We all know that play is essential for children’s development. Physical play is especially important as it raises metabolic rates, improves motor coordination, promotes brain plasticity & is important for vestibular development (see my previous post). During physical play, parents gently challenge their children to demonstrate & learn about their own physical strength.
Research shows that Fathers engage in more physical & vigorous play than mothers. Dads have a tendency to push their kids limits, to set goals that are just beyond reach, & play in a way that gets kids worked up. For this reason, studies show that Fathers who engage in rough play, have children with improved self-regulation. Having their limits regularly tested creates ‘safe levels of frustration’, giving kids the opportunity to learn how to handle & regulate their emotions.
The research also suggests that Fathers’ physical play is strongly associated with children’s improved social competence. This may be because children are required to constantly read the social cues of their Father to simultaneously recognise & test the boundaries of the play space, all while coordinating their body in play. This multitasking requires fast & accurate reading of social cues.
This type of play, however, does not appear to be universal. Fathers from industrialised societies appear to instigate rough & tumble play far more often than those in farming cultures. Research shows that children in these communities tend to play more with peers than parents, as parents are busy tending to crops & completing other essential tasks.
Physical play is great for developing bodies & brains. Fathers tend to be best at this kind of play, but parents, peers & caregivers of all types can encourage children to engage in rough & tumble activities. By testing their strength & moving their bodies, children are also learning important social & cognitive skills.
References: Carlson 2005; Craig 2006; Roopnarine & Davidson 2015; St George & Freeman 2017