SFP 115: The Benefits of Rowdy Play [with Frances Carlson of Big Body Play]

Horseplay is developmentally beneficial for our growing children. If you have a kid who plays rowdy, then you need to hear this. We need to find a way to encourage this behavior rather than discourage it. In today’s episode, I am chatting with Frances Carlson, the author of the book Big Body Play. I found Frances’ work to be eye opening and I think you will too.

For some children, the need to move is just too much. They just have to let that energy out. And unfortunately they get labeled as misbehaving children, when what they are doing is what they need to develop. It’s like saying “if you get up and eat, you are misbehaving” – Frances Carlson

Show Links/Notes:

Hello, it's episode 115. And today I'm talking with author Francis Carlson about The Benefits of Rowdy Play.

You are listening to the simple families podcast, the Q and A style show that brings you solutions for living well with family. Here's your host Denaye Barahona.

Hi. Hey, it's Denaye welcome to episode 115. And today we are talking about a topic that was very surprising and eye-opening, to me, when I first learned about it for the month of July, we're talking about play all types of play and the benefits of play. And today we're talking about horseplay or rowdy play, or as we're calling it big body play in the past generation, our children have been discouraged to engage in these types of play. It can be scary. It definitely makes us nervous as parents, but it's actually really important for the development of our children. Here's a quick word from our sponsor. Before we dive into today's episode, the sponsor for today's episode is Prep Dish. Prep Dish is a meal planning service. Surely you've heard of these meal planning services. So hear me out on this one, I was convinced that this sort of thing would never work for me and I never gave it a chance.

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I have been telling everyone about this so I could talk about it forever and ever, because it's been such a really welcome change in our house. It's helped us completely cut back on processed foods. It's helped us cut back on, take out Prep Dish is giving the Simple Families audience two weeks free. So try it, let me know how it goes. I want to know if you'd love it as much as I do. You can go to prepdish.com/families, and that's all lowercase. And there, you can get your two weeks of free meal planning. Again, that's prepdish.com/families. Back to this week's episode today, I'm talking with Francis Carlson, her book, big body play was eyeopening for me. When I read it at the beginning of my doctoral program, I had no idea that rowdy play had so many developmental and educational benefits for our kids.

I've recommended her book to so many parents over the years, and I'm excited to be able to talk with her and share her wisdom with, you know, and I was recording this conversation with Francis. I may or may not have forgot to turn my microphone on now while the audio isn't really up to par. I hope that you'll bear with me because I think that the content of this episode is really important. And it's something that parents everywhere need to hear. I'd love to hear your questions or comments, and you can leave those on the show notes at simplefamilies.com/episode115. There you'll have the links to learn more about this information as well. Thanks for tuning in. Let's get started.

Denaye Barahona: Hi Francis. Thanks so much for joining me today. Thank you for inviting me Francis. I am happy to have you on the show. I want to give everyone listening a little bit of a backstory about how I found out about you and your work. So several years ago, when I was starting out in my PhD program, I read your book, which is titled big body play, white boisterous, vigorous, and very physical play is essential to children's learning and development. And this book was so eyeopening to me. And since I read it, I have recommended it to so many parents.

Frances: That's great. I'm glad that it was, um, beneficial to you and I especially appreciate you passing it on. I would like for as many parents of young children and educators as possible to just be more aware of this play style in order to support it and allow it, um, not shut it down so much, which in my experience happens quite frequently.

Denaye Barahona: Right. So what you're talking about, there's a lot of names for it. Rowdy play and horseplay. Um, what, how did you come to learn about this topic and write this book?

Frances: Well, it's, it's kind of, um, I guess a multi-pronged experience. I grew up in a family with siblings and my sister, the eldest was a very indoor child, but my brother who was just two years older than me, was a very outdoor child. And we spent most of the time in the backyard calming and two things and crawling out of them calming up into trees or on top of the dog house or onto a neighbor's wall so that we could jump down, um, just wrestling, throwing each other to the ground and rolling around and playing games where we got to push our bodies really hard against each other, like red Rover or, um, freeze tag or Dodge ball. Any of those just really big physical games. So from my own experience, growing up breath play was a really big part of it. And then as an adult I've, I've worked with children as a center director for the majority of my career before I began teaching at a college setting.

