To ensure everyone has fun when you're having a bit of rough-and-tumble play, be sure to put these rules into action – and remember (parents) that you are the bigger person in this game, so tone it down if you think there's any chance it might be getting a little too overwhelming for your smaller people. After all, it's not fun if your child doesn't think it is.


1. No Obnoxious Tickling

Especially not the way your big brother used to tickle you. A quick little tickle or light jab is fine, provided you let your child catch his breath before doing it again. Laughter is an involuntary reaction and does not necessarily mean the tickling is fun for your child. See how much laughter you can get with a fake tickle, where you almost touch your child in ticklish spots, but not quite. In addition, make sure to stay “above the belt.”

No punching, kicking, biting, scratching, hair pulling, pinching, or headlocks allowed. Limit yourselves to pushing, holding, and grappling. If a violation occurs, don’t abruptly end the roughhousing, but verbally review the rules, listen to what your child has to say, then reengage when everyone's ready.

2. Follow the Giggles

If you do something that makes your child laugh, do it again. And again. This advice might seem obvious, but as an adult it’s easy to tire of a joke before kids do. To bring out the giggles, act silly, lose your dignity, and fall over a lot. Improvisation is another great source of laughter. Follow the flow; be loud, wild, outrageous, and exuberant.

On the other hand, roughhousing is sometimes accompanied bynogiggles at all. If your child seems “dead serious,” with an edge of real anger,then stop. But if there’s a sparkle in your child’s eye, focused concentration,and beads of sweat, that is a sign that you and she are working onmastery.This is a wonderful form of play that leads to deep learning and great satisfaction,like when kids get the hang of the monkey bars, or they finallybuild a tall block tower that doesn’t fall over, or they shoot baskets overand over from the same spot until they get a rhythm going.

More like this
Make up a code word that means “stop,” and use it frequently during roughhousing so that your kid can practice revving up and calming down (silly code words like “banana cream pie” often work best)

3. Freeze the Action Frequently to Keep Things Smooth

Make up a code word that means “stop,” and use it frequently during roughhousing so that your kid can practice revving up and calming down (silly code words like “banana cream pie” often work best). Freeze like a statue as soon as you say the word, and encourage your child to freeze with you. In most cases you should keep the freezes short, just enough time to catch your breath. Injuries and taking time to review the guidelines call for a longer freeze. At first you might have to gently hold your child still after you call out the freeze word, but over time they’ll get the idea. Use a different silly word to mean “go.”

4. Emotional First Aid Goes a Long Way

Be sure to pause your roughhousing for major, minor, and even imaginary injuries. An imaginary injury is usually a sign that a child has deep feelings he or she wants to express, and is looking for a safe way to do so. In the case of such injuries, don’t counter with, “You’re not really hurt!”. Instead, just listen. And use Band-Aids liberally!

Similarly, be prepared for great roughhousing to sometimes end in tears or a tantrum. This is normal: Emotional safety and closeness allow children to show their deeper feelings. Take a break from roughhousing to listen and provide comfort. Children’s tears and other strong expressions of emotion are their best ways of showing us their feelings. Instead of pushing them to stop these feelings as soon as possible, allow a full release of them, which will let children regain their best thinking and their happiness and will get them back to roughhousing in no time.

5. Secure the Perimeter

Now take a minute to check out the environment for your playtime. Notice any sharp corners, loose rugs, valuable glass vases, ceiling fans, and other potential hazards. Take off jewelry, watches, or anything that might break or injure someone. Many of the moves and games in this book are best performed on a soft surface, like a mat, carpet, or grass. Avoid tile, hardwood floors, and cement. We recommend mentally visualizing all of the more complicated moves first and practising with a big pillow prior to engaging with your child.


{This article previously appeared in a printed issue of Junior Magazine/ Images from Getty}