When Playtime Goes Bad… It’s Good

When playtime goes bad--toy car running over doll


When Playtime Goes Bad

Ever had one of those days when the kids just can’t seem to get along? Or the kids are playing in a way that you feel is simply too rough? Or they are playing in what seems to be a ‘mean’ or ‘unkind’ way with their toys?

Well guess what? It’s normal. It’s healthy.

Actually, really healthy.

Here’s the scoop.

Kids learn a TON through play. We love it when they learn the good stuff, right? We see them sitting up straight while playing tea party and politely asking the hostess for more tea. It makes our heart swell and we feel as though we are doing a smashing bang-up job of this parenting thing. But what about the bad stuff? The ‘gimmes’ and the shoving and the unkind words. (Or in the photo above when they laugh as they run over their doll with a toy car.) That makes us feel like we need to run and hide and never let the kids out of the house for fear of exposing our apparent incompetency. We want to fix it and we want to fix it quick.

But here’s the thing. Children need that rough, tough play. This is how they learn to deal with conflict, hurt feelings, anger and other less savory emotions. This is where they learn to stand up for themselves, figure out social dynamics, and even develop empathy. No, really.

Vigorous social play releases… a protein that stimulates the growth of new neurons in brain regions involved in emotional reaction and social learning. ~ Gabrielle Principe “Your Brain on Childhood” page 207. Click to Tweet

It has been shown that boys who engage in rough and tumble play and wrestling and all that crazy behaviour that makes us moms shout “Not in the house!” tend to be more empathetic, know where the line is for their behaviours, and are socially more in tune with others.

Young rats denied opportunities for rough-and-tumble play develop numerous social problems. They fail to recognize social cues and the nuances of rat hierarchy; they aren’t able to mate. ~ Gabrielle Principe “Your Brain on Childhood” page 207.

Children who don’t engage in this rough kind of play tend to be more violent later in life as they haven’t learned those boundaries in their youth. They don’t understand those consequences. Children really need that physical play.

That rough-and-tumble play for girls can look a little different as it tends to be more psychological. For example, when you hear your girls playing Barbies while having them talk smack to each other, that is their version of rough play. (Think mean girls.) But they are actually learning important (vital) social dynamics. And it is healthy–to an extent. When we interfere and don’t let them play and work it out on their own we are preventing them from learning the skills they need to resolve these sorts of issues on their own.

So, if you worry about your kids being able to stand up for themselves as well as others, let them play. Let them try on mean behaviours. Let them correct each other and put each other in their place. Let them figure out how to get along together. At first it might be hard, but the independence, self-confidence, and ability to resolve issues is going to be key for their future success.

How about you? What do you do to prevent yourself from interfering? At what point do you feel it is appropriate to step in?

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