Benefits Of Roughhousing With Your Kids

Dad Roughhousing on the floor with 3 kids


If you’re like me and you like playing with your kids, you know sometimes it can get a little rough. But you know what? That’s okay. My wife and I believe that you shouldn’t prepare the path for your child, you should prepare your child for the path. That means raising our kids to be smart, tough, and resilient. Luckily, roughhousing can help. Let’s dig a little deeper into the benefits of roughhousing and how to do it safely and smartly.


Roughhousing Definition

Merriam-Webster defines roughhousing as violence or rough, boisterous play.  Its sometimes known a rough and tumble play.


Benefits of Roughhousing

There are actually 6 known benefits of roughhousing with your kid.


It makes kids smarter

When you roughhouse with your kid it releases a protein in their brain known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF. What’s so interesting about this BDNF is that it stimulates neuron growth in the areas of the brain that are responsible for logic, memory, and learning. It also strengthens synaptic plasticity. All that means is that the connections between the neurons in the brain can grow stronger or weaker over time. By encouraging and engaging in active play on a consistent basis the connections become and remain stronger.

schoolchildren writing in notebook


Gain emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control your emotions while understanding and handling interpersonal relationships.

Picture the unplanned and chaotic nature of roughhousing.  That randomness helps to develop other parts of your child’s brain.  

Put yourself in your child’s place and think about them having to determine their next move or respond to your move. That helps them to think and respond quickly.

Now imagine all the benefits that will have for them.  It also allows them to read your face and emotions. This allows them to slowly learn if things are getting heated or have gone too far.  

High emotional intelligence will not only benefit them as a child but is a very important skill to have throughout your life.


Roughhousing develops social intelligence

Social intelligence is the ability to build and navigate social relationships.  Early on, children play and rough house with people they like. It’s a way of showing affection.

Through roughhousing, they are able to navigate feelings of fun, anger, and aggression.

Later on, this leads to learning aspects of negotiation and the normal give-and-take of a social environment.  This can play out when children believe that something done in good fun is actually mean-spirited.

Many times this can lead to a violent or emotional outburst. Children also learn when to be a leader or a follower depending on the activity.

Ultimately, physical play will make your child more likable and better able to make friends.


Children learn ethics

Children learn the concept of mercy through roughhousing with you.

They learn that just because you are bigger and stronger than someone else, you shouldn’t use that ability to be mean or hurt them. You demonstrate the behavior time and time again, and they learn it.

Another product of this behavior is their willingness to come to the aid of someone else.

Anthony T. Debenedet, M.D and Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. write in their book The Art of Roughhousing write:

When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.”

Curly haired boy in red polo shirt flexing muscles on a dock with a lake and boats behind him


Teaches physical fitness

The Centers for Disease Control notes that among preschool-aged children (2-5 years), the obesity rate is 13.9% and among school-aged children (6-11 years), the obesity rate is 18.4%.

Unfortunately, those percentages continue to go up as we get older.

Starting early and making exercise fun (even when they don’t realize they’re exercising) can help to build good habits.

Parents struggle with how to avoid their kids sitting inside all day watching tv or playing video games.

Active play is a good way to help them break a sweat. Not only are the kids getting exercise, but mom and dad will also get their heart rate up by chasing or wrestling.


Roughhousing builds a bond

Anyone who has ever gotten on the floor in their living room and played with their kids knows the joy it brings.  The smile on their faces and the squeals and laughs that it brings are sounds of happiness and love. Oxytocin, sometimes called the “cuddle chemical” or the “love hormone” is released during these times.  See, it’s science.


How to Roughhouse With Your Kids

By now you already know the importance of roughhousing and why you should do it.

Now let’s talk about how to do it. There’s a little more to it than just getting down on the floor and wrestling.


Pick the right time

As a parent, you have to be aware of your child’s mood.

If they aren’t in the right frame of mind, then roughhousing won’t be beneficial. If they are happily playing with a toy by themselves, then it’s probably best to let them be.

With that being said, there will be plenty of times that are the right time to play. Just don’t force it.


Be aware of the arc of play

Start off nice and easy and then build intensity before winding down.

By remembering this it will lead to a more enjoyable experience.

This is supposed to be a fun activity so be sure to give your child a chance to adjust at the start and cool down at the end.

Remember this can be a chaotic, physical activity. It’s not fair to your kid if you expect them to go from that to sitting down at dinner without giving them time to decompress.


Make it challenging

To get the most out of this you need to challenge your kid.

The more challenging the more it forces them to learn and adapt.

You want them to learn grit and perseverance, and to do that they need to be put in new and different circumstances.


Wrestle safely

You’re the adult, so be aware of the surroundings.

Kids fall down and get hurt all the time. It’s part of growing up.

That being said, no one wants to go to an emergency room.

If this thing ends up in tears and blood then they’re not going to want to do it again.


Watch the mood

Once the mood goes from active play and joy to anger and violence, it stops.

Watch their reactions. Especially if it’s multiple children playing, things can escalate quickly.

Rough and tumble play can be a fine line to walk. You’re the grown-up, so act like one.


Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

Roughhousing is commonly associated with dads and sons, but don’t forget the girls.

Daughters can get the same benefits as boys and should absolutely be included in this activity.

Remember the benefits?

Who doesn’t want a smart, likable, kind, tough, and resilient daughter?

It’s not just daughters either: Mom can and should participate, too.

Think back to one of the benefits of roughhousing. It builds a bond. The payoff for mom is going to be the same as dad.


Make it fun

Be goofy. Let your guard down. These are moments that will be ingrained in your and your child’s memory. Let them see you smile and laugh. You’ll get that back from them. Any parent will tell you their child’s laugh and smile are some of their favorite things in the world. Get it out of them.


End it with a hug

This is pretty self-explanatory. It’s family time. It’s a happy time. Grab them and squeeze ‘em tight. Tell them you love them. You’re making memories here.



Roughhousing with your children has many hidden benefits. While playing with your children, you are making them smarter, more resilient and likable.

These benefits help lay the foundation for your child’s personality, intelligence, and fitness. And the best thing about it is it’s easy. Turn off the T.V, move the furniture out of the way or and have fun, laugh and make some memories.

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1 thought on “Benefits Of Roughhousing With Your Kids”

  1. When my husband plays rough with my 4 year old daughter he always hangs her upside down by the ankles to swing her, she loves it every time he does it at any time.


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