Rough & Tumble Play

My husband and I cannot say enough about the learning center our son attends. We love the philosophy, adult to child ratio, and just about everything else the center has to offer. If we have our way, all of our children will attend.

As our first direct experience with childcare, we have learned as much as our son has. Even though my husband is a second grade teacher with credentials in early childhood education, we have been surprised by some of the things we prefer as parents. We have also been surprised by some of the things we don’t.


One of our most recent experiences in this realm has been the exposure to rough and tumble play. I’ll start off by sharing the same thing that I did with his teacher. We don’t have a lot of “roughhousing” going on in our home. Our son is an only child and short of intense tickle sessions with daddy or being chased and grabbed up by mommy, rough physical contact isn’t practiced in our home. So, you can imagine my surprise when we were informed of the “Rough and Tumble Play Plan” they had developed for our son.

Rough and tumble play includes tickling, wrestling, spinning, chasing, tumbling and play fighting.

This list, which isn’t all inclusive, contains many of the activities that do happen to take place in our home. We even enrolled our son in a tumbling class to help strengthen his confidence and further develop his coordination and socialization. We love this class as an outlet for him. Without realizing it, my husband and I were promoting physical play on multiple levels.


Photo by BOKA

IMG_0565His teacher had shared with me that he was being very physical with another little boy in his class. This instantly became concerning because there were only eight children and half of them were ages 3 months to 8 months. I was relieved to learn that the rough and tumble playmate was the only other boy close to his age. What was hard about the news was knowing that the other little boy had a moderate temper and was a mellow, passive learner. I instantly started to worry about bullying! It wasn’t long after that I witnessed their version of wrestling. It was surprising to watch and very “grown up” like. At times, it was also hilarious but when one of them cried, wined, or indicated they were finished the play would be stopped. Thanks to our son’s well educated teacher, we learned that some children are “wired” for rough and tumble play and instead of stopping this type of play, she would redirect and make it appropriate.

We worried about all of the things most parents or adults who oversee children would be concerned with. We started asking questions like, “Is our child violent? What if someone gets hurt? Is this normal and healthy? Where did he learn this behavior?” After a little research we learned that rough and tumble play is normal, widely practiced by children, and often misconstrued or misunderstood by adults. It helps children develop socially, learn boundaries, practice limits, and even promotes physical activity and appropriate touching.


This is why our son’s teacher developed a plan for him that included a child size Curious George monkey. Any time he started to engage in rough and tumble play that his playmates were not reciprocating, he was encouraged to go wrestle with Curious George. He could tackle him, hug him, push him, lay on him, roll with him or whatever else he needed to do. Often times his classmates would then join in with the play on their own. During this time, his teacher spoke calmly to him to explain physical activity and boundaries, noting when his friends didn’t want to be hugged or touched and encouraging play with Curious George until they were ready. This gave our son an outlet for the play he needed and kept a safe and sane classroom for everyone else.


At home, we also started putting words and emotions to our physical play and touch so that our son could understand appropriate physical boundaries. His teacher gave him his own smaller monkey that we would “practice” with at home. We also took special care to tell him when he was being too rough with us, especially if it might harm one of his classmates. (As he grew, he became big and strong enough to hurt us, as well!) We would also put words to all of our loving actions so that he understood kissing, hugging, and snuggling. As he grows cognitively we plan to use this type of interaction in teaching him acceptable touch for, by, and from appropriate people.

Taking the time to teach and reach understanding in this way has worked incredibly well for our family. Our son doesn’t regularly hit (as many of his peers do) and he has found other ways to communicate his needs and desires. I share this information in the hope that parents with “rough and tumble players” will recognize and understand this type of play as normal and healthy. This information was so empowering for us, and my wish is that others will be able to take appropriate action and redirect or teach their children using this type of play as a learning style platform.


Lastly, our child care center is NAEYC accredited. This is a huge bonus to us as parents. NAEYC also has incredible resources. For more information from this organization on rough and tumble play, click here.

Happy Parenting!

6 thoughts on “Rough & Tumble Play

  1. OMG, Chelse! A is soooo cute.

    I always thought I wanted only girls, since I don’t “get” some of the things boys do (rough play, smells, sounds). Now that we have X, I have totally reversed that thinking. I can’t imagine gentle play, and if boys have this much drama, I don’t want the drama I know accompanies girls! 😉 He has an incredible attention span and can sit and play quietly for hours, with toys, books, or screens. And every once in awhile, like this weekend, he wants to sit still with me and paint his toes and fingers. Daddy has learned not to blink an eye. And the funny part is that the teachers at school notice everything, from new shoes to updated mohawk cuts, but haven’t mentioned the nails (thank goodness)!

    1. I think this is another important conversation, Jenn, and a great idea for a future post! We also support all types of toys and activities regardless of the gender identity or role association. I like it!! Thanks for the feedback…you always give my brain extra things to think about!!

  2. I find myself looking forward to waking up on Tuesdays & Thursday so I can read the latest posts. It is so nice to be part of a community of moms/parents. Even if we aren’t at the same stage, it is so wonderful to be able to think and reflect and feel like we aren’t alone in the journey.

    1. Jenn, this may be the nicest thing anyone has said to us about our blog. Thank you so much for your support! Sometimes it is scary sharing parts of ourselves with everyone, but you just made it easier!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *