Humans are not as different from animals as we’d like to believe. Sure, we don’t do our business in the woods like the bears. Also, we’ve invented television and have opposable thumbs. But at some point as a dad, you’ll find yourself grabbing your kid, rolling around with them, and growling like a beast. All in good fun of course.
The reason for this roughhousing urge is deeply ingrained in the animal depths of our DNA. But is it a good thing to give into your inner lion? Is it okay to roughhouse with your kid by knocking them down with a gentle heavy paw? The answer will probably make you want to roar (but in a good way).
The Benefits Of Rough Play
Research suggests that when you get on the floor with your kid and wrap them up, some good things are going down. It’s not too much of a surprise. Most mammals in the wild engage in play fighting when they’re babies. It may look intense in some instances, but for the most part, the claws are retracted and there’s no damage done.
For animals, play mostly helps the young’uns learn the ins and outs of stalking, hunting, and defense. Obviously, your wrasslin’ sessions aren’t intended to teach your kid to go into the woods and bring down an elk with their bare hands (unless it is, in which case, you do you). But that doesn’t mean humans aren’t getting a ton of benefits.
Your kid is working hard as they try to climb you and knock you over. They’re also working on balance and coordination. So if they’re not grunting and breathing heavy between the giggles, then maybe you need to step it up (but within reason). Maybe someday they’ll be able to knock down their old man.
As you tumble around with your kid, the closeness and physical activity releases everyone’s favorite parenting hormone: oxytocin. This chemical boosts feelings of bonding and closeness. It means when your kid gets close enough to grab in a bear hug, you’re both getting closer emotionally.
Kids who come in too hot will quickly learn that dad doesn’t play when they make him yelp. Eventually they learn how to pull their punches, which means controlling strong instincts to fully open their whoop ass cans.
As your kid is learning how to use their body in mock contact with you, they’re also learning how to make managed risks. Having a big strong guy like yourself whip them around let’s them take a highway to the less-than-complete-danger zone.
No kidding. Going a couple rounds with their pops is lighting up your kids brain and growing neurons. That growth is particularly active in the hippocampus (not where hippos get degrees, BTW) which is responsible for things like logic, learning and memory.
You’re a big strong dude. Your kid’s mind has been blown by seeing you lift, open and move things that are unimaginable to them. So as you wrestle and play, holding back the full force of your strength, they begin to understand what it means to play in an ethical, controlled way. Instead of just running people over for the fun of it.
Social And Emotional Intelligence
Not only does your kid have to figure out how they’re going to take you down, they have to read you for your next move and decide how to react. They’re looking at your body language and face to get the clues. They’re also seeing how they fit into the game. This is basically everyday at the office for you.
And to really up that social and emotional intelligence game, don’t bogart the horsin’ around. Let your partner into the ring if she’s game. That’ll give your kid a whole new set of behaviors to figure out.
No matter how you do it, clearly you need to make this a habit. And these benefits aren’t gendered so it doesn’t matter if your kid is a boy or a girl. Just make sure you get into in a safe space with few breakable and sharp edges. Also, don’t be afraid to get silly. And keep in mind that when your kid says it’s time to stop, it’s time to stop. Now get in there and (play) fight, you animal.