At first glance, roughhousing seems like an accident waiting to happen. But this type of play may help with social skills and more.

One minute your kids are quietly reading or working on a puzzle. The next, they’re chasing each other into the kitchen and then playing tug of war with a dish towel.

You’d probably prefer that they leave the kitchen. But should you send them back to their books?

The merits of reading are clear, but can roughhousing also have benefits?

Roughhousing, or rough and tumble play, is play that involves energetic, physical activity. Play fighting and wrestling are two examples.

Sometimes roughhousing can be silly rather than aggressive such as a tickle fight.

Roughhousing comes in many different forms:

  • wrestling
  • pushing and shoving
  • tickling
  • pillow fighting
  • chasing
  • climbing
  • rolling and tumbling
  • jumping on the bed
  • piggyback rides

It’s not just a way to burn off excess energy. Roughhousing can also be a valuable bonding opportunity for adults and kids.

Roughhousing is a common and natural activity for kids. While there are some children who would rather have less physical play, others prefer rough and tumble activities.

Research from 2018 links play to emotional well-being and cognitive development. But does rough play have the same benefits?

In short, yes. Rough play can have several benefits when it’s fun.

It’s important to recognize the difference between rough and tumble play and aggression. While most children know that roughhousing isn’t real fighting, it can escalate when emotions turn toward anger.

Some subtle differences you can watch out for include:

  • Rough and tumble play: Children are often smiling and laughing when playing. The contact is gentle and they are eager to participate.
  • Aggression: You may notice that the child begins to cry and contact becomes hard and harsh. The child might try to dominate the other child and not want to play anymore.

If you notice that the play has become more like “real fighting,” there are ways to manage this situation and calm emotions.

It’s natural to worry about the chance of injury when your child roughhouses with others. It’s also important to think about the benefits, which can extend beyond extra exercise.


Roughhousing is a chance to practice some important self-regulation skills such as:

Fun roughhousing is physical enough to be challenging, but not enough to cause pain or injury. It’s often fast paced and requires focus.

Rough and tumble play engages the senses and research from 2017 suggests that it can provide several self-regulation developmental opportunities.

Healthy touch

Rough and tumble play involves touch, which may impact brain development.

A 2016 study of children 5 years old found that more maternal touch during play was linked to increased activity and connectivity in certain brain regions. This can lead to more development in what researchers call the “social brain.”

Touch is a key part of secure attachment in early infancy and continues to be important throughout life. Healthy social touch may even protect against substance use disorder, according to research from 2019.

But these studies were limited and more research is needed.


Children practice important social skills when they roughhouse. Non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions is an important part of play.

Not only do kids convey feeling this way, but they also learn to pick up on the social cues of their playmates. This skill enables them to tell when a friend needs a break or the play is too rough.

Picking up on these signals can help them learn about consent and boundaries.

Roughhousing can be loud and disruptive, but it can also be beneficial for your kids.

Children practice valuable skills when they engage in physical play, including socialization and self-regulation.

Supervision may be required to make sure the play stays safe. But with the right limits in place, roughhousing can be a fun and healthy activity for everyone involved.