By Brandy Browne
Sounds of children squealing in delight echo across the playground. Several mothers lounge on benches scattered around the equipment and large green areas. Occasionally, a well meaning mother will cringe and shout, “Oh, not so rough!” at one of the children playing a spirited game of tag in and around the slides and climbing apparatuses. However, these well meaning parents are worrying for naught. Why, you ask?
According to psychologist Anthony Pellegrini, “the amount of roughhousing children engage in predicts their achievement in first grade better than their kindergarten test scores do” (McKay and McKay, 2020, retrieved from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-importance-of-roughhousing-with-your-kids/#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20making%20students,derived%20neurotrophic%20factor%20(BDNF). Why is horseplay so beneficial to brain development in early childhood? Well, several factors come into play here.
To begin with, roughhousing builds resilience. Rather than looking at being tossed around as failure, children keep coming back for another go. Additionally, neuroscientists that study both animal and human brains have found that engaging in rough-and-tumble play increases the brain’s level of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). According to McKay and McKay (2020), BDNF increases neuron growth in the parts of the brain that are responsible for higher level thinking skills, such as logic reasoning. Roughhousing also builds social emotional intelligence. Children learn to read the social cues and body language of their playmates. For example, if Jasper grabs Tommy’s arm too hard, Tommy will want to leave the game. Tears or shouts of anger are also quick cues that the game is no longer two sided. Children learn quickly to adjust their behaviors in order to keep the game rolling. This type of play also fosters cooperation and turn taking through the natural give and take involved.
Roughhousing also provides a healthy dose of morality for young children. If children are hitting too hard, acting aggressively rather than playfully, etc., it is a great time to redirect the behavior and discuss the difference between being playful and inappropriately aggressive.
In order to incorporate roughhousing in healthy ways, keep the following suggestions in mind. First, roughhouse at appropriate times. Right before bedtime is not the best time to get hearts racing and adrenaline pumping. Second, ensure safety by being aware of your surroundings. Engaging in rough and tumble play beside the coffee table with sharp edges is asking for someone to get hurt. Finally, do not forget to include your girls in rough and tumble play. The benefits are not strictly for boys.
While it is tempting to stifle your children’s rambunctious urges, it is actually beneficial to allow them to explore the give and take that comes with rough and tumble play in a safe manner. The extra brain cells do not hurt either…
McKay, B. & McKay, K. (2020). The importance of roughhousing with your kids. Retrieved from https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/the-importance-of-roughhousing-with-your-kids/#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20making%20students,derived%20neurotrophic%20factor%20(BDNF).