I walked into the pre-school yard the other day and saw a pile of boys rolling in the muddy grass. I recognized some shoes that belonged to my four year old and the bright red t-shirt of my five year old. This ball of boys just kept on rolling and tumbling and then all the boys sort of jumped up, crashed onto the ground looking at each other and started laughing up a storm. It was rough-play at its muddiest, finest moment!
When done safely, roughhousing is awesome for preschoolers, and here are just three of the many reasons:
Play-wrestling and rolling games can help build strong bonds of friendship.
Preschoolers will happily tackle down their best friend, roll around and have a great laugh. This is the non-verbal equivalent to “I like you” and “let’ be friends.” When two preschoolers stand face to face, hands engaged and walk around daring each other to fall they are learning the building blocks of trust. The more children play together the more they learn about each other, what they like and dislike, play-wrestling is just another way to facilitate that learning.
Roughhousing builds emotional intelligence.
When roughhousing, even if it may not look like it to us as the spectator, children are making many decisions as they navigate through play. Deciding where to grab or touch, while wrestling and reading the other participants reactions and non- verbal cues, although done mostly instinctually is a way to learn how to read and react appropriately to ones own and other people’s emotions. It is also a natural way to learn that sometimes they will need to cool down in spite of their excitement.
Recently my four year old was wrestling with his buddy. As they played, his buddy was grabbing with too much force, and my son stopped for a break. When they started over, the same thing happened again. My four year old warned his friend he was going to walk away if the other child would keep being so rough. Usually preschoolers will adjust their play to meet their friends level of comfort. In this case they did. If they don’t, the playmate will probably stop playing as my son had warned. This natural consequence helps a child understand through experience how to adjust his level of play. Roughhousing is a fantastic way to learn self-control, empathy and meeting the needs of other children.
Rough and tumble play brings joy and happiness.
When children are engaged in tumbling play and rough housing in a pile, laughter usually abounds. Research conducted by neuroscientists shows how certain areas of the brain “light up” when children are tumbling about. Those areas that are lighting up are the areas associated with pleasure, happiness and well-being. The closeness to others, the feeling of trust, the release of energy all lead to feelings of great joy. Preschoolers also find a lot of joy in tackling a grown up to the ground, feeling oh so powerful and mighty.
Ideas for keeping roughhousing safe:
Sometimes it’s hard to watch our children engage in rough play without worrying about injuries. Out of this worry, parents will sometimes yell out directions or commands to the wrestling children which can become distractions and lead to injury. Directing their play too much can also defeat a child’s inner guidance which is helping them learn how to read their opponent.
To maximize the fun and reduce the chance of injury adults can help ensure that prior to playing things are set up in a safe manner:
The children that are playing together should be of similar build, age and energy level.
A small two year old and a tall agile six year old would probably not be a good match. On the other hand a tall three year old and a five year old could play-wrestle very well if their sizes similar and their energy levels are compatible.
When dealing with groups of children roughhousing together, limiting the size of the group to no more than five children is a good idea.
Too many children trying to wrestle all together? Or too many children tackling on specific child over and over? Help the group break up into pair formation to keep everyone safe.
A lawn, a field or an old mattress on the ground all provide safe places for soft landings and happy tumbling.If playing outdoors, survey the grounds together for any sticks or stones or other objects nearby that could cause injury.
Observe the energy of the children for any overly excited participants. Should things start to get out of hand, inviting the group to take a break for some water is a positive way for children cool off without calling out negative attention to an overly excited participant.
My three children love to roughhouse with their friends and even more so with me or their dad. Do your children like to play-rough and tumble wrestling games? How do you feel about it?