The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids? Play Time

Best Gift For Your Child's Health

Wendy Hunter, MDWendy Hunter, MD
Pediatrician | Mom | Founder of
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What single thing develops every aspect of a child’s health?

A. Giving them LOTS of gifts

B. Giving in when your child whines

C. Roughhousing

The answer is C.

Roughhousing seems an easy way to get hurt. But I assure you that I’ve seen hundreds of kids with broken bones from jumping on trampolines and slipping in socks on wood floors; but never a roughhousing injury. What I do see are kids who take life way too seriously, so that every bump in the road (or to the head) seems a catastrophe.

Playing with your children, and even wrestling with them is one of the best ways to raise a great kid. The physical benefits of play may be obvious; children develop coordination through physical play. And getting out of breath is healthy for the heart and lungs. But roughhousing also improves social graces, morality, and even intelligence.

When children roughhouse with their parents, or other kids, they learn to adapt to unpredictable situations, deal with minor discomfort and see first-hand that failure is temporary. There really is no better way for children to start practicing these important life skills than through rough play.

Wrestling with your kids teaches them to read body language, to practice give-and-take and helps them develop self-control. And the spontaneous nature of roughhousing teaches them to be a more flexible thinker – in fact, the unpredictability of roughhousing actually wires connections between neurons that help with being a more flexible thinker in other situations. Some studies have shown that the brain releases a growth chemical that affects memory, logic and language development during rough play.

Even very young kids benefit. Go ahead and toss your baby in the air and catch him. It builds trust!

Non-contact play like pretending and joking with your kids is also beneficial. The give and take between you and your child when you are playing with toy ponies or action figures teaches creativity. And knowing how to joke is a learned skill that helps kids make friends, be creative and solve problems. So make time to play with your kids, and joke around with them. And if grandma is yelling at the kids to stop wrestling in the living room, tell her it’s okay. They are developing their emotional health and wiring their brains for success.

This post was originally posted on

Wendy Hunter, MDAbout Wendy Hunter, MD

Dr. Wendy Hunter, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UC San Diego and practices pediatrics in the emergency department at Rady Children’s Hospital. She blogs at BabyScience on the science behind scary (but normal) baby symptoms and quirky kid behaviors. You can also find Dr. Hunter on Twitter and Facebook.



28 Comments on “The Best Gift You Can Give Your Kids? Play Time”

  1. My husband plays very rough with my 3-year-old daughter, throws her in the air, tickles her, wrestling with her and hangs her upside down by the ankles.

  2. My husband and I always take time out to play with our kids. Teaching them manners and their ABCs is great but children also need to have fun. A lot can be learned through play.

  3. This article is near and dear to me! We have two boys (one of our sons is non verbal, Autism) and this is something my husband does with the both of them. Thank you for the article it brought happy tears :)

    1. Thank you, for this lovely comment! It sounds like you have a wonderful family!

  4. I raised 3 sons – playing with them was the best way to stay in shape and remain present in their lives.

    1. Exactly, Patricia! Thanks for the great comment. And congrats on raising a lovely family!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this article. I’m glad to know there is benefit’s to roughhousing. Because I have two boys that roughhouse all the time and of course dad has to get evolved sometimes as well.

  6. Such a great and inspiring post. I always believe in this ” Presence is better than Presents” when it comes to raising my kids. Thanks for sharing this post.

  7. I agree roughhousing helps development. I remember roughhousing with my brothers when I was young such fun times and we never ever got hurt while doing it and dad would even join in the fun. We roughhoused with our kids and continue the tradition with the grandkids today. Rumble and tumble!

    1. That’s great Debbie! We’ve all got plenty of rough-housing memories with siblings too! We had no idea how much we were learning from those experiences–it just seemed fun at the time! Thanks for the comment!

  8. I agree with you on all your points. I love watching my son wrestling with his father but never thought about this hidden benefits. My son loves when I toss him in the air. Its fun for him. Thank you for your article. It was great read.

    1. Glad you liked the post, Nidhi! Sounds like you’ve got a lucky little boy!

  9. I loved watching my son and husband rough house! I had no idea when they were having their wrestling time and being boys that my son was learning life lessons – one of the most important ones being self control! Great article!

    1. Wendy, well it sounds like your son got plenty of play time anyway! We hadn’t fully considered the lessons to be learned by rough-housing until Dr. Hunter shared this article either. Thanks for your comment!

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