Thursday, October 20, 2011

"The Reluctant Roughhouser"

Lawrence J. Cohen and Anthony T. DeBenedet, authors of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It (Quirk, 2011) wrote the following article, which appears in the most recent issue of Independent School. I share it with you because I think it is important and because it recalls pleasant memories of roughhousing with Emily, Louisa and Isaac. Here is the article in its entirety. Hope you enjoy it. Perhaps it will inspire you to roughhouse.

Some parents are ready to roughhouse at the drop of a hat (or the whack of a pillow!). They know that horseplay builds closer relationships, helps children feel more comfortable in their bodies, and increases their ability to handle competition. Other parents see that roughhousing could be tons of fun--for someone else. They might be scared of injuries, or they might avoid roughhousing because they think it stirs kids up.

If you are worried about roughhousing, we hope you will reconsider after you read our tips for keeping it fun, safe, and under control; our warm-up routine to help you over your reluctance; and some simple games to get started.

* Extra enthusiasm: Be loud, wild, outrageous, and exuberant.
* Improvisation: Follow the flow. You might start with a pillow fight, move on to playful wrestling, and end with a game of chase.
* Keep it light. Get silly, lose your dignity, and fall over a lot.
* Make contact: Physical contact is the name of the game, even if it's frequent high-fives during non-roughhousing games like checkers or catch.
* Tune in: Make eye contact with your child. Notice and read his or her facial expressions. Does he or she need things toned down or revved up?
* Take breaks: Pause frequently (we like to shout, "banana!" which means everyone freeze). Pause for upset feelings and injuries--even imaginary injuries--but go back to the roughhousing as soon as everyone is ready. Pause for reminders about the rules (no necklocks, punching or kicking!).
* Start earlier: Roughousing calms children, rather than escalating them, as long as you start early enough that they can wind down on their own timetable, well before bedtime.

Here's a warm-up routine you can do with your child, your spouse, or a fellow reluctant roughhouser. Try each move for a few minutes or until you get the hang of it. Notice your feelings as you complete this exercise.

1. Stand face-to-face a foot apart and take turns loudly shouting, "Ha!" This gets everyone giggling and loosened up.
2. Hold your hands in front of you, elbows bent, a few inches from the other person's hands. Start moving slowly in a circle, or back and forth in a line, trying to feel the "force field" between your hands so that it feels like you are pushing or being pushed, even though there is no actual contact. Flow between leading and following.
3. Now touch palms, Keep elbows bent. Gradually push harder and harder, but exactly match your strength to each other, so that neither person moves, or you both move in a slow circle.
4. Add elements of competition. Try to get the other person of the mat or out the door. Keep elbows bent and avoid sudden shoves. Make it as much a dance as a competition.
5. Get on the carpet or a mat, on hands and knees next to each other, facing the same direction, shoulder to shoulder. Start to interact in slow motion, bumping into one another, flowing above and below each other.
6. Add an element of competition, stepping things up. Try to get the other person flat on the ground. When you do this with a child, let them win most of the time.

Finally, here a few roughhousing games to get you started.

* In The Sock Game, everyone gets on the floor with shoes off and socks one. On the count of three, grab for the other people's socks while trying to keep your own socks on.
*This game can flow easily into Incoming, a wilder game where everyone has a pile of rolled up socks that they use as missiles, like a dry indoor water balloon fight. Make sure to ham it up with loud sound effects and dramatic death scenes.
* Chase and miss is a simple game where you chase your child with goofy boasts, then trip and fall at the last moment, missing them.
With Bodylock, grab your child, claiming that they will never get away from you, then somehow they manage to squirm away.