Rough and tumble play vs real fighting for preschoolers
Fights and quarrels are unavoidable at any stage of our lives. For toddlers and preschoolers, they will too face disagreements with their fellow preschoolers which can escalate into a brawl. At a stage where they are unable to articulate their thoughts well, expression of their feelings may come in the form of a physical movement instead, therefore resulting in a physical fight. This, however, is a different context from rough and tumble play.
While both are physical, the intentions and feelings from it are vastly different. When preschoolers are in a real fight, there are ill intentions behind each movement as they are looking to hurt or harm the other party and anger and crying will fill the room. The children involved will not be happy around each other for a while after the incident has happened. However, rough and tumble play should still be a happy affair for children and they should be able to smile and laugh off it during and after it has ended. It can be seen as something similar to sibling cubs fighting in the early stages of their lives.
This fighting in the early stages prepares them for the actual hunting that they would need to have mastered by the time they grow older. Therefore, letting toddlers and preschoolers have a bit of rough play can be beneficial for them too. However, it is very important to set rules and not allow for the rough and tumble play to escalate into a real fight. This also helps to protect the safety of each individual and minimise any injuries that may occur.
What exactly is rough and tumble play? It is when 2 or more children engage in a physical situation. For toddlers, this may mean that they are crawling onto each other or lying on each other. For nursery children, they could be having a wrestle or a light push and pull. For preschoolers, they could be pretending to be engaging in a fight where they are chasing or grappling with each other. In this physical situation, neither party is in a position where they feel uncomfortable or forced and instead are enjoying it as they see it as part of their playing together. While it is more common among boys, not all boys will be open to such play. On the other hand, girls do not really engage in rough play but some girls may be more rough than others. Therefore, this is an activity that will not be engaged by all preschoolers and it is important that the children involved in rough play respect this and do not attempt to engage other parties who do not enjoy it as the rough play will then become a real fight in their eyes.
Due to its similarities to a real fight and that physicality is involved, rough play is often deemed in a negative light. Adults may tend to step in quickly thinking to stop before someone gets hurt. However, what rough play provides is an opportunity for children to expend some of their pent-up energy, while at the same time, through their interactions with others, they also learn how to use their strength appropriately. They will therefore get to learn about the difference between pretend play and real fighting.
This, in fact, helps to reduce the amount of injuries they may have as they learn how to control their strength to prevent others or themselves from getting hurt. Having these push and pull opportunities with another child also allows preschoolers to understand more about the social interaction between people in a different setting. They will better learn about the different boundaries that people have and learn how to respect others’ decisions, those who may not want to be involved or when someone else calls to stop.
Stopping toddlers and preschoolers early in a rough and tumble play would be taking away the opportunity for these young children to learn. Of course there are times where the rough and tumble play may turn into real fighting. While there may be very obvious signs when that happens, such as crying, if at any point you feel the interaction between the children is inappropriate, you can ask them if they are still having fun or not.
Constant check-in may disrupt their play and constant adult supervision may also make it difficult for them to engage in rough play so do make sure to still give children the appropriate amount of space for them to determine when they want to stop. Instead of having adults interfere, as children learn more through rough play, they will also learn how to interfere when they see others in a bad situation and be the ones to help their fellow preschoolers.
Many times, the first rough play that toddlers and preschoolers have may be the ones that they have with their parents, mostly fathers, as mothers tend to be more cautious about such play that may seemingly lead to injuries or bodily harm. This would usually occur more with boys than with girls too.
The rough play between parent and child is different from that between children, firstly due to the difference in size and secondly due to the difference in the understanding and control. Parents can therefore be a good role model to their children when it comes to rough play.
Through the interactions with the adult, this is where they can learn about the settings of a rough play, learn how to make the rules and follow these rules to ensure that the play can still take place in an enjoyable manner. They will also take cues on how to stop others from continuing and how the other party respects their decision. When the parent gives autonomy to the child during such play, this helps them to make use of decision-making skills and learn to be responsible for their decisions too.
Toddlers and preschoolers can then use these various understandings in future when they engage in rough play with other children.
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