The art of roughhousing

. January 25, 2013.

There’s nothing Anthony DeBenedet enjoys more then giving his daughters a magic carpet ride. That is, unless they’re in the mood for a chariot race. Those moves are just two of the fun activities DeBenedet, an Ann Arbor physician describes in his book, “The Art of Roughhousing,” (Quirk Books 2011) co-authored by psychologist Lawrence Cohen.

Roughhousing has nearly become a lost pleasure.“It’s physical play with importantcomponents to it. There’s wrestling, pillow fighting, free form play,” says DeBenedet, 34, a father of three girls—five, two and four months. “It’s a way to connect with your kids.”

Silly delights

In his book, DeBenedet describes roughhousing as rowdy activities infused with spontaneity, improvisation and joy. According to DeBenedet jumping off beds and sliding down stairs aren’t only silly delights — they create long-lasting and serious advantages. “There’s no debate behind the science of roughhousing. There are psychological benefits behind rough and tumble play,” explains DeBenedet. “It helps make your child smart. It releases certain chemicals in the brain that are fertilizers for brain development. There’s great data behind it. Roughhousing also improves emotional intelligence. There’s an arc to the play — revving up to a peak and winding down, where kids learn to regulate their emotions,” he says. “Kids can push over mom and dad, learning to reverse the roles. Kids who learn to reverse roles are liked better by their peers and are more respected.”

DeBenedet’s book illustrates dozens of activities parents can do with their youngsters, including “jousting,” in which adult and child stand on a board, pool noodles in hand, clad in “armor” of hats, coats and gloves, trying to edge each other off the surface.

Teaching safety actively

Many grown-ups have become squeamish about raucous fun. “The pendulum has swung too far with play. It used to be safety first. Now it’s safety only,” he explains. Some parents practically hover over youngsters watching every move, sweeping their child up to prevent bruised knees and hurt feelings. “We’ve swung back to New England Puritanism, where you weren’t supposed to have fun – just learn and work. That doesn’t create happiness,” he says. “We know that kids who play are better adjusted and happier.”

Roughhousing is for both genders, enjoyed most by kids two to eight. “Boys need it because they need to know there’s more to physical contact then sex and violence,” he explains. “Girls need it so they can express their feelings.” DeBenedet often engages in rowdy play with his own daughters.“One of the great success stories I had was when Ava, my oldest was two or three. I would come home and Ava would announce at dinner that mommy was doing bedtime,” he recalls. DeBenedet came up with a game he called, “the world of flying machines,” in which he lifted his daughter on his shoulders with a forward flip over his arm. “I said, ‘Ava what if we flew up the stairs.’ I said, ‘let’s pretend you’re a hot air balloon.’ My exile from bedtime ended.”

In another game, the family takes masking tape and plasters it around their house, attaching it to furniture and other surfaces, with everyone attempting to cross the room without touching the sticky barrier. Humans aren’t the only ones who enjoy some rough-and-tumble. DeBenedet said even ants kick up their heels from time to time. “When they are working, they jump over each other,” he says. “Rats will run through a maze faster when there’s a chance to roughhouse, instead of just pursuing a piece of cheese. Rowdy play adds a sparkle to youngsters’ eyes. We’re saying get down on the floor with them and join them in their world of exuberance,” said DeBenedet.

For more info on The Art of Roughhousing visit