Marina Koestler Ruben

Blog Posts: June 2012

What I'm Reading: "The Art of Roughhousing" by DeBenedet and Cohen

I'm reading The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It (2011), by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen.  You might recognize Cohen as the author of the popular Playful Parenting (2002).

Here's roughhousing as DeBenedet and Cohen describe it:

[Roughhousing is] play that flows with spontaneity, improvisation, and joy.  It is free from worries about how we look or how much time is passing.  It is physical...interactive...[and] rowdy, but not dangerous.

DeBenedet and Cohen argue that play, roughhousing included, has intellectual, physical, social, and moral benefits for participants.  They back their claims with science, including the fact that elephants, whales, and ants engage in roughhousing as well.  In fact:

Animal behaviorists have observed that the smarter the species, the more its youngsters engage in physical play.

Through roughhousing, boys and girls learn to adapt quickly, to make mistakes in a safe environment, to practice managing emotional highs and lows, to find the line between play and aggression, to fine-tune their self-control, to express friendship, and, just as importantly, to experience joy.

The Art of Roughhousing suggests roughhousing activities for parents to try, with a few appropriate for toddlers and many others good up through the teenage years.  Diagrams help readers figure out such moves as the Steamroller (a rolling maneuver for ages six months and up) and the Hummingbird (a difficult standing flip to try with teens).  

Among the activities for the younger set (ages 2 to 5) is Rogue Dumbo, rated "Easy" and involving the essential skill "Twirling."  You grip your child's legs around your upper body, with your child facing you, such that you serve as the body of a "wild, rampaging" elephant and he/she can lean backwards and act as the trunk.  If you're adept enough, you can go for the "full effect...swaying, snorting, trumpeting, and spinning around the house."

Here are a few of the book's tips:

...reverse the roles when you play.  Let your child be the strong one--the monster, the scary dog, the doctor giving the shot, etc.--while you exaggerate being fearful or clumsy and incompetent.  This switch gives kids a chance to feel powerful and release their tensions through waves of laughter.


When in doubt, fall over.


If you do something that makes your child laugh, do it again.  And again.

I have a one-year-old, so we can't do most of the book's activities yet, but I have a feeling she's already old enough to appreciate the self-explanatory "1-2-3 cuddle." Read Full Post.