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Rough and Tumble Play Can Be Okay

It’s not often I feel judged about my parenting, but recently my children’s actions drew audible gasps of horror from a waiting room full of families.

Me? I was unfazed by their behaviour. It was a natural, playful interaction between brothers. And I think there’s room for more of it in our society.

The boys are twins, and they are three-and-a-half years old. Like a lot of kids their age, they can be rough. They were playing together with the waiting room toys when the two specialists arrived, calling out their names. We went to the door and the specialists began a playful banter, trying to guess which boy was which. The boys picked up on the playful vibe and before long, one was smacking the other across his face with a stuffed lion. That’s when I heard the gasps, and another mother quickly using it as a teaching moment with her boy. “That wasn’t gentle, was it? We shouldn’t do that, should we?”

I’ll admit, I might be caught off guard to see one child hit another in a waiting room. But these are two kids who spend almost every waking and sleeping moment together. They are rough and tumble by nature. And I’m not going to try to change that. The boys both laughed about the lion bashing. The staff were being playful with them and this is how they responded and communicated – because for them, hitting your brother with a stuffed toy was being playful. No, it wasn’t gentle. But it also wasn’t harmful to their relationship.

Would I have let them do that to another child? No. But I’ve come to accept that they both see this type of physical interaction as a means of expressing affection. They have the same playful but physical tackling matches with their preschool friends. They like to wrestle in the dirt and yell loudly. Throwing things and making messes are their favourite pass times. When they want a hug, they come barreling at full speed and leap into your arms. It’s their nature, pure and simple.

We’re not raising animals. These same boys know to say ‘please may I’ and ‘thank you.’ They ask (most nights) to be excused from the dinner table and clear their dishes. Dirty laundry is carried to the hamper. They love to cuddle up on the couch or sneak into bed for a snuggle. And we encourage these polite and gentle gestures, as well as appropriate physical contact with others. But when they are playing, I’ve learned to step back and allow them to just be. I’ve stopped trying to change their behaviour. Rough and tumble is their nature – and that needs to be okay.

Parents today seem to feel judged about every action, and in turn judge those around them, trying to master some level of parenting perfection that I don’t believe exists. No two children are the same. No two parents are the same. There’s no perfect recipe for how you can best nurture a positive relationship with your child. But I believe trying to change my sons’ natural forms of self-expression isn’t a positive approach for us. Why should they change to match my expectations? Shouldn’t I adjust my outlook and find a comfortable middle ground for us? So yes, if you see me out with my sons and they’re hitting each other playfully, don’t expect me to tell them to stop. Allowing them to express themselves in a rough and tumble fashion doesn’t mean we’re raising mean kids. It means we’re trying not to crush their spirit and allowing them to build their own emotional awareness.

She Said appears Saturday in the Times & Transcript and on Pickle Planet.

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