Frances: And my initial interest was in touch with children. My first book, which is titled Essential Touch is all about how children get touch needs, which are vital for survival met. And through that work, I became officially aware that rough play plays one of the chief prime ways that children get their touch needs met. And my children at that point were young and I started to pay attention to more specific, intentional attention to how much they really spend time throwing themselves around my three. And my brothers two had a game called team that I talk about in the beginning of the body play. And every Sunday they ate lunch as quickly as possible. So they could go in the backyard and throw each other around. And it was one of their favorite activities as children. Now that they're all adults. I think it's one of their favorite adult memories. And at that point I knew then that I needed to go forward in my work. And now focus specifically on this rough play experience, why it's so vital to children's development, why they do it without being taught, which is very, very, um, significant to me. And then how to help people recognize the difference in rough play and actual fighting so that we know how to intervene appropriately. So

Denaye Barahona: You say that when in your childhood you experienced a lot of rough play, but I can imagine that in your childhood, it probably wasn't called rough play. It was probably just called play. Right, right, right. So when did it change? Like why and when do you think did that change?

Frances: Um, my kind of theory is that as children began to spend more time in official out of home context where adults are now caring for groups of children who aren't their own, that we started to be more sensitive to this place style because it looks horrifying. And I think as an adult, and I know this through my own career, I felt that acutely responsible of course, for my own children, but I would feel even more acutely responsible for your children. So I was always more sensitive to an experience somebody else's child was having in my care because of somebody else's child I'm mandated morally to make sure that nothing could happen to that child. And the cost roughly looks so terrible because it's so vigorous, it's so loud. It's so bone jarring that I think that's when the shift actually started to happen. And in these out of home context, those caregivers started to interpret it as a different kind of play style that isn't necessarily permitted in out of home care. And then I think parents maybe took that lead and in home started to feel more sensitive about it as well. And then just through the past couple of decades, it's not only been labeled differently, but it's been viewed differently, both at home and out of home. Right.

Denaye Barahona: And I know that I see parents who have now I have a son and a daughter. My daughter is more of a rough play kind of kid than my son, which I think that this dynamic is more often switched. I think it's more often boys that play rough and rowdy is that your experience

Frances: It is my experience. And my theory on that has always been that that's a more socialized approach to play when children are not being observed that closely. You're socialized into thinking that boys it's okay, girls, it's not, um, which in my experience, nobody cared that I rolled around on the ground with my brother. So there was no prohibition against it where I think sometimes now gender plays a bigger role in families feeling comfortable with play styles that their children embrace and children pick up on that. So where the girls might be more rough and tumble, if they knew that it was accepted when they feel that it's prohibited, they're not as likely to do it where we can see them. My personal belief is that they still do it because children need to develop, but they may not do it as boisterously or as much out in the open.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. But they're still just as physical. I mean, you think about girls, they're always touching in one way or another holding hands and hugging and they're, their touches tend to be more intimate. Is that usually what you see typically

Frances: You see that it is. And I, I also feel that, um, if you observe children and their development birth, maybe to five, then you'll notice that boys did up until they were about two years old girls, boys. You won't notice any gender difference in how they touch each other. There's lots of hugging, lots of pushing down, lots of kissing, you know, grabbing around the neck and hugging, um, touching each other's hair, boys and girls, but then from a bad age to forward, boys, start to get the message from us that all of that touching may not be okay. And through that rough play, they still get those touch needs met, which makes it a way more attractive and needed play style than maybe with girls who we allow to continue to touch and hug and brush each other's hair and link arms, and have a lot of physical contact. So, I mean, it would certainly be interesting research for someone to have children where that touches allowed without a gender bias to see if the rough clay continues on that same trajectory. If that makes any sense, that would actually be a cool to do.

Denaye Barahona: Absolutely. So when you say rough play, I mean, I'm picturing kids who are wrestling and yelling and like you said, throwing each other around and just a lot of horseplay and rowdiness. And that is in my experience hosting and attending different playdates and playgroups with kids. It's almost always shut down by the adults and universal. And I, I really feel like, and I know with my close friends who I've talked to about this sort of thing, we are a little bit more open to letting it happen because we've talked about the benefits of it. But especially if you're we're at the playground or even at a birthday party or something like that, um, it's always shut down immediately. And it's, it's something that I think that's why I think that this book and this conversation Frances are so important because it can be done in a way, and we can allow it in ways that are safe and really developmentally beneficial. Right?

