Rough-and-tumble play looks wild and scary. But experts say roughhousing is great for kids’ development. When kids stick to the rules, it’s also sheer glee.
To keep roughhousing safe—preventing both hurt feelings and bumps and bruises—set some ground rules first, for yourself and the kids:
- Try not to stop kids in the middle of a game or a chase-and-capture moment. Just as they revved themselves up, they will calm themselves back down if given the time and space to do so.
- Consider having a “safe” or “stop” word that everyone knows and can use, no questions asked, if they’ve had enough. Making it silly (“Monkey tails!” or “Pepperoni pie!”) allows all players to end the game on a positive, giggly note.
- Adults and bigger kids should be conscious of their size and strength advantage and act accordingly.
- Punching, hitting, head butting, and biting are not allowed.
Ridiculously Fun Roughhousing Games
Rough-and-tumble play often evolves naturally (in parent-child or kid-kid duos and small groups), but if it doesn’t, use some of these prompts to take a walk on the wild side together.
Crouch and chase.
One of you is the cat; the other’s the mouse. Can the little critter scurry away, or will she get nabbed by the furry fiend? Take turns playing each role.
Pull and push.
A grown-up, or a bigger child, stretches out on the floor, belly down, and then tries to get up while smaller kids hold him down. Or flip the script and have the little ones try to make the big one get up. Tip: well-placed tickles work!
Grab and go.
Seize the striped, polka-dotted, colorful, or plain socks your opponent is wearing while also keeping your own tootsies covered.
Swing high and low.
Pillow fights aren’t just for sleepovers. Hand over a few soft pillows and let them fly.
Hop on Pop.
A parent gets on the floor, face up, knees bent, and soles of the feet facing up. Kids hop on, belly first, onto the parent’s feet, and with arms outstretched, go for a ride.
Hang with Mom.
Let your child hang upside down by hooking his knees over your shoulders, his back to your belly, while you are standing up. Can he do a stomach-crunch move and get his head up in the air?
Surf the surroundings.
Grab a big couch cushion and let kids use it to pull or push the “surfer” around the room, or to slide down a stair or two (just make sure there’s space to land at the bottom).
Ride ’em, cowboy.
Kids decide when and where to go, while adults handle the pace—and the bumpiness of the ride. Buck them off with a flourish when you’re done (onto a soft surface, of course).