It is easy to witness a round of roughhousing and become nervous for your child’s safety. Should you break it apart and try to calm them down? Or should you let them keep going?
Let’s take a closer look and see if we can answer those questions.
Big Body Play
Roughhousing is one type of play that experts refer to as “big body play.” Big body play is physical, vigorous and boisterous. Most children love and even crave it. Other types of big body play include jumping off of playground equipment, jumping onto the sofa, racing and chase.
Why so Rough?
It’s important to keep in mind that big body play is good and healthy and supports your child’s development. Big body play is one of the ways in which children learn their own physical boundaries. Just as babies learn the boundaries of their bodies when they are held or massaged, children are learning and testing these boundaries with big body play.
Not only does playing this way help a child develop physically, it also helps them develop socially. In a game of tag or wrestling, a child might learn the appropriate and safe level of touch. They might also develop linguistically as they agree on the rules of the game; and emotionally as they navigate social interactions including compromise.
Many acts of big body play are forms of moderate exercise which are healthy for children. Additionally, after a round of big body play, children tend to be calmer and focused allowing a period of greater learning.
How Far is Too Far?
Does this mean to never intervene? Not at all. It’s okay to supervise. If your child needs help telling another child the play has become too rough, you are there to help.
It’s also okay to set ground rules. Maybe wrestling and chase are not allowed in spaces with sharp furniture. It might be a good idea to remind children that we should never grab or hold someone else by the neck or head.
Look for the smiles. Smiles indicate what looks like fighting isn’t fighting. If you can’t see smiles, the play might have gone too far.