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Educational psychologist Jennifer StGeorge, a senior lecturer in family studies at Australia’s University of Newcastle, says play fighting actually helps kids develop.

Increasing amounts of research show that fathers’ involvement in children’s lives contributes to the child’s social, emotional and cognitive development; however, much of the evidence comes from fathers’ caregiving and object play.

StGeorge’s newest study in the journal Infant and Child Development. She watched 24 fathers first pretend-playing with their 4-year-olds using blocks and puppets, then playing physical games like Sock Wrestle.

“Rough-and-tumble play definitely doesn’t make kids more aggressive,” StGeorge said in an interview with kinstantly “And it has lots of social and emotional benefits.”

StGeorge says. “Likely men’s preference to play physically in the rough-and-tumble competitive way is linked to evolution.”

  • They get practice reading emotions.  Playing with an obviously stronger but friendly opponent makes them exhilarated but wary. The role reversals involved with “competing” show them how to watch and react.
    •They learn how to take risks in smart ways. “In fact, we found in an earlier study that lots of rough-and-tumble play was associated with less risk of injury for children,” StGeorge said “It may be that children learn to take healthy risks in this sort of play.”
    •They get help managing their own strong impulses. Sure, when they get revved up or mad, they may want to hit or bite. In this kind of guided play, they quickly learn that’s not okay—and find better ways to respond.
    •It’s a chance to cope with frustration and failure. You can “lose” in a safe play situation. That becomes another way to gain self-control.
    •They practice social give-and-take. You say, “I’m gonna getcha!” I giggle and plan my next move. Kids learn about consequences, turn-taking, and problem-solving from these simple games. There’s some research that shows this is how boys, in particular, learn to communicate and get along with one another in important nonverbal ways.
    •Best of all, they grow into well-adjusted people. Thanks to all of the above, kids’ social-emotional savvy gets fine-tuned. That makes them more likable. “The kids who have balanced and enjoyable play with dad are more popular,” StGeorge says.

“Some studies show kids are calmer and more ready for social play after a good rough-and-tumble,” she adds.

  • Keep it fun. “Rough and tumble play by definition needs to be full of laughter, joy, and enjoyment,” StGeorge said“When one partner stops enjoying it, it’s no longer play but something else, and that’s likely to finish the play.”
    •Be a good-natured loser. Even though he’s bigger, the smart parent doesn’t “win” physical games all the time. Give your kids the upper hand sometimes—they need practice being the strong one. But don’t give in every single time, either. That’s just boring to kids.
    •Don’t be afraid to be goofy. Showing silliness and imagination is good.
    •Pay attention to your child’s cues. Adjust what you’re doing as you go, so you can motivate her to stay engaged, and don’t let her get so frustrated or angry that she doesn’t want to play.
    •Know when to rein it in. “The important thing is that dad maintains a sense of restraint in his own physical actions as well as for the child,” StGeorge says. Example: Setting limits and giving calming guidance like “Don’t hit me there” or “Not in the face.”

“The take-home message for both mum and dad is that it’s very unlikely that rough-and-tumble play ends in tears,” she adds. “Far more often, it’s helping build the bond between dad and child. I have good memories of my own father roughhousing with us!”

Share your comments below.

Image via Shutterstock

  • i AGREE WHOLE HARTEDLY, IF YOU WATCH BABY ANIMALS THEY TUSSLE AND FIGHT,AS LONG AS DOUSE NOT BECOME TO ROUGH.aRM WRESTLING IS GOOD TOO AND BUILDS UP EMOTIONAL WELLBEING AND STAMINA TOO. aS i SAID AS LONG AS DOES NOT GET TOO ROUGH. cAN REMEBER LONG AGO DOING IT WITH MY DAD AND ALSO HIM SAYING IF IT GETS TOROUGH YOU WILL BE CRYING, i WAS THE TERROR NOT HIM BUT IT DID MAKE ME STRONG TO DEAL WITH UPS AND DOWNS LIFE BRINGS

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  • We even do this inside on a raised timber floor when the weather is bad. That way if one falls over they are not falling onto solid cement. Timber has a little bit a flexbility according to some Medical Professionals.
    Personally, personally because of a medical condition I would have plenty of broken bones rather than bruised ones. Yes, one fall I actually bruised a bone in my shoulder, not just my skin.

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  • Phew, good to see I actually got something right as a parent. The rough and tumble, rock and wrestling were a regular in our home

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  • Great article, and so true! We loved doing this as a kid And so this with our kids…it’s lots of fun

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  • Totally agree ! We always wrestle and do silly a lot :)

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  • my two boys love wrestling with dad

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  • how about the simple rule it is fun! Why not!

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  • I remember being spun around by my dad, and dad pretending to wrestle with my brother, and we always had lots of fun.

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  • I would have to agree with this

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  • As long as it’s moderated, sure, it’s got benefits.

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  • We were encouraged by our MHN to engage in “rough” play with our now 2 year old boy.

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  • I believe it to be true. Not only for kids but for dogs too.

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  • My kids fight all the time drives me insane

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  • My kids just don’t seem to get the difference between play fights and real fights. They have the real fighting down pat… I’m going to use some of these suggestions to try and calm things down at home!!

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  • Very interesting research. My kids play fight with hubby and each other but they know never to intentionally hurt each other.

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