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Should Dads and Daughters Wrestle? Hell Yes.

Roughhousing knows no gender, and the benefits are tremendous for both boys and girls

I used to love roughhousing with my dad, who was a state wrestling champion. And that love has translated to mixing it up with my two boys. They’ve yet to lick me. I mean, they have in the literal sense because they fight dirty, but I remain unpinned and unvanquished.

One thing I hear a lot is fathers of daughters refusing to roughhouse with their little girls — or mothers not enjoying the fact that their daughter is wrestling with dad — because, they’re, well, girls and he’s a man. Roughhousing is commonly thought to be a boy thing. It isn’t.

As it turns out, the benefits of rough-and-tumble play are not gendered. They are, however, very real.

When Girls Grapple

First of all, when a girl is wrasslin’ her pops, she is getting a physical workout. Or she should be, at least. (If she isn’t huffing and puffing between the giggles then you actually might want to step it up a bit.) She’s also learning a lot of what her body can do — developing coordination and balance.

But the benefits aren’t just physical. By roughhousing with you, your girl has to think creatively about how she’s going to come at you. This is literally building her brain. She also has to keep an eye on you. She has to look at your face and read your expression, which boosts her emotional intelligence.

There’s a benefit for dads, too. As you wrestle around with your daughter in close proximity, both combatants are being flooded with a hormone called oxytocin. This is the hormone that promotes bonding and emotional closeness. That’s only a good thing for your relationship.

A Note on Safety

Ready to rumble? Great. Just remember: As far as safety is concerned, it’s important that dads pay close attention to their daughter’s neck and head. They are a bit heavy and out of proportion, which can lead to some nasty injuries. You can help mitigate this by getting her enrolled in a martial arts class where she can learn how to fall in a way that is less damaging. Also, try not to swing her around by her limbs. Those little joints are still developing and things can get out of whack pretty easily.

You may want to suggest that your wife get into the fray. Start by telling her all the good things your daughter is getting out of wrestling. And then add in the fact that it gets better with mom in the game. A new living room floor adversary just presents new challenges.

7 Benefits of Roughhousing

In my research on roughhousing, I’ve heard a number of repeated themes from experts about its benefit. Here are seven very good reasons to roughhouse.

  1. Fitness. 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.
  2. Bonding. 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.
  3. Impulse Control. 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.
  4. 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 let’s them take a highway to the less-than-complete-danger zone.
  5. Increased Intelligence. 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.
  6. Ethics. 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.
  7. 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.