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There comes a certain time of night when my kids (ages 3.5
and 5) each get a little gleam in their eyes, and I know it’s about to
start. It’s in that twilight zone
between dinner and bedtime that my kids rev up and start roughhousing. It starts with a few gentle tussles on the
couch and amps up from there. Sometimes
my husband joins in — hoisting each of them high in the air and plopping them on
the soft couch cushions. They cry,
“More! More! More!” Me? I stand a few
feet away, begging, “Careful! Careful! Careful!”
I don’t usually stop the rough play as long as (1) everyone
is laughing, and (2) no one does anything malicious. They know I will shut down their wrestling in
a hot second if either of them hits or kicks the other’s face or pulls
hair. As long as they’re both smiling,
however, I let them be physical.
As nervous as it makes me, especially as they grow older and
stronger, I can see the benefits of their wrestling, and those far outweigh the
anxiety I have about them breaking a lamp or knocking out some choppers. In fact, there are five major benefits to
1. They’re working out aggression in a
“playful” way. My kids spend a lot
of time negotiating with their words, because that’s what they are taught to do
at school and at home. However, for a
few unbridled moments every night, they can test their strength through play
and have a physical connection that is forbidden during other parts of the day.
2. They demonstrate their individual strengths. My daughter, the older of the two, is
stronger and can more easily overpower her little brother. But little brother is both fast and fearless,
a combination that has allowed him to best her more than once.
3. They get to practice empathy. As much as we try to caution against
being “too” rough, sometimes boo boos happen. Okay, they happen every time. It's nothing more serious than a head bump against the bed frame or a
finger jammed, but in those low stakes instances, my children get to feel the
discomfort of having hurt someone they love. An injury also gives them a chance to hone their skills as comforting
4. They get to test their limits in a safe
context. I’ve certainly made it
clear that I’m not running a boxing ring, so my kids know that their physical
rough housing has boundaries that I enforce. Therefore, they are free to experiment with tackling each other to
understand their own limits and those of their sibling.
5. They’re rewiring their brains for
learning. Perhaps best of all, allowing
kids to roughhouse can boost their brains' ability to learn. Neuroscientists have found incidents of
roughhousing releases a chemical called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor),
which increases neuron growth in the cortex and hippocampus, the areas of the
brain responsible for memory, logic and higher learning.