A mom, with a 4-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son, was telling me recently how she was dreading spending the weekend at her sister’s house. Her sister has three children under seven. Whenever they all get together, the children’s favorite thing to do is run around, chase and play rough and tumble.
“It makes me a nervous wreck” this parent shared with me. “I’m so afraid someone will get hurt. And besides, it seems as if I am condoning real fighting and aggression.”
Almost all children love to chase and wrestle. You can pretty much count on getting children running, laughing and shrieking by announcing “You can’t catch me” – a challenge too good to resist. However I can understand this mom’s concern and hesitation in allowing this kind of play.
But there is a definite difference between rough and tumble play and fighting and aggression. When children are enjoying chasing, tugging, wrestling, they are laughing, shrieking, giggling. They are having fun, they are freely participating, they are going back for more. When children are being aggressive, they frown, hit, push and grab; there are tears, fear and signs of dominance.
Children benefit from being allowed to let loose in this playful way. They grow socially, emotionally and physically. While rough housing with a parent or another child, children learn to sense and interpret the give and take of social situations. They acquire skills in noticing and detecting signals from others. They learn to read and understand other people’s body language, telling them when enough is enough.
Parents have wondered whether it’s okay for them to play rough and tumble with their children. Actually this type of active, physical play often fulfills a vital need for touch – especially as children grow out of the baby/toddler stage.
Simple rules, however, should be commonly shared and enforced with children.
Kicking, choking is not allowed.
Use open hands for tagging, avoid contact with heads .
Be more aware of the youngest children playing.
Make sure the area where they are playing is safe for running and tumbling – outside, preferably.
Always have an adult nearby when children are playing, keeping an eye on things, ready to redirect and interpret if necessary.
Playing along with the children is an even better way to model appropriate responses and care.
So, now – be ready – the next time someone shouts “You’re it!” to have some fun – playing together or just appreciating the natural exuberance of children at play.