by Anthony Benedet and Lawrence Cohen.

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I hope you enjoyed today’s post and learnt something new about roughhousing!

I know it can seem daunting to let your children rough and tumble with you, but it is a very important part of growing up!

So, what roughhousing tactics are you going to implement with your children today?

As always, thank you for reading and until next time, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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