Fatherly rough-and-tumble play has many developmental benefits for children, particularly boys. Research shows that physical engagement—like wrestling, roughhousing (when not carried to an extreme) and warm, playful interaction—helps boys learn to regulate and control their behavior, deal with a range of emotions, and adapt to a variety of situations.
James Herzog and other researchers found that a father’s playful and vigorous interactions force a boy to closely observe his father’s facial expressions and body language to figure out his father’s moods. A dad’s play can help his son learn how to become a good manager of emotions. When, in a loving environment, a father coaxes his son to cope with interactions that will test his limits and stretch him emotionally, the boy will develop confidence to handle similar tests in challenging environments.
Through this kind of play—starting early in life—your kids learn some of their first lessons about loving authority. According to authors Jim and Charles Fay, roughhousing teaches your kids that you love them, that you’re strong enough to control them, and that you won’t control them unless it’s necessary. Your kids learn that you’re powerful, and kind and gentle at the same time.
You probably never thought about all the advantages of roughhousing—you were just having fun: a romp on a living room carpet; a bucking bronco ride as you cart your daughter off to bed; an impromptu snowball fight; a tickle-fest. Are these common occurrences around your house? Fathers may naturally roughhouse with their sons, but it’s good for girls too!
I must confess, I’ve always been a frequent instigator of roughhousing with my kids. It wasn’t always rough or in the house, but it was always fun. I guess the only drawback was that I always had to be on guard for surprise attacks. Maybe it was my youngest, Rachel, jumping on me when I was relaxing with the Sunday paper, or Joel, sneaking up from behind to try to wrestle me down. Truth be told, for years I lived in constant fear that one of my children was going to suddenly make me laugh.
- Initiate some warm, playful, physical engagement with your child. Seek to press the limits of their strength and let them win at least once.
- Build your child’s confidence. Affirm him after playing a game or having some type of physical interaction.
- Using your facial expressions to demonstrate a range of emotions to your child.
- Exercise with your wife or family: bicycle, walk, shoot hoops, or go sliding on the ice.