6 Benefits of Rough & Tumble Play

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”

-Joseph Chilton Pearce

Children love to play wrestling, tickling, chasing, pushing, pulling, and being bounced, swung, or lifted.  This type of play is called rough and tumble play. Rough and tumble play has been defined as physically vigorous behaviors, such as chase and play fighting, that is accompanied by positive feelings between the players. You can see that they are having fun with their smiles and laughter. Rough and Tumble play is social play that involves physical contact, positive emotions, shared stories, and vigorous activities such as jumping, swinging, chasing, and play fighting. This is normal and is a natural instinct in children from pre-school to early adolescence.

Although, parents discourage this type of play because it is mistaken for aggression or misbehaviour. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. Rough and tumble play is adaptive, evolutionarily useful, and linked to normal brain development. These unstructured activities provide huge opportunities for growth and self-discovery, and shouldn’t be banned.

Here are the 6 Benefits of Rough and Tumble Play:

1. Kids learn healthy risk-taking.

In rough and tumble play, children feel “free” when they let their bodies loose and push physical boundaries. For example, they feel proud when they climb a tree or jump high. Children will assess the danger and understand when to push limits and when to hold back. When kids engage in healthy risk-taking, they get a better understanding of their limits and capabilities.


2. Rough and Tumble Play develops a physical bond.

Physical contact is an important part of close relationships, especially on children. If two siblings want to roll over one another, it’s a great bonding exercise. Yes, provided they can balance well and not hurt each other.


3. Learn Emotional Intelligence

It’s during rough play, kids learn what fun is and what can hurt. They can judge if the other kids are enjoying or getting hurt by seeing other kids’ reactions and expressions.

Children learn to address the emotional needs of other kids, they learn when to stop and how to discover new means of adrenaline rush. By having increased emotional intelligence, children will have better relationships with others, can focus more on studies and other activities, and learn to regulate their emotions.


4. Gives Good Exercise for the Mind and Body

Rough and Tumble play is a “physical” type of play and it helps build strength, exercise muscles, improve gross motor skills, increases flexibility, enhances hand-eye coordination, and better body and emotion control.


5. It’s Fun!

Rough and tumble actually is easy fun. Children do have a lot of fun in the process. There’s something exciting about free play when they can hold, push, throw themselves, etc.


6. Provides heavy work

If you have worked with a Paediatric OT you may have heard us use the term “heavy work” or “proprioceptive input”, meaning an activity that provides sensory input to the muscles & joints. When our muscles & joints are provided with this feedback, it is calming & organising for the body. Rough & tumble play is a perfect activity for this! So get down on the floor with your children for a good wrestle, you will love it and so will they!


Keep in Mind:

To make sure rough and play remains fun and not a punishment for other children, parents should provide for and support rough and tumble play with minimising the potential for injury. Develop policies and rules for rough play, implement them, and supervise rough and tumble play so that you may intervene when appropriate.

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