When the impulse to play was suppressed, these individuals were stripped of their natural method of learning such important social and emotional skills as empathy, boundaries, and self regulation.
Parents and teachers are tasked with keeping children safe, and there is indeed risk in rough-house play. But what Dr. Brown discovered was that the benefits far outweighed the risk of scratches, hurt feelings, or even a broken bone here or there. He describes research on animal play that shows that when mammals are allowed natural play they are better able to socialize and make decisions, and those that are deprived of this play are stymied for life, unable to read social cues or deal with stress. We must help our children keep their bodies safe, but what of their spirit? We need to nourish that through this natural play as well.
Empathy, the ability to set healthy boundaries, and to problem-solve stressful situations are developed when children are allowed lightly supervised rough-and-tumble play.
So the next time your child gets out his or her imaginary sword and cape, get yours out too, and let the tumbling begin.
(Worried about how to set appropriate limits within rough play to keep it from crossing that line from healthy rough-housing into danger? Stay tuned for more on this next week…)