The Art of Rough Housing

Playing For Our Future

(as paraphrased from the Ted Talk by Anthony DeBenedet)

“We’ve become more frightened of a skinned knee or a bruised feeling than life’s real dangers – apathy and stifled creativity.”

Play is really good for kids and adults. We know this.

When it comes to child development and perhaps adult happiness science is pretty clear – play can do it all!

That’s pretty amazing!

There are different kinds of play and all are really good for us – but there is one type of play that rises above the rest.

We’ve actually kept it silent because we’re afraid of it. We’re afraid it will create hyperactivity and chaos where actually is does everything in the opposite direction.

It’s rough and tumble, rowdy, physical, interactive play.

So what is it exactly? Well, anyone can do it and it’s what you think it is.

It’s pillow fighting, it’s playful wrestling, it’s also set and planned. It’s a flip or a twirl you’ve been working on or a physical challenge.

So why does rough housing stand out above other types of play?

It’s because when children are engaged with in this way they are given a triangle of benefits:

Intelligence, Creativity and Connection


When children are engaged in rough housing multiple parts of the brain are firing all at once. This is called simultaneous activation.

Why does this matter?

Because we know from neuroscience that when all parts are on at once – this is the way brains develop best.

Emotional Intelligence means being able to sense the emotions of others.

In rough housing there is a period of rev up and wind down. As children experience this they begin to manage and understand their own emotions.

Rough housing is all non-verbal communication. It’s eye-contact. It’s body language.

During this type of play children learn to sense what others are feeling. Then they translate that into the real world when they’re with others.


Rough and tumble play presents many opportunities to inject imaginary problems

“Lava is pouring in the window, what do we do?”

“Is that a herd of elephants I hear coming towards our tea party?”

In the midst of this play their creativity neurons start firing like mad, they’re becoming divergent thinkers, they’re creating their own boxes. They’re also becoming behaviorally flexible.

They’re realizing that there’s not one answer to every single problem.


This is the X Factor. This is everything.

Endorphins are released during rough housing, the same as when exercising – that make us feel happy. That’s part of building connection.

But there’s another chemical that’s released in massive quantities – it’s oxytocin.

Oxytocin is the cuddle chemical. It’s the biological basis of empathy. The physiological foundation of connection.

When rough housing with kids in a mindful and healthy way, oxytocin is released like no other. There’s nothing like it that brings out deep feelings of love, affection and connection.

When rough housing you are sending a strong message – to your own children and children everywhere.

The message is this:

“Your power is welcome here. This is a space where you can learn to be strong and confident and we will be more connected than ever before.”

And that’s playing for the future.


9 Responses to The Art of Rough Housing

  1. Janna says:

    love this – great info – inspiring

  2. Shawn Gordon says:

    Very Nice Piece.. Keep Up the Great Spirit Scott and All

  3. inspirational. thank you & may God continue to bless you & yours through your journey. amazing. love

  4. It’s all about the “controlled chaos”! Love it!

  5. Jess says:

    This is a great reminder to let go and let my children play with my husband their way. Thanks!

  6. Awesome info Scott and Les!!! Thanks for sharing this simple yet profound truth….love you guys and ALL you are!!!!

  7. This is awesome, Leslie! With two little boys at home, I get it. It is also a great way for dads and boys to bond – I think. Not that I don’t rough house – but its good male bonding time.

  8. Kelley Ward says:

    Really liked this. I just wrote Parenting Boys: What Boys Need from A Mom and think roughhousing, although I didn’t give it that name, is very important for all young boys! Thanks

  9. This process aids in decreasing the nerve transmission of pain.

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