Jul 24, 2023

Ready for Dad's Superpower Playtime?

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
Ready for Dad's Superpower Playtime?

Our children learn about themselves and their world through various play experiences. Through play, your little one promotes overall development; they learn about their body and the world, practise language and physical skills, enhance curiosity and imagination, foster socialisation, and experiment with different ways to interact with their environment.

Now, Dads have a super skill when it comes to playing! They bring the rough-and-tumble type of play! 

Of course, rough-and-tumble play doesn't have to be exclusive to dads. 

But research has shown that mums usually avoid getting involved with this kind of play, whereas dads embrace it. This is because fathers feel more comfortable engaging in physical play with their children, such as roughhousing than with games or role-play. 

Rough-and-tumble play is a great learning experience and an opportunity for bonding. It also allows for imaginative role-playing; as you wrestle, roll, and let your little one climb on top of you, you use your imagination, creating a storyline engaging in role-playing! 

Rough and tumble play and bonding

Mothers have a natural advantage in nurturing, thanks to the hormones released during pregnancy that prepare them for this role. For example, during childbirth and breastfeeding, women experience a surge of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone." This hormone strengthens the bond between a mother and her newborn. 

However, fathers do not experience this surge as they do not give birth or breastfeed. Nonetheless, research shows that a father's quality interactions with his children can also increase his oxytocin levels, resulting in a similar bond. 

Focusing on quality time spent together rather than just quantity is essential; therefore, rough-and-tumble play is a fun and beneficial activity for fathers and their children.

boy and dad

What is Rough and Tumble play?

Rough and Tumble play, or roughhousing, involves whole-body interaction, such as wrestling, rolling, chasing, tickling, etc.

Despite its competitive and lively nature, it plays a crucial role in a child's development. Although it may seem disorderly and risky, it offers numerous benefits for a child's physical, social, and emotional growth.

Unfortunately, however, a misperception regarding rough play makes parents cautious about allowing their little ones to engage in this type of play. 

Misperception of rough and tumble play

  • They worry about accidents, injuries, and potential long-term consequences. Even minor bumps and bruises can cause significant stress and anxiety for parents, who may feel guilty for putting their child in harm's way. 

  • Fear of sending mixed signals to their children about violence and aggression. Many parents believe that engaging in rough-and-tumble play will lead their children to develop aggressive behaviour, which may affect their relationships and social skills in the long run.

These are fundamental concerns but play fighting and rough & tumble rarely turn into actual fighting. Instead, children learn to back off, call time, or reverse roles – for example, the person chasing turns into the person being chased. 

In addition, someone may get a bump or a scrape. This doesn't mean there's a problem – you'll see that your little one sometimes laughs at the same time as they yell, 'Ouch!'. Minor bumps and scrapes are part of how your little one learns and develops as they grow up.

So, instead of avoiding rough-and-tumble play altogether, establish guidelines to make it safe for your little one and enjoyable for everyone. 

  • Establishing boundaries with your children and ensuring they understand them is essential. 

  • Encourage them to take turns being in control during games to ensure everyone has fun. 

  • Remind them to be aware of their surroundings.

  • Ask them to think about things that might have caused accidents – for example, should they move some furniture before wrestling?

  • Make things safer for your child and the house – for example, move anything breakable, and put a duvet on the floor to wrestle on.

  • Do the same outdoors. Check the area for anything dangerous – like broken glass or things your child might bash their head on.

How does this kind of play benefit children's development?

Physical Development

Tumble play allows children to move their bodies, develop gross and fine motor skills, and enhance coordination and balance. In addition, children can learn how to control their bodies, respond to sudden movements, and adapt to different challenges. Tumble play can also increase muscle strength and bone density, preventing injuries and promoting a healthy body.

Social Development

This type of play promotes social interaction and communication skills. Your little one learns to share, take turns, negotiate, and establish boundaries with adults and peers. Tumble play provides a safe and supervised environment where your little one can practice social skills, develop friendships, and learn conflict resolution strategies.

Emotional Development

When adults engage in physical play with their little ones, they can demonstrate how to regulate emotions, communicate effectively, and respect others' boundaries. Tumble play also has other positive effects on your child's emotional development; it can help to reduce stress by releasing endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the body. And boost their self-esteem by gaining confidence in their physical abilities and feeling a sense of achievement.

Engaging in this type of play with your little ones allows them to express themselves, experiment with different roles, and explore their limits and capabilities.

Cognitive Development

Rough-and-tumble play also stimulates your little one's cognitive development by improving their problem-solving skills, creativity, and imagination.

Tumble play provides an enjoyable learning experience that can enhance the child's brain development and academic performance.

Rough-and-tumble play: ages and stages

You can introduce rough-and-tumble play when your little one can hold their head. But, of course, tumble play with babies is not the same as tumble plays with a two-year-old; by adapting physical play according to your little one's age and abilities, they can enjoy the benefits of physical play from the get-go!



Babies enjoy exciting movement as long as they feel safe, so why not try these physical activities to support their development with your baby. 

  • Try tummy time on your chest! Get in a comfortable semi-sitting position and place your baby on your tummy! Why not do it skin-to-skin to enhance the bonding experience. 

  • Your baby will love to be gently bounced on your knees. Place them on your lap facing you, and sing a fun song to bounce to! 

  • Babies love the element of surprise, so lifting up into the air is a great way to experience this concept and see their world differently. So why not turn your baby into an aeroplane! Remember to be very gentle with your movements to avoid any accidental injury or your baby getting upset.

baby tummy time


  • Toddlers love nothing more than being chased and playing It! Pretend to be a wolf or a bear, and make it fun by creating the animal's sounds and crawling on the floor, "I'm coming to get you; I'm going to eat you all up" Watch as your little one laughs and tries; very hard to run or crawl away! 

  • Play spinning games with your toddler; some parents shy away from sinning games as usually, toddlers fall down after getting dizzy! But if done with your supervision, your boost gross motor as spinning games require them to use their whole body, coordination and balance.

  • Some toddlers like gentle wrestling with you or others on a safe, soft surface. Prepare the space by removing some furniture and including pillows; not only will these pillows act as a protective barrier, but you can use them as obstacles to climb on or to gently throw at each other.

  • Create an indoor or outdoor obstacle course using furniture, cushions, balls, and other safe materials. Make tunnels to crawl through, barriers to jump over, and ramps to slide down. Encourage your toddler to complete the course at their own pace and cheer them on.

  • Play Hug tag; every time your little one tags, they have to hug you and get you to tag them; they get the hug!

Preschool and primary school-age children 

This age range is the biggest rough-and-tumblers, particularly with their friends. Like toddlers, they often enjoy wrestling on safe, soft surfaces where they can fall or roll around. At this age, talking with your little one about keeping rough play respectful, secure, and fun is essential.

  • Play arm wrestling with your little one; it creates a safe space for competition, where you can let go of the outside world and focus on each other. This connection strengthens the parent-child relationship, builds trust, and creates lasting memories.

  • Pillow fights will promote lots of laughter! This is an excellent opportunity to support your child to manage their emotions and regulate their behaviour. 

  • Create a simple obstacle course with household items like chairs, cushions, and cardboard boxes. Allow your little one to crawl under tables, jump over obstacles and run around in circles.

  • Tug-of-war - Rope play can be fun with an old bedsheet, allowing children to learn how to work together to achieve a goal.

  • Leapfrog - This old favourite is all about leaping! Gently leap over your little one while chanting, "Leapfrog, Leapfrog!" Then it is your little one's turn to do the same.

arm wrestle


Join 1000's of families learning at home

Get 3 months of free access to our award-winning nursery education app.