Frances: We can. And I think that when I speak with groups of educators and I caution them to ensure that the supervision is close and consistent, it's because I'm aware that in those out of home cares, those adults feel a greater sensitivity to the play. If our, at your house with your kids. I don't know that I would caution you the same two to supervise at the same level to absolutely be around because when children are involved in each other's bodies and playing this vigorously, it just makes sense that there'd be adult supervision, just like if they were playing soccer or, you know, playing rugby, we would want adults around because their bodies are involved, but not to shut it down more, to be aware that when there are issues with children playing well with each other to, to intervene, to try to get the play back on track, to see what happened, was it, uh, a misinterpreted gesture.

Frances: Sometimes the kids just get tired, you know, they're hot and they just want to take a break and go sit down and catch their breath and get some water. So those are all the roles that adults ideally play in. Children's rough play out. I think that, um, it, home families often rough house with their children. And when that happens, we can learn a lot from the animal kingdom about how those animal mothers and fathers interact with their young, because all young, rough house, it's not, it's not a human dynamic, it's an animal young dynamic. And if you ever watch, um, a mother dog, for example, with her puppies or even puppies roughhousing with each other, they don't let it get hurtful. If at the point it becomes too vigorous or hurtful. One of the dogs will get up and yell really loudly at the other one and walk away. So sometimes when it's us with our young, we can use that same model as opposed to a parent who lets the child really hurt them. And they don't say, wow, that hurt. That was too rough. They just let it happen. That would not be the best way to approach it. If it's you and your child playing roughly with each other. So

Denaye Barahona: After reading your book, I'm fully on board with the developmental benefits of rowdy play. But I know that a lot of people listening are probably going to be like, why exactly should our kids be doing this? What are the benefits? So what would you tell parents and educators to get on board with this? What are the benefits of it?

Frances: You know, I found that from different audiences as I've worked with, since the body plays publication, that there are so many benefits. First of all, every single aspect of a young child's development is positively impacted when they play roughly with each other. So depending on what a parent's kind of overarching goal is for their child's lifelong success, I might explain to them the social benefits, the huge amount of nonverbal communication development that happens from rough play and why that's so important to maintaining relationships through life. I mean, I've found that it's important. I know often my friends and I will talk about that person who doesn't get it. You know, they don't notice that you keep looking at your watch and that means, please stop talking. I, I need to go somewhere else or you turn your body towards someone who's approaching you and they hug you anyway.

Frances: And you're thinking, why didn't you get that? I turned my shoulder towards you. That meant don't come any closer. When children roughhouse, they learn how to understand all of those nonverbal messages. And it gives them a way to practice because they love playing roughly. So it's, uh, it's, uh, a motivation to learn how to decode because they want to keep playing that way. And when children learn at an early age, how to read each other's bodies and expressions and voice pitch, those are lessons that will aid them throughout the rest of their life. Not just as young children, but in every relationship that they have going forward, they will be more successful because they're such excellent nonverbal communicators, but children are also smarter when they rough house. So for families who are more interested in academic achievement, I can tell them that children who rough house have different brains than children who don't, and that it helps children pay attention longer.

Frances: So if you have a child who's struggling academically, um, because paying attention is difficult for me, paying attention as a 56 year old is very difficult. So when I need to pay attention, I go do something very, very physically exertive for about an hour, because I know then that will help me to pay attention for a long time. And the same dynamic is, um, we can apply to children as well when they have these really big rowdy, vigorous interactions, chasing each other back and forth, screaming their heads off for 30 minutes. They're more likely to be able to sit down if you need them to and pay attention for an hour or two, that's not going to happen. If children don't get those really big physical boisterous burst. So when

Denaye Barahona: You're thinking about communication, the nonverbal and verbal communication benefits of rowdy play, I think that the nonverbal ones, I think that's so important because it's, you know, it's recognizing how hard can I push my friend without hurting them? How, what are, what are the boundaries in the way that I touch and in the way that I move my body, um, when it comes to verbal, I think something that I see a lot with young kids is the way that they talk to each other. And the words that they choose are not always as polite and politically correct as the way that adults talk to each other. And I, a lot of, I will see adults sort of stepping into those social interactions and saying, say, please, or ask nicely, um, between peers, what are your thoughts as sort of just letting kids talk to each other the way that they want to talk to each other and having adults sort of get in between and intervene with more polite language. What's your thought on that? Um,

