Child Development

The 7 Big Benefits Of Rough-And-Tumble Play With Your Kids

They're going to have to get smart to take you down. Literally.

Originally Published: 
A dad playing football and wrestling with his two kids outside on grass.

Humans aren’t 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 is that the 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 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. But that doesn’t mean humans aren’t getting a ton of benefits from it. These include:


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 you need to step it up (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 you in a bear hug, you’re getting closer emotionally too.

Impulse Control

Kids who come in too hot will quickly learn that dad doesn’t play when they’re too rough. Eventually they learn how to pull their punches, which means controlling strong instincts to fully open their whoop ass cans.

Managed Risks

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 lets them take a highway to the less-than-complete-danger zone.

Increased Intelligence

Going a couple rounds with their pops is lighting up your kids’ brain and growing neurons. That growth is particularly active in the hippocampus, 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, but they also 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.

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 (and combat gender stereotypes).

No matter how you do it, clearly you need to make roughhousing with your kids a habit. And these benefits aren’t gendered, so roughhouse with your daughters too. Just make sure you get into it in a safe space with few breakables 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.

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