Doctors’ Notes


The Benefits of Rough Play

Have you ever…. had a pillow fight? Wrestled a friend just to see how was stronger? Slid down a staircase on a piece of cardboard Well, if you answered Yes to any of those questions, you’ve been involved in roughhousing, or rough play.

Most Moms (especially of boys) probably say things like, Stop climbing on the (insert any number of objects here)!, and/or, We don’t jump on the furniture!, and/or WALK down the stairs!, etc. over and over and over again. Play, as many of us remember it from the “good ol’ days,” is now often replaced by a more cautious, risk-adverse form of play.

We value kids’ safety as much as Moms and Dads do, but it turns out that rough play really does have a benefit in children’s lives! Researchers took a peek at roughhousing, and here’s what they found…

RoughPlayRough Play Makes Children Smarter

In technical terms, rough play results in the release of brain-derived neuotrophic factor. (Or, in my terms: rough play releases a chemical in the brain that is basically Miracle-Gro for a child’s brain.) In other words, the regions of the brain responsible for memory, language, and logic all benefit from this “Miracle-Gro” through enhanced neuron growth.

Rough Play Helps Build Social Skills

Rough play also helps children gain self-control and become more emotionally confident. Through roughhousing, children learn to read the emotions of others, as well as to control their own emotions. These learned social skills help kids to navigate life when they need to read someone’s mood, or to effectively challenge a friend. Children who frequently roughhouse are able to distinguish between innocent play and actual aggression. Being able to engage in innocent play and taking turns helps teach children leadership and negotiation, both very important life skills for our kids.

For many years it was thought that children with aggressive behaviors were this way because they had observed aggressive behavior and were just simply imitating others. Recent research shows that aggression naturally emerges in children, but starts to decrease as children learn to express their emotions appropriately.

Rough Play Makes Children Physically Fit 

It seems logical enough that roughhousing improves physical fitness. However, rough play is not just about who has the most strength and who can pin the other faster. Improving physical fitness also involves complex motor learning, concentration, coordination, and cardiovascular fitness.

Rough Play Makes Children Happy

Any given night you can hear giggles and laughter echo through the house as a result of me “dragging” our son into an imaginary cave and becoming a pretend horse that gallops around the living room. This type of play not only builds bonds and memories with kids, but it also makes them happy! Rough play peaks during the elementary school years, when it accounts for approximately 17% of a child’s play!

Now that you know there are benefits to rough play, let’s get started!

Here are a few important tips to remember the next time you’re “galloping” around the house.

Safety First

I know as a Dad I can sometimes be a big kid myself, but I have to remind myself of the possible dangers and potential hazards while “roughing” around. We encourage getting rowdy with your children, however there is such a thing as getting too rowdy. While it seems like a no-brainer, be mindful of your surroundings and watch out for any possible hazards. It’s also important to remember that younger children’s joints are more susceptible to injury. So save the figure 4 leg locks and arm bars until they’re a little older!

Don’t Roughhouse Right Before Bed

I’m notorious for getting home from work while my wife is preparing the kids for bed… and just causing utter chaos. Since I’ve been gone all day, I want to get in some of the missed playtime before bed. The problem with rough play right before bed is that kids need time to wind down to get ready to sleep. (So I guess I’ll admit that my wife is right; I shouldn’t be roughhousing before bed!) A word to the wise – late night horseplay may lead to a little buddy watching the late show with you!

Roughhousing is For Girls Too

While boys tend to be more likely to roughhouse, make sure you don’t forget about your daughters. Studies show that girls who roughhouse with their parents are more confident than girls who don’t. There is even some evidence to suggest that rough play can prevent your little angel from growing up into one of those Queen Bee Mean Girls.

So Moms and Dads, if you’re anything like me, when your significant other is asking you to settle down and to stop “roughhousing” with the kids, you can assure him or her that you’re just doing your part to improve your children’s social skills, and to make them smarter!

Travis Lewis, a roughhouser from way back, is a Physician Assistant and Athletic Trainer.