Why We Endorse Guided "Physical" Play

Our Blog: Word on the Sidewalk

Why We Endorse Guided "Physical" Play

September 29, 2020
posted by Justin Triemstra


The benefits of play are multifactorial and long lasting. Playtime develops gross and fine motor, social, and emotional development. On this month’s blog, we will specifically discuss the importance of physical play, or what some call 'rough and tumble' play.

You read that right, a pediatrician is endorsing ‘rough and tumble’ play. Now, this does not mean that we want all kids going out to create “people piles”, as my son calls them, as their only play experience. However, guided physical play in a safe environment under the observation of a caregiver or guardian allows for children to explore the diverse realms of communication and negotiation while working on skills that help balance their emotions. This type of skillset helps build emotional intelligence and helps children understand the limits of their risk taking.


Many individuals have fond memories of 'rough and tumble' play from their childhood, for example, being swung, chased, lifted, or tickled by caregivers. When intentions of both play partners are positive, there is no harm intended to either playmate. The mutual goal of the play experience is that joy is evident in both with laughter and smiles by all playmates.

Some of the benefits of healthy rough and tumble play are:

  1. Children develop physical, cognitive, social-emotional skills, and language skills
  2. Children develop problem solving skills
  3. Children learn how to show care and concern if someone accidentally gets bumped

Some examples of 'rough and tumble' play are:

  1. Toddlers: play wrestling, tickle time, “baby aerobics”
  2. Elementary: chase games, jump games, sports games such as soccer

Finally, although some caregivers may have fear of escalation, less than 1% of play experiences lead to real fighting. Furthermore, with the watchful eye of an adult, inappropriate physical play, such as one person no longer being a willing participant or their intention to inflict pain or harm, can be corrected and children can be guided back to appropriate physical play activities. If one individual of the play dyad is not a willing participant or being coerced, this is not considered healthy 'rough and tumble' play.

When done correctly, 'rough and tumble' play can have lasting, positive developmental outcomes for children and endorsed by child advocates.


Justin Triemstra, MD

Spectrum Health, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

The views in this article are my own and are for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.