Why a Rough and Tumble Dad is Good for Your Kids 

Tim right side up, Nash upside down.

Tim right side up, Nash upside down.

How many times have I been at a party full of families and a beleaguered mom seeking comfort comes over and says, “I just can’t watch anymore.” I look over to find a dad/uncle/family friend, usually male, swinging her precious four-year old upside down by the legs. The child is laughing and when the adult puts her down, she shouts, “Again! Again!”

I’ve studied a lot about this sort of thing in my trainings at the Association for a Healing Education in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What I’ve come to understand is that, of course, every child needs love, attention, snuggles, nurturing, and tenderness. But kids also need rough-and-tumble play, something that’s being edited out of our society, replaced by organized sports and carefully monitored playdate activities. To be clear, rough-and-tumble play means that players are playing, not actually fighting.

But understand, leaving out the rough-and-tumble part of childhood may feel like we are protecting our children from risk, but the opposite is true. Rough-and-tumble time actually increases your children’s ability to make it through the school day.  It is developmental, my friends. In fact, according to Fergus P. Hughes in his book, Children, Play, and Development:

“There is a correlation between [rough and tumble play] and the maturity of the frontal lobes of the brain. The executive functions of the frontal lobes include reflection, imagination, empathy, and play/creativity, and when these develop, they allow for greater behavioral flexibility and foresight, for well-focused, goal-directed behavior.” In other words, a chunk of what kids need to be successful in life, they get while enjoying the rowdy side of playtime.

My friend Justin, the father of three boys, tells me of the wilds of wrestling with his 3 sons, ages 7 to 12. He mitigates the strength of the oldest with the intensity of the youngest while the middle child stands outside the game and chucks pillows at the players. Of course. Although his wife can barely watch, Justin does his kids a great service. He’s ensuring that his upside down boys are stimulating their brain’s frontal lobe while they flail about for balance and spatial orientation. The vestibular system in that frontal lobe of the brain is the source of the body’s balance, important for things like focus and attention span. He’s compressing them against each other and the floor which is great for knowing where they are in space, problem-solving, self-regulation (like how much tickling is too much) and a stronger sense of self.

‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected,’’says Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, in the New York Times article, Taking Play Seriously. ‘‘Behavioral flexibility and variability are adaptive… it’s really important to be able to change your behavior in a changing environment.’’ Being upside down ought to do it.

So let’s hear it for the dad who swing his children around in the front yard and carries his kid upside down to the picnic table for lunch.

My dad used to tie me in “a knot” and tickle me. How about you?

Have a wonderful Father’s Day weekend, my friends. I’ll have a super last-minute Father’s Day hand-made present idea waiting for you on Sunday morning just in case you totally drop the ball on that front. Trust me, I understand.

The last part of the Jemi and the Birthday Surprise podcast stories will be on the April Eight’s Songs and Stories Podcast on Tuesday. If you haven’t heard the first two, you might wanna give a listen. If not before, I’ll see you then.



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