Child play

Child play

Roughhousing, or tossing your children around on purpose, can be a hard sell to many parents.

We worry our kids will get hurt. We don't want rowdy behavior carrying over into the classroom, especially in schools with no-touching policies. And many of us aren't really even sure how to physically interact with our kids.

But good, old-fashioned horseplay is a critical part of a child's development and comes with a surprising number of health benefits, according to some psychologists and experts in childhood play.

Though schools are banning physical contact between students, some research has shown that the freedom to engage in rough-and-tumble play improves everything from test scores to friendships. Today's kids live increasingly structured lives; as a result, "we've lost the culture of childhood, where they play their own games, have their own fights and resolve them," said David Elkind, a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts University and the author of "The Power of Play."

"A lot of the bullying that goes on in schools is largely a result that children no longer have this culture of spontaneous play," Elkind said.

Roughhousing, however, can teach children how to manage their own emotions and read the feelings of others, making them more likable, advocates say. It can help children build a moral compass because "when we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back," wrote Anthony DeBenedet and Larry Cohen in "The Art of Roughhousing."

Interactive, free-form play can improve physical fitness. It can foster confidence and trust. But DeBenedet and Cohen argue that the ultimate benefit of wild play is joy, love and a deeper connection, largely because it requires tuning into your child's emotions and needs.

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