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 position 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 pretty high energy, so it’s best to be in a place where nothing can get broken.

Rough-and-tumble play is fun outside – for example, in a garden or playground, at the beach, or on a big trampoline.

Your child can also have rough-and-tumble play inside – for example, on the couch or rug. You just have to be a bit gentler inside and not let things get out of control.

How to enjoy rough-and-tumble play

There are lots of 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 six-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, ‘No biting, no scratching, no pulling hair. If someone says “stop”, you have to stop’.

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.

Adapting for children of different ages

You can adapt your play for your situation and your child’s age.

For example, just be gentler with your young child. Being bounced on your knee or lifted gently into the air like an aeroplane might be enough rough-and-tumble for your toddler.

Your older child probably plays rough with her friends, and she might need to be reminded to stop if the play stops being fun for everyone.