As adults, we have been socially conditioned not to show affection for our friends by body slamming them to the ground or jumping off a couch to tackle them. Young children (and Tom Cruise) have, clearly, yet to get this memo. But PSA to all parents attempting—usually ineffectively, in our experience—to thwart these impromptu WrestleMania sessions: Let it go. You’re off the hook! Horseplay is not just great for kids, experts say. It’s essential. Here’s why.
Why It’s Actually Good for Kids to Roughhouse
It Calms Their Bodies And Feeds Their Brains
In their book, The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, Drs. Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen contend “rough-and-tumble play can nurture close connections, solve behavior problems, boost confidence, and more.” It not only expends tons of energy, it stimulates neuron growth in the cortex and hippocampus—the brain regions responsible for memory, learning, language and logic, experts say. Research even shows children who play rough at home do better in school (*pats self on the back for letting kids bounce each other off the bed while naked except for capes*).
It Hones Their Social Skills
When kids “play fight,” they learn what self-restraint and impulse control feels like (“I could hit him in the face, but I’m choosing to bear hug him instead”). Thus they’re better able to channel that self-control in the face of real conflict. Even kids diagnosed as hyperactive can learn to self-inhibit this way, with some simple adult coaching. Reading body language, facial cues and other unspoken signals that say “step back” or “come and get me!” is all part of the game. This type of physical prowess builds emotional intelligence.
It Strengthens Relationships
For boys especially, the language of emotion can be a foreign tongue. A good wrestle sesh—even between middle schoolers—is a means of affirming closeness and cementing friendships without having to say a word. Parent-child horseplay even releases the bonding hormone oxytocin—the same one you felt during breastfeeding. So get in there, mom!
It Teaches Cooperation
Show us an expert negotiator or team player, and there’s a good chance he or she was a physical kid. During play fights, kids take turns “attacking” and “being attacked,” chasing and running for their “lives.” If the game involves a pack of kids, rules must be worked out and agreed upon. Since kids seem to intuitively sense their playmates’ intentions (playfulness versus anger), these games very rarely cross over into actual violence, research shows. “Usually, there is an arc of play in which kids start slow, get revved up, and then calm down,” writes one expert. “Ideally, you should allow this cycle to run its course.” If you’re still worried about what you’re witnessing (Can that headlock really be ok??), one expert suggests asking kids, “Is everyone having fun?” If they say they are, trust them.