The Importance of Roughhousing
Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and our boy-girl twins love to wrestle, but I’m worried that all that physical activity and getting revved up will make them—especially our son—see violence as acceptable. Should I be concerned?
A: Not at all. In fact, the evidence supports the exact opposite conclusion. In their book, The Art of Roughhousing, Anthony DeBenedet and Larry Cohen write that roughhousing “makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” Here’s how that works:
- Physical play teaches kids about morality, right and wrong, and following rules. John Snarey, who spent several decades studying fathers’ impact on their children, writes that children who roughhouse with their fathers “usually quickly learn that biting, kicking, and other forms of physical violence are not acceptable.” Those lessons help kids learn to read people and their reactions and teach them the difference between playful aggression and real aggression.
- Physical play teaches about how to treat others. As the grown-up, your husband could easily “win” every time he wrestles with the kids. But that wouldn’t be fun for anyone. So he’ll probably let them win once in a while (but not too often, because that wouldn’t be fun either). By doing that, he’s showing them that, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker (before he became Spiderman), with great power comes great responsibility. In other words, when you’re bigger and stronger, you have an obligation to treat other people fairly and with compassion.
- Children who play with their fathers tend to be more helpful, cooperative, and likely to share. They also have better communication and leadership skills, according to pioneering fatherhood researcher Ross Parke.
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