Rough-and-tumble play: why it’s good for children
Rough-and-tumble play is when children climb over each another, wrestle, roll around and even pretend to fight.
Most children love rough-and-tumble play. It lets them:
- test and practise physical and social skills
- explore their changing positions in space
- take some safe risks
- learn about their bodies, including how strong they are.
Rough-and-tumble play is fun – and good exercise too!
What you need for rough-and-tumble play
You just need enough space for your child to enjoy rough-and-tumble play.
Rough-and-tumble play is usually high energy, so it’s best for it to happen in a place where nothing can get broken.
Rough-and-tumble play is fun outside. Good options for rough play outside include backyards, playgrounds and beaches.
Your child can also have rough-and-tumble play inside – for example, on the couch or rug. You just have to be more gentle inside and not let things get out of control.
If you’re playing rough with your child, it’s important to tune into how your child is feeling. It’s OK if the rough-and-tumble play is a bit exciting, but your child still needs to feel safe. The key is to make sure everyone is having fun.
How to enjoy rough-and-tumble play
There are many ways for you and your child to enjoy rough-and-tumble play. Here are some ideas:
- Play chasing games. This could be an exciting, high-speed game with your 6-year-old at the park. Or it might be play-chasing your toddler down the hallway for a hug.
- Wrestle. Lie down on the ground and see whether your child can roll you over or stop you getting up. Children often enjoy testing their strength in this way. You might have to play along a bit and pretend your child is stronger than you.
- Have a tickle war on the couch. Just be careful not to bump into other furniture.
- Growl like an animal or a monster and pretend to eat your child. A little bit of scary play can be fun, as long as your child still feels safe.
- Go outside for a piggyback ride, or a game of holding hands and spinning and dancing. Soft grass is good if you fall.
Sometimes children can get hurt in rough-and-tumble play, especially when they wrestle or play fight with each other. It can help to set some rules – for example, ‘Check that the other person wants to play rough games’, ‘No biting, no scratching, no pulling hair’, and ‘If someone says “stop”, you have to stop’.
Adapting this activity for children of different ages or children with diverse abilities
You can adapt your play for your situation and your child’s stage of development.
For example, just be gentler with your young child. Babies and toddlers like being bounced on your knee or lifted gently into the air like an aeroplane. Older toddlers might also like playing chasey or tiggy or spinning around and dancing.
Your school-age child probably plays rough with their friends, and they might need to be reminded to stop if the play stops being fun for everyone.
Never shake your baby or child, because it can cause bleeding inside the brain and likely permanent brain damage.
All children learn and develop through play. Our articles on play and autistic children and play and children with disability are great starting points for adapting this activity guide for children with diverse abilities. You might also like to explore our activity guides for children with diverse abilities.