There's a new book out called The Art of Roughhousing, in which two fathers (one an MD and the other a PhD) offer advice and diagrams on how to roughhouse the right way. They believe that it's "crucial to kids' self esteem and physical development that parents unplug the family, loosen up and let fly." Today's obsession with safety and technology, they argue, has changed the way we play. And not for the better.
Let me start off here by saying I AGREE. Who wouldn't? I don't like the idea that today's kids no longer roam free and explore on their own any more than the next mother. And there's nothing better than the bond (and the giggles) that comes from them messing around with their father on the kitchen floor.
But as I said in this Associated Press article, as much as I WANT my children to enjoy the benefits of roughhousing (a close physical connection to us as parents, a sense of their own physical power and free play) there's a lot at stake when the roughhousing starts.
1) Roughhousing teaches kids to play rough. All the time. My kids are young (ages 2.5 and 4.5). They don't know how to make distinctions between when it's okay to roll around on the floor, and when it would really be better for everyone involved if they could just choose one of their 409,865 noisy, plastic toys to zoom around. As a result, they roughhouse at the doctor's office and in the airport. They roughhouse at the grocery store. They tear apart other people's homes and I worry about bringing them into most spaces that aren't wide open fields. I've tried disciplining them and I've explained things until I'm blue in the face. But the fact is that right now most of their play together and in our house ends up being roughhousing.
2) All play turns into roughhousing. I'm not splitting hairs here. This is actually a little different from what I've detailed above. Many are the rainy days that I have tried to build a fort with them (oh okay, get them to build a fort so I can glance at the Sunday Styles section while tidying the kitchen and prepping dinner), or set them up with Play Doh or their art box but it just doesn't work. One minute they're rolling around under the kitchen table, enjoying a new secret space courtesy of the throw blankets from the TV room and the next minute STOP IT! HE BIT ME! I LAYED SOWN ON HIS STOMACH BECAUSE HE TOLD ME TO AND NOW HE'S KICKING ME! Which leaves me in a Catch 22 situation: I end up providing the guidance (in the form of me, a part-time nanny or a myriad activities because when I don't, their play devolves into roughhousing and the roughhousing has consequences. Which brings me to...
3) Roughhousing has consequences. I can't even count the divots on our kitchen floor or the chunks missing from our walls. And no, it's not that I expect the boys (or any children for that matter) to always play quietly or that I value my stuff more than my kids. But I am trying to instill in them that what's okay to do at the the beach/playground/backyard isn't necessarily a fun or safe choice for our living room/the landing at the top of the stairs/in the bathtub. I mean, yes: Kids are kids. But our house isn't a giant playroom. And I'd like my children to learn to respect and help take care of our things (a thought that completely flies out of their minds once the roughhousing starts).
Plus, I can't be the only parent who has rushed to the emergency room as a result of roughhousing gone wrong. Our latest such jaunt happened at around 11:00pm on Christmas night. My husband had been roughhousing (kinda gently in fact. We were all gussied up for Christmas dinner after all) with my two year old son. Suddenly, he (the kid, not my husband) started to cry and only wanted to be consoled by me.
"What happened?" I asked when my husband thrust my sobbing son, Felix, at me.
"I'm not sure. He was just sitting on my lap and we were playing around, and then suddenly he stopped. It's probably nothing, though." My husband plopped Felix down on my lap. "But he is holding his arm out to the side all funny. And it's kind of limp, too."
I soothed Felix as best I could and we put him to bed. But after listening to his moaning for over an hour, we got him back up and sped off to the ER. Turns out that as a result of the roughhousing, my son had dislocated his elbow (yes, that's a real thing. It's called Nursemaid's Elbow) and that he (because of his age and the stage of development of his musculature...or just because of the makeup of his own body) is prone to it happening again. Which makes me feel like I'd rather enroll him in another baby music/art/gymnastics/swimming class and endure being labeled a Helicopter Parent than have him suffer another roughhousing injury.
Please don't take this post as a diatribe against roughhousing or this new book. It's not meant to be either of those.
Hell, I'm probably even going to buy the book so my husband can learn some new and safer moves for when he and the kids are messing around. But in my experience as the mother of two young boys, roughhousing isn't the best form of play right now. Maybe it will be as they grow up a bit and can understand a little better about how much is too much and that "no" means "no."
In the meantime, however, we're late for our next Dress-Up-Drama-Music-Together-Pee Wee-Soccer-Baby-Sign-Language class.