When I leave them alone for a time, I often return to find my husband swinging my daughter around and tossing her up in the air. Though this is sometimes scary for me, my daughter’s smile and giggles indicate she absolutely loves it!
Dads often engage in this sort of roughhousing or horseplay with their children. This is challenging for mamas like me who worry about safety, but researchers have found that roughhousing in general and roughhousing with their fathers in particular provide children with significant benefits.
Benefits of roughhousing in general
- Roughhousing increases physical fitness. When kids wrestle and roll around, it increases their motor skills, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility.
- Roughhousing increases intelligence. Researchers have determined that roughhousing stimulates neuron growth in areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. It also boosts school performance.
- Roughhousing helps form friendships. Kids, especially boys, don’t just walk up to their peers and say “I like you. Let’s be friends.” Instead, they do things like roughhouse to show affection and communicate friendship. Moreover, roughhousing helps them learn how to take turns and distinguish between innocent play and aggression.
- Roughhousing fosters emotional intelligence and moral development. As they tumble around, kids learn self-control, empathy, and how to read the emotions of others.
Benefits of roughhousing with dad in particular
- Dads and kids spend time interacting. TVs, computers, smart phones, and tablets are so prevalent that some dads rarely speak to their children face-to-face. Roughhousing gets kids (and dads) away from these screens so they can communicate and get some physical activity. Additionally, some dads feel insecure doing things like playing dolls with their daughters. Hopefully they’ll make efforts to move beyond these insecurities. In the meanwhile, roughhousing provides a way for them to connect with their daughters.
- Dads feel deeply bonded to their kids. Researchers have discovered that oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” that is released when moms nurse their babies, is also released when parents roughhouse with their kids. Isn’t that amazing? Roughhousing helps dads feel the desire to love and nurture their kids.
- Kids learn that dads are powerful, yet gentle. It doesn’t take long for kids to figure out that dads have the upper hand when they roughhouse. However, as long as dads roughhouse gently, kids learn that dads can be trusted not to hurt them despite their power. Kids also see that their dads are able to exercise control over them, but will do so only when necessary.
- Dads help kids break out of their comfort zones. Some kids are more hesitant to take chances. Dads can entice their kids to try new things when roughhousing (for example, a dad might be able to convince his child who is fearful of the water to jump off the edge of a pool into his arms). This builds confidence in kids and helps them be flexible.
- Kids grow to be less aggressive. Some parents worry that roughhousing will teach children to be physically aggressive. Roughhousing actually appears to have the opposite effect. Researchers at the University of Regensburg in Germany found that roughhousing with dad decreases aggression in children. Why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that dads can help their kids learn to express themselves through physical play without getting out of control and hurting someone in the process.
Do your kids roughhouse with their dad? How does this benefit them?