Here’s the truth: Parents, especially dads and doubly especially big dads, accidentally injure kids all the time. Big dumb bodies strike little bodies and little bodies give way. Tears and guilt follow. So it has always been and so it needs to be because, despite the dangers, research shows that fathers physically interacting with their children is essential for building impulse control, resilience, and strong emotional bonds. While these developmental benefits outweigh a few bumps and bruises, no one wants to see their babies get hurt. But like padding the sharp corners of a coffee table, there are things dads can do to minimize some risks.
We asked a bunch of dads for advice and here are the smartest responses.
“I broke my son’s arm once, swinging a mattress around. It was a good lesson in not going all-out playing or swinging things around. The best way to avoid hurting them roughhousing is not to use anything but hand-to-hand-combat. That’s why grappling is pretty good because you have enough body-to-body contact, you are more aware of how and where their bodies are.”
“Remove hard objects before roughhousing. Take off your belt and any jewelry, get the keys out of your pocket. Make sure the space is safe. If you’re on a bed, be sure the ground is free from things that they could fall on and hurt themselves. But the biggest precaution to take is to make sure you understand what your goal is. What are you teaching them by playing rough with them? Is it emotional control? Resilience? How to control their bodies? Are you just enjoying the physicality of it? Whatever the purpose of the roughhousing, be sure to lean into it, and tell your kids what you’re hoping they’ll get out of it.”
“The key is open spaces, low to the ground. So I won’t roughhouse with her on the bed, but on a blanket fort we make on the floor. I’ll spin her around, but from the armpits, not the wrists. It’s all about weight placement and knowing your own strength.”
“Only play on carpet, catch ’em before they fall, and then I’m not sure there’s anything I could do differently other than not play.”
“Amphetamines and yoga are both good for childproofing my dumb body. I’ve always had body awareness issues. I tend to flail my limbs about and have accidentally elbowed people on the train (just from turning a page in a book) and family, including my spouse, Michelle. She’s also a psychologist who encouraged me to see a psychiatrist get on Ritalin to address my inattentiveness. Yoga has also helped improve my body awareness just from the practice itself. That, and I’m willing to take more risks with twins. If one breaks, there’s a backup.”
“My son is 9 weeks old and I’ve kind of just stopped eating and sleeping, so I’ve lost a lot of weight and I think he appreciates my new slender frame.”
“I bit the little guy’s finger yesterday because gnashing my teeth makes him laugh and he shoved his hand in my mouth. Don’t bite your kid? Sigh. I am an awful person.”
“I usually hurt my kids accidentally because I’m a klutz, swinging my elbows around. My advice for klutzes like me is to watch where you’re going, don’t rush all the time. I often hurt them because I’m in a rush and running down the stairs or trying to get out the door.”
“Stage combat training has helped me a lot. Using big physical gestures and knowing how to make things look good, while being mindful of the force exerted on my kids versus the over-the-top physicality.”
“I would never play in a way where I have momentum moving toward them or down onto them. Even when dancing, I’m either moving away from them or letting them run to me, staying ready to catch them. Same at the playground. I never have momentum aimed toward my kids.”
“Stay in one spot and let them run around you, this also helps with wearing them out instead of you, and also you can drink beer while being a good dad. It does take some superior peripheral vision though.”
“I deflect anything physical so that if we’re ‘falling’ it’s more like he’s falling and landing on Dad. Very rarely does it result in a bonked head or tears but when it does, a powerbomb generally fixes it right quick. Also, whatever we do he wants to do again and again and again until it is I who hurts.”
“One thing I’ve done is make sure that we’re both at 100 percent before we play chase or I agree to ‘go high,’ which means toss her in the air. Always on carpet or soft ground. Stop the instant either one of us feels uncomfortable.”
“I’m honestly trying to keep them from damaging me when we play. They both take nut-shots all day long.”
Contributions (in order) from: Joshua David Stein, 36, Brooklyn, New York; Brendan Mahan, Boston, Massachusetts; Peter Shankman, 45, New York City, New York; Dave Baldwin, 44, South Hadley, Massachusetts; Dean Massello, 39, Brooklyn, New York; Dan Hula, 31, Chicago, Illinois; Tyghe Trimble, 36, Brooklyn, New York; Brett Krasnove, 43, Short Hills, New Jersey; Justin Lamar Nix, 34, New Orleans; Andy Ross, 38, Brooklyn, New York; Matt Anglen, 32, Missoula, Montana; Chris Lennhert, 32, Round Lake Beach, Illinois; Eli Chandler, 38, Madison, Wisconsin; Dan Polydoris, 37, Chicago, Illinois.