Rough ‘n Tumble Play

We have received feedback that not all of you are finding the time to read the Pivot each week. 🙁

Our goal is to provide you with information you can put to practical use, which obviously you can't do if you are finding it too tough to fit us in! So, as an experiment, we're going to condense our Pivots for a trial period. We'll move more towards the key points in the Pivot itself, and leave you to go further (if you wish to) by reading the links. That way you can read as much as you feel is helpful. 

Let's see how well this works! Please don't hesitate to give us your thoughts.

(We'll attach this note to the next few Pivots)

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This Pivot: Is it time to stand up for rough-and-tumble play?

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Conventional wisdom is a phrase that was first coined by John Kenneth Galbraith, a world-renown economic sage.

He did not consider it a complement.

We associate truth with convenience, with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life.

In simpler English: he noted that we tend to accept as true, views and theories that either make our life better or help us avoid unpleasant or uncomfortable stuff.

Galbraith saw conventional wisdom as being simple, convenient, comfortable and comforting – but not necessarily true.

Rough-and-Tumble Play

Conventional wisdom has it that if children (especially boys) are allowed to interact with each other in a rough, rowdy, physical manner it will lead them to aggression, violence and social dislocation in their future.

Research tells us the opposite.

Children who engage in rough-and-tumble play are almost always more socially and emotionally adept than children who don’t.

The benefits of rough and tumble play fall into two main areas: physical and mental.


Coordination and Fitness. In a good session of rough-and-tumble play a child works hard. It takes energy. It takes coordination and balance to deal with the complexity and unpredictability of a moving ‘foe’ – especially an adult. Children learn to develop and release muscle tension quickly; their body’s sensors work overtime to help them develop rhythm, agility, strength, power, and stamina. It's all a perfect training ground for their body.

Pain and Discomfort. Rough-and-tumble play is unscripted and it involves mishaps. At times a child is on the ‘receiving end’, so they learn about aches and pains; that they are a part of life and we need to accept them. 

Risk. Children learn to evaluate risk. Rough-and-tumble play involves vigorous activity in which boundaries are pushed and occasionally someone get's hurt. Children learn about balancing risk: when to push boundaries and when to pull back. And they learn about courage.


Empathy and ethics. If a child plays too vigorously, or hits too hard, other children (or adults) will lose interest in the play. The child experiences the consequences of too much energy, exuberance or passion: to continue to participate in the fun, they must learn to self-handicap and to let other participants have a chance to dominate or ‘win’ too. With real anger the feelings of the other person don’t matter - in rough-and-tumble play they do.

Problem solving and adapting. When playing joyously and competitively children need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances, think quickly, analyse, and change their responses. They have a strong incentive to develop their creative skills.

Socialisation and taking turns. Cooperation is the key to rough and tumble play. To keep it going, everyone must learn to take turns, not to be too rough and not overreact or get offended. Players need to practice self-control. All of these are key socialisation and bonding practices.

Emotion ‘dimmer switch’. Children learn to develop a ‘dimmer switch’ on their emotions (eventually!) through the repeated revving up and calming down of rough-and-tumble play.

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Rough-and-tumble play has so many advantages for children, yet in today’s environment there are strong pressures on parents and teachers to restrain or eliminate it.

Studies of rough-and-tumble play show that children who do more of it are better bonded to their parents (and fathers in particular), get better grades and make better friends than those who don’t.

Maybe it’s time to rethink.


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