Frances: I know that was my own tree. My husband and I tried to be really careful to always model to them the language that we wanted them to use back with us and with each other. And it, you know, it was a developmental curve, like all of their other development, they didn't do it automatically. I will say that they're all very well-mannered implied adults. Um, and the, in the intervention, if it needed to take place, I think then it would still be an opportunity to model, not necessarily an opportunity to, to make them pair it back to the child. What I would prefer, they say, but to speak to the children in the way that I find more polite or appropriate. And also with the non-verbal part, especially in rough housing, it's a great opportunity for an, the adult, the parent, the teacher, the next door neighbor to say to the child who might be speaking rudely to the other child, look at the effect.

Frances: Your words are having on his face. Look, he's crying. He looks so sad. His he's he's crossed his arms across his body. I think your words are making him very unhappy. Let's try to speak in a softer tone or a voice that's not so harsh or loud. And then let's see if, if speaking to your friend that way has a different effect because it's still, they need to see the results of the interactions. It's not just, it's not just the words, but the effect. And when children get more savvy at reading the effects of their words and actions, then that social success is going to increase dramatically almost immediately.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. And so it's all about learning and the learning curve is different for different kids. And I imagine that there are some kids who pick up on those nonverbals and verbal cues, much easier than other kids. And I can hear there's probably some parents out there listening. That's saying this won't work for my kid, or my kid never knows when to stop or, um, my kid is, gets aggressive or that sort of thing. What are your thoughts on that? Are there some kids that need to have a little bit more close supervision or is that part of the process letting them work through that?

Frances: There absolutely are children who need more careful supervision. There are some children, like you had mentioned who just get it. Um, if you were to go into a preschool room of 15 or 20 children, within 30 minutes, you would know who the children are, who get it automatically because they're the popular kids. They're the children, the other children gravitate to and choose to play with and choose to be around because those children are so skilled and their ability to interpret and understand the other. Children's, domainers their, the way they hold their body, how close they come, or whether they turn away their tone of voice for children who don't get it, they need more careful supervision. And for two reasons, children who don't interpret nonverbal language well don't rough house very well either. And that's why, because rough housing is very non-verbal. And if you have a child who doesn't get that, they don't interact well with those physical actions, because they don't know if a tag in duck, duck goose was a slap or not.

Frances: And often they respond to it as if it were a slap and they slap back. So they need more careful supervisions to keep that from happening. They also need more careful supervision so that when they're in the moment or have the opportunity to play, roughly they have a mentor or a guide to help them stay on track. So they can learn to tell the difference between a tag and a slap. And then of course, children with sensory issues, the sensation of being tagged might physically feel like being slapped. So in those situations, that adult supervision is key as well to try to provide maybe other opportunities for rough housing that don't involve that level of physical contact.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. And I think that's important to bring it sensory issues. And that's something that I've talked about on the podcast before, because it's something that is being talked about much more today, and it's being recognized much more in the past decade and the way I see it. And tell me what your thought is on this Frances is that there's sort of, it's sort of a spectrum. There's the sensory, avoiders the ones who are really sensitive to their senses are sort of overly sensitive. And then the sensory seekers who their senses are somewhat under-stimulated, then they seek out more emotion and more movement and more sensory interactions do. And then there's kids sort of in the middle. Do you see it as a spectrum or is that sort of something I'm just, that's kind of how I envisioned it in my head.

Frances: I mean, I think it absolutely is. And I think back through my career with children that I've worked with in out of home context where, you know, there were children who wouldn't let you get close enough to, to touch or hug them because it was painful and they just didn't want to have that interaction. But there were some children who hugged so tightly, it was hard to stand up because they couldn't feel the intensity of their own interaction. So they, they tagged too hard. They squeeze too tight. They can't finger paint with their fingers. Some children can't finger pain at all because it feels terrible. Some children need the paint to go from head to toe. They need to be covered and drenched in it in order to get the equivalent sensation. So, um, I would think with rough housing, the, of course, the danger with the child, the child who seeks more is that they may, when wrestling how to tightly and not get up when the child on the bottom is suffocating, hence the supervision again.

