Is Roughhousing With Kids as Beneficial as TikTok Claims?

Anyone who grew up with siblings knows what roughhousing entails. It's the natural part of childhood that allows kids to explore boundaries, test their physical limits, and pretend that they're WWE wrestlers. According to some experts, it can even be a good way for parents and children to bond.

In a viral TikTok video that has been viewed more than 18.3 million times, emergency medicine specialist Joe Whittington (better known as "Dr. Joe" on socials), MD, shared that roughhousing with your children can be good for them. "Those children grow up to be more confident and well-adjusted adults," Dr. Whittington says in the clip.

While this sounds great in theory, you can't trust everything you see or read online — especially when some forms of roughhousing can lead to injury or emotional distress. With help from children's psychiatrist Howard Pratt, DO, a board-certified medical director at Community Health of South Florida, and emotional intelligence expert Jenny Woo, PhD, founder of Mind Brain Emotion, we fact-checked whether roughhousing with your children is actually a good idea.

First, What Is Roughhousing?

Also known as rough-and-tumble play, roughhousing is a type of physical activity that includes activities like wrestling, pillow fights, tumbling, and fighting for fun, says Dr. Woo. However, exactly what that looks like will vary from person to person. Most children begin roughhousing when they're around 3 or 4, and it can continue until puberty or until the roughhousing evolves into playing a sport or exercising, Dr. Pratt says.

Is Roughhousing Good For Your Child?

Though you can't trust every TikTok you see online, there is some truth behind Dr. Joe's viral video. "Yes, engaging in roughhouse play can help children become more confident and well-adjusted adults," Dr. Woo says. Research also shows "roughhousing with fathers can help kids manage aggressive impulses and learn to control their emotions during physical activity," Dr. Woo says. (It's unclear why this benefit was only studied around fathers.)

Still, those aren't the only benefits. Not only can safe roughhousing allow kids to test boundaries in a safe and controlled environment, but "it can help kids build emotional intelligence by learning how to manage their emotions and read the emotions of others," Dr. Woo says. Additionally, Dr. Pratt adds that roughhousing can help with bonding, forming positive emotional memories, building trust, and learning limits.

"Engaging your child directly through roughhouse play, as opposed to, say, playing a video game with them or watching a movie with them, would likely result in more positives than negatives," says Dr. Pratt. This is because when you watch a movie together or play video games, you aren't really focused on each other in the same way you are during roughhousing.

How to Keep Roughhouse Play Safe

Despite its benefits, there are some important parameters to keep in mind when roughhousing with your children. As an adult who is likely much larger than your child, you must be aware of your size and strength, says Dr. Pratt. "Roughhousing should never result in bruises and injuries, significant discomfort, or fear," adds Dr. Woo.

It's also important to always keep roughhouse play consensual. "One has to be sensitive, attentive, and be prepared to stop if it's not enjoyable to the child and the child feels like they are being forced to participate," Dr. Pratt says. If your child ever says "no," you should respect that boundary and stop immediately until they want you to engage again.

Perhaps most importantly, understand that roughhousing is a behavior your children will learn and mirror in other environments. For this reason, if you find your child is roughhousing with other kids and the other children are not enjoying it or are feeling bullied and forced to participate, "it's time to put a stop to it," Dr. Pratt says.

Bottom line: as long as your roughhouse play is safe and consensual, don't be afraid to play wrestle a little bit. It's good for them.

Taylor Andrews is a Balance editor at PS who specializes in topics relating to sex, relationships, dating, sexual health, mental health, and more. In her six years working in editorial, she's written about how semen is digested, why sex aftercare is the move, and how the overturn of Roe killed situationships.