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3 Guidelines for Family Horseplay

3 Guidelines for Family Horseplay

Mandy A.'s two and a half-year-old daughter loves when her daddy turns her upside down. Erin R. loves to flip and twirl her son, too, explaining that, "It's good for both of us. I use it to break the tension when we're having one of those days where all I say is no." Cheryl W. finds that it helps her kids works off extra energy. And Kylie N., whose three children love roughhousing with their father and her together, says it's a great workout: "I can't imagine a more fun, healthy way of play without actually calling it exercise."

Numerous Circle of Moms members say that roughhousing with your children can be beneficial for both you and them, and even researchers say that roughhousing is good for kids. But what types of rough and tumble play are safest, and when do kids outgrow the desire for it?

While there’s little consensus among Circle of Moms members on when exactly family horseplay should end, they do offer four guidelines on how it should change as a child grows and matures.

1. Consider Your Child’s Age

Moms caution that when playing around, parents need to take into account their children’s ages and physical capabilities. For example, a baby can be held in the air and spun around, but should not be vigorously shaken, mom Kate V. advises. "A little bouncing is fine and can be great fun for them," she says. "Just be sure to hold [your baby] by his core, and not by his limbs [to avoid injuries].

As your child gets older, the moves can become more complex – flipping your child over, hanging her upside down, letting him climb you or wrestling— and there's even a book on suggested roughhousing techniques that's segmented by age range.


2. Teach Limits and Respect

Some moms worry that roughhousing can lead to problems later on, such as uncontrollable aggression or physical abuse, but other moms believe it's fine as long as you teach your child about respect and limitations.

In fact, when children start roughhousing, one member (screenname: "Iridescent Moonbeams") recommends guiding them towards gentle ways of wrestling and other "good ways to play with major muscle groups," adding that if your child gets too rough, you should "stop and correct the action immediately, and when they play nicely, reward it."

Cheryl W. agrees, offering that her three children, ages three, five and seven, are actually learning how to show respect for other people through their horseplay. When they roughhouse she talks to them about being gentle and avoiding intentionally hurting one another.

"Roughhousing doesn't equate to hitting or smacking people with objects just to hopefully see them laugh at being hit or smacked, that's a totally different matter," Bonnie C. agrees. "Empathy has to be taught, too."

3. Taper Off When There's Risk or Discomfort

If either you or your child begins feeling uncomfortable in any way, it's time for the horseplay to stop. Several moms cite pregnancy with another child as a time to put a moratorium on horseplay, including Trish A. and Ashley V. When Ashley's three-year-old started hitting her belly and telling her to be a gorilla, she knew it was time to explain that this could hurt the baby and to teach her tot to instead give stomach hugs and kisses. And Trish has had to put her three-year-old and 21-month-old on the floor and explain that they can't dig their elbows, knees, feet and hands into her or jump all over her. At nearly 27 weeks pregnant, she knows that not respecting these limitations could put her into early labor.


The need for caution goes in both directions; just as showering with your child can feel awkward once he starts becoming aware of physical differences, moms advise paying attention to when your child naturally shies away from the close physical contact involved in rough play, and then respecting those signals.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that rough-housing should be fun, not hurtful. Children should be taught to be gentle in play, just like they are taught to pet animals gently instead of grabbing their fur, says Krista E. And if you or your child become exhausted after even 10 or 20 minutes of it, says Casey T., then stop.

Most important of all, says a mom named Elfrieda, your child should listen when you or someone else tells him to stop, and then transition to a calmer (but still physical) activity, like snuggling together to read a story. In fact, adds Amy D., horseplay is one of the best way to teach kids these critical lessons about physical contact:

"Roughhousing provides the perfect context for kids to ‘learn’ the boundaries. Loving fathers will restrain their strength while roughhousing, so it's harmless fun. Sons will learn how to do the same, and daughters will learn how to enjoy both strength and compassion in the same action from a man. And all kids will learn that when they say, ‘No, quit, time out,’ someone who loves and cares for them will stop. These lessons are invaluable!"

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

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