Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 27/6/2011 (2428 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Have you hurled your kid today?
When was the last time you swung your son, twirled your girl or had a pillow fight with your progeny?
Go ahead. You have the blessing of two doctors — an MD and a PhD — who are so passionate about the benefits of rough-and-tumble play, they've written an illustrated how-to guide.
Tiger Mother, meet Roughhousing Dad.
"Many parents are more frightened by skinned knees and bruised feelings than life's real dangers: stifled creativity and listless apathy. Some schools in the United States are even being built without playgrounds," the authors write in The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It.
As parenting books go, this one is as hands-on as it gets. Which is kind of ironic since it's essentially offering an antidote to helicopter parenting, which Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence Cohen say has created a generation of kids who are "overscheduled, overprotected and underadventured."
"What's happening is we're seeing a huge emphasis on learning and play is getting sidelined," DeBenedet, a gastroenterologist in Ann Arbor, Mich., says during a phone interview.
"Technology is also taking over; screen time is really high right now. The final thing is this obsession with safety. Parents are very afraid of letting their kids do anything without being right on top of them."
But a parenting manual for playing horsey? Has it really come to this?
"I see a lot of children who are very anxious and who live completely in their heads," says Cohen, a Boston psychologist who specializes in play therapy. "It's like they've lost contact with their bodies."
Parents, he adds, have adopted a very narrow definition of learning.
"On a playground, a child is trying to play with a little truck and the parent is saying, 'What colour is the truck? How many wheels does it have?' They're trying to turn every second into some kind of academic experience and the poor child never really gets to play."
The authors, both dads, believe today's kids are "knee-padded and helmeted to within an inch of their lives" and end up resorting to "virtual horseplay" through video games when what they need is some real-life rowdiness.
Roughhousing is "play that flows with spontaneity, improvisation and joy." It's physical, so it promotes health. It releases brain chemicals that promote well-being. It's interactive, so it strengthens parental bonds.
The book offers 60 or so activities — organized according to age suitability and degree of difficulty and bearing catchy names like Wacky Whirling Dervish, Geronimo! and Sumo Dead Lift — for parents and kids (ages 2 to 12+) to enjoy together.
Each activity is accompanied by a diagram and easy-to-follow instructions that even list what essential skills it offers.
The Raucous Pillow fight, for example is rated "easy" and suitable for children four and up. It teaches "winning and losing." The best pillows for whacking are the big, fluffy sleeping kind rather than the small, hard sofa kind.
"When battling your opponent," the book cautions, "always hold the zippered part of the pillow and whack with the other end to prevent injuries like eyeball lacerations."
Right. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye...
The docs, who conduct workshops on roughhousing, insist that, done correctly, it is "rowdy, but not dangerous," — although it may require pulling mattresses off of beds or stripping couches of their cushions to create soft landings. (And moving breakable heirlooms out of the way, of course.)
"We believe that real safety comes from knowledge, not from rules and from saying "No" all the time," says DeBenedet, 34, the father of three young girls. That just leads to reckless roughhousing when mom and dad aren't around.
Although he grew up in a household where "arm punches, high fives and bear hugs," were the norm, DeBenedet says he was a bit of a hover parent with his middle daughter, who was not as physically inclined as her sisters. Whenever the little girl climbed a play structure, he'd stand nervously beneath, reminding her to be careful with every move.
"Another parent came by and said casually, 'You know, she's going to recover faster from a broken arm than she will from being timid and fearful her whole life," DeBenedet recalls. "I really took that to heart."
While some of the moves in the book will be obvious — does anyone not know how to engage in a pillow fight? — even seasoned roughhousers will learn some new moves — Cat Leap, for example, is a technique used by parkour artists to jump onto and over walls — and how to do the familiar ones more safely.
That said, the first page of the book is a legal disclaimer, in bold blue print, titled A Note of Caution. It concludes: "We urge you to obey the law and the dictates of common sense at all times."
Winnipeg mom Nicole Russell says she "absolutely" believes roughhousing is beneficial for her boys, ages two and four. And she doesn't worry, provided the rough-and-tumble play involves dad.
"It's a way to bond. My boys are very stereotypical boys. They don't sit still. Occasionally I have to take a step back because you see them getting pretty close to the edge of a table or something."
Would her family find a manual on how to engage in safe horseplay with her kids helpful?
"It does seem a bit ridiculous because it comes naturally for me and my husband" Scott Barrows, Russell says, " but I could see how other parents might need some guidance."
Horseplaying by the rules
No "obnoxious tickling" and no punching, kicking, biting, scratching, hair pulling, pinching or headlocks allowed. Limit yourselves to pushing, holding and grappling.
Beware of "abdominal sneak attacks" — when your kid jumps directly on your belly. The spleen and pancreas can be severely injured.
Create a code word that means "stop" and use it frequently so your kid can practise revving up and calming down.
Secure the perimeter of the play area by checking for sharp corners, loose rugs, breakable objects, ceiling fans and other potential hazards.
If your child seems too young to ride a mattress down a staircase (Futaleufu Mattress Rafting, ages 3 to 10), give her some time to grow.
Be prepared for great roughhousing to sometimes end up in tears or a tantrum. Listen and provide comfort.