Archive for March 10th, 2011


The Art of Roughhousing focuses on parent-child play, but lots of parents have questions about the rowdy physical activity that goes on between friends, siblings, and classmates.

Q: How can I get my twins to stop physically fighting all the time?

A: That’s a bit hard to answer without watching them “fight,” because the first issue is whether this is real fighting (angry, hurtful, unplayful, and out-for-blood), or whether it is playfighting (fun for both kids, less aggressive, ends with a shift to a different game), or whether it is rowdy roughhousing (active, noisy, and physical but not fighting or playfighting).

If it’s real fighting, then you need to work on their relationship with each other, by giving them each special one-on-one time with you, and by spending time with the two of them together, so that they can gang up on you (playfully) instead of attacking each other.

If it’s playfighting, then you need to let them play, and join in (if you can stand it! I think you can.) Siblings, especially, twins, need this kind of play in order to feel powerful and confident. Twins tend to be pretty evenly matched, so they can really “go at it” without either one always winning–which is key to good peer roughhousing. Of course, it’s possible for playfighting to result in a minor injury, or for one person to suddenly get mad at an accidental (or sort-of-accidental) escalation–but these problems are usually sorted out by the children themselves, or with big hugs and boo-boo kisses from mom or dad. Finally, some parents describe their children as fighting when they are really just being physical at an intensity level that worries the parents, but it isn’t actually aggressive or pretend-aggressive. These families need to apply the following principle: We have to find something that works for everyone. That is, the level of excitement has to work for the kids, and the level of safety or rowdiness has to work for the parent. The current situation isn’t working for this parent, and I’ d guess that “play nice” wouldn’t work for these twins.

When siblings are not evenly matched, and one is always clobbering the other, I like to say to the bigger or tougher one, “Hey, pick on someone your own size!” I say it in a goofy voice, and it works especially well if you put up your fists and then pretend to be afraid of the child and run away. This always turns the problem behavior into giggles, which then lead to more peace and harmony at home. It also helps to have separate wrestling time with each child, so the bigger one can go full-speed-ahead without being told to “be careful of your little sister!” and the little one can be the strong one for a change, knocking you over with one little push.

Q: Why do I need to roughhouse with my kids? They roughhouse plenty with each other.

A: Because other children are not likely to follow some of the key guidelines to good roughhousing. They usually don’t let each other win, but as a parent, your job is to hold back some of your strength and let them win (making them work harder and harder for it over time). Other kids aren’t usually tuned in, like you can be, noticing whether a child needs a break, a quieter game, or an increase in intensity level. When children roughhouse with each other they often escalate


Houdini from the book!

Houdini performed by Ava and Anthony DeBenedet

Welcome to The Art of Roughhousing website. We’re delighted that you share our interest in getting rowdy and rambunctious.

We both came to roughhousing first as kids. For Anthony, that meant tons of fun and great bonding times with his dad. For Larry, roughhousing meant getting clobbered by bigger, meaner kids. So we’ve “looked at roughhousing from both sides now,” as the song goes. We both rediscovered roughhousing as dads. For Anthony, it was a continuation of fun and closeness through physically active play. For Larry, it was a new discovery that roughhousing could be safe and enjoyable. Later, as we became students of the science and the art of roughhousing, we learned that parent-child roughhousing is one of the best ways for families to connect, and one of the best ways to teach children trust, confidence, and inner strength. So we collaborated on The Art of Roughhousing [link to buy the book page], and became even more motivated to share what we had learned.

Of course, we didn’t invent roughhousing, and we aren’t the first to emphasize how important it is. We are following in the footsteps of Harry Harlow, who first studied rough-and-tumble play, and discovered that it is necessary for healthy development. We are following the lead of our Playground Hero, Anthony Pellegrini, a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who studies recess and childhood play. We were inspired by Stuart Brown, who organized the latest research beautifully in his book, Play. Most of all, we are following the lead of our own children, and children everywhere, who truly know the value of roughhousing.

This website is a gathering place for roughhousers to share their experiences within the exciting world of rough and tumble play. We hope that you’ll find this a place to discover new levels of rowdiness, to share your joys and agonies, and to show off your own moves.

We’re glad you’re here.

-Anthony and Larry

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