Roughhousing 101: Rules to Making Physical Play Time Safe and Special

Roughhousing with BenjaminI regret being an older dad whenever my son asks me to be a bad guy. That means a serious session of roughhousing is about to start, and chances are I’ll be the one licking my wounds.

I can take it. I better. Boys require physical play, the more intense, the better.

I once dated a single mom with two girls who also loved physical play. I was a good decade younger at the time, but even still I emerged from each session utterly exhausted.

The same is true today, but every time I wrestle with the boys or chase them around the dining room table I try to model proper behavior along the way. That’s not easy when you’re panting for air. Here are some lessons I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, when roughhousing with our boys:

  • Choose a Safe Word … or Simply Say, “Stop”: It’s only natural for children to get carried away during a roughhousing session. That’s especially true when my sons pretend they’re “Hulkie” and I’m the supervillains sap. Bam! Pow! Hey, that hurts! Let your children know some actions are never allowed, like any kind of blow to the face. Boundaries are crucial during rough play. Your children will take these lessons with them to the playground, and proper rules are imperative to prevent play fights from turning into the real thing.
  • Embrace the Fear: As a boy, my Dad would chase us around the house as if he were Frankenstein’s Monster. A tiny part of me was truly scared by his play acting, worthy of applause from the ghost of Boris Karloff. Today, I don vampire teeth and torment my boys, chasing them while making all sorts of creature growls. “Be the vam-pirate,” little Benj cries, our cue for the Monster Games to begin. The better my acting, the faster my boys run.
  • Prepare the Battlefield: Dads must take great care to prevent their weight advantage from hurting their kids while roughhousing. They also should eyeball the room in question to make sure nothing breakable is in sight. Take your smart phone out of your pocket, too. You never know what a poorly placed sneaker can do to an expensive tech toy.
  • Set the Timer: Our family makes frequent use of the kitchen stove timer to break play time up into agreeable segments. This is especially true for roughhousing, which can take on its own momentum if left unchecked. Children should understand play time isn’t endless, and when Daddy says, “that’s all,” he means it.

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