Almost every night, right before bedtime, my three sons are possessed with a maniacal energy that is both amazing to behold and exhausting to endure. It's roughhousing at its finest.
They grab pillows, launching them full force into each other’s face. They grunt and kick and tackle each other to the ground; eventually one of them will cry. Then, almost without fail, they will get up and go back for more, their faces red and sweaty from the exertion. The roughhousing continues until one of my sons gets injured enough to come looking for me to deliver justice to the perpetrator.
What happens when WrestleMania unfolds in your living room?
It drove me crazy. “Boys, you know that this never ends well!” I’d warn when I saw them entering battle mode. “It’s okay, Mom,” they’d retort, but it never felt okay to me.
I couldn’t understand why my kids had this need to be physical and aggressive with each other when they were constantly getting angry—and hurt. Also, if I’m being honest, their shenanigans tended to begin after a long day, right when my energy was the most depleted. I was ready for things to quiet down, not amp up.
At one point, I decided to put my foot down and exert some parental control. “You can’t wrestle anymore,” I declared. I had reached my threshold. I was worn out from attempting to keep things fair between them. I'd even inserted myself into the ring when one of them inevitably got injured. No matter how hard I tried, however, they would continue to wrestle, promising me that they would work things out on their own.
As it turns out, this was the perfect solution.
Are wrestling and roughhousing good for kids?
Society often forgets the importance of physicality and play for children. Preschools today are moving toward focusing more on academics and less on play-based learning despite the fact that research shows that young children learn best by playing. Our emphasis on standardized testing in grade school has caused educators in some states to cut recess in favor of more classroom instruction.
Some teachers even take away recess time as a form of discipline, which I have never understood. When my kids are acting out, getting them active almost always improves the situation. While I have had my issues with wrestling (because of all the arguing and injuries), I've always believed in the importance of outdoor play and unstructured downtime for my kids.
In The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, authors Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen discuss the benefits of physical play. They claim, “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.”
I want all of these benefits for my kids, and I definitely believe in sending them outside to play on their own, but I would be lying if I said I don't worry about the neighbors accusing me of neglect if I'm not outside constantly monitoring them. This is unfortunate. Kids should be able to play outside independently, use their imagination, and even roughhouse without adult involvement.
Maybe it's the adults who need to change their approach to roughhousing.
It did take some time for me, but I finally chose to step back and let my kids figure things out on their own. I told them if they were going to continue to choose to wrestle (which they do regardless of how their day went), then it’s up to them to come up with some rules. This also means they have to settle disagreements without my help.
I'd considered this approach in the past, but because the gap between my oldest and youngest is seven years, I'd been concerned for the welfare of my youngest. He’s a little champ, however, and never wants to be left out. So, I decided to let go. I asked that my older boys be mindful of him. Then I told them I'd be staying out of their squabbles.
It's worked out beautifully.
Now, when I see my boys ready to rumble, determined looks on their faces, I hightail it out of there. I shut myself in my room, put on some headphones or turn the television volume on high, and ignore the grunting, battle sounds, and crying.
I’ve told them that they are not to come and talk to me unless someone is bleeding. This may seem harsh, but it's the best solution we've found. Plus, not once has one of my sons been injured enough that it’s been a problem. It’s not pretty, and their games don't always end well, but they keep coming back to it again and again.
Nightly wrestling matches help my sons release energy before bed. Of course, they also need outdoor play and other activities. But they enjoy being physical with one another, despite getting hurt sometimes. I have come to accept and even appreciate their roughhousing—from a safe distance.