On Monday, The PediaBlog explored the important role of child play in enhancing children’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development:

Individual, child-child, and child-adult playtime is critical for development to flourish. If young children have a “job,” it is to eat, sleep, and play.


We learned that face-to-face, hands-on-minds-on play is superior to play that relies on electronic games, toys, and devices. But what about body-on-body play? I’m talking about roughhousing. (Dads — you know what I’m saying!) Is roughhousing play that goes too far (moms can weigh in here), or does it also have an important role in your child’s physical and brain development? The answer may surprise you. Brett McKay makes it clear which side he’s on:

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.


McKay argues that roughhousing develops a child’s grit and stick-to-itiveness, helps them adapt to unpredictable situations, and teaches them how to deal with minor pain and discomfort (especially the pain of losing):

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.


Will roughhousing make your kid smarter? McKay thinks so, and he uses science to make his case:

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.


And then, there is the moral high ground:

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.”


McKay also makes the case that roughhousing improves the physical fitness of young children and their parents. And, he says, parent-child bonds are strengthened by building trust and affection:

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.


A compelling case for dads (and moms) to consider. Just don’t leave your daughters out of it!


(Back pat: John Duffy)