Frances: Um, and then, you know, if there's been an official diagnosis than an occupational therapist who can help with a sensory diet for children on both ends of that continuum, where the touch is painful and then where the touch just can't really, it needs to be so deep and so heavy, but parents and teachers can also provide opportunities for that child who needs a lot of stimulation to get some of that really big movement feel without interacting with other children. And that's an important part of this play style. I think as well as that, it doesn't have to always be with another child. Children can get the sensation of big body play from getting a box and filling it up with books and pushing it across the floor or getting yoga bands and standing on them and just trying to pull them up as hard as possible to see what that feels like. So there are opportunities to get that big body sensation that don't involve interacting with another child's body. And sometimes that can help fill that need as well for children who just need more, they can get more without having to flatten the child like a pancake.

Denaye Barahona: Yes, absolutely. I think it's important to note for parents that are listening, that there, this spectrum of sensitivity is kids who are sort of under sensitive and kids who are over sensitive to different touch and senses, um, that it's not necessarily pathological that sometimes just understanding what, which way your child liens can help you understand what their needs are, especially when it comes to play.

Frances: Right. And to accept it as all being, you know, okay. I've, I've worked with people and known people whose children loved to lay on a big yoga ball and roll off on the ground, but they didn't enjoy wrestling. And that's fine. I would never say to anybody, well, your child really needs to learn how to go full body because it doesn't feel good to that child. There are some children who want to climb up on tree trunks and jump down, but they don't want to climb a tree and jumped down and you know, it's fine as well. Um, I don't think there's model that. I would say all children do rough house this way for optimum benefit. And I even tell, I tried the teachers that I work with in a lot of these early childhood centers, out of home context, I try to stress with them that based on the liability that they feel with children and how much risk they can offer in those contexts, that on that continuum of rough housing with full body, full contact wrestling, being on one end, moved back to the other end, where the children are involving themselves in big body games where they're not actually having physical contact with another person, but they are moving their body in really big ways because that is essential.

Frances: And we can't deny children the opportunity to be big and loud and boisterous, but there may be some prohibition depending on the setting from being big and loud and boisterous with somebody else's body.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. Yeah. And the benefits of movement, I think, are just so far reaching for children. And you talked a little bit about the academic benefits. And I think in the current age that we're in so many parents and sometimes educators are consumed by this idea of really pushing their child towards academic success and underestimating the importance of socialization and movement. Um, what are your thoughts on the lack of movement and big body play? Once a kid gets into school and is in kindergarten first grade, second grade from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, five days a week,

Frances: I think it's, it's horrifying. And a lot of school districts across the country have found that the prohibition of recess has, um, backfired. And as they've noticed that the children's attention deficit overall and not a formal diagnosis, just a casual observation in classrooms, that it's becoming harder and harder for children to pay attention. They've realized, wait a minute, what have we, what have we done? What are we asking children to do? And as they've implemented these periods of really boisterous play again, putting it back into children's days and maybe not an hour in one play period, but 10 or 15 minutes every hour or so, the gains have been dramatic. And they've seen the children in these classrooms have once again, been able to pay attention when they need to, because they were allowed to move the way that they have to and movement is not optional. It's, it's part of our humanity. And part of our development is that when we move, we then are able to learn simultaneously because movement and cognition are just linked. And whether we acknowledge it in all of our settings with children or not is, is on us. But that it is linked is something that we can't control. And

Denaye Barahona: So many children are penalized for that need to move when they get to the beach, when they get to the school age. And they're not, they're not given that outlet. And then they're labeled as these kids who can't sit still, these kids who are bad, right.

Frances: And I think for some children, they find ways to cope because they understand that they're in the setting where their behavior is expected to be at a certain level. Um, one of my sons, I have twins who are almost 27 and one of them through elementary school, he, he struggled to do what he needed to do. He did it, but every afternoon when he got out of the car, the first thing he did was pick up his basketball and stay outside with that basketball for two or three hours, because that's how he had to release all of that pent up energy from having to be more still in quiet during the day. But I think for some children it's too much, they can't compensate or keep it in knowing they'll have an outlet later. They just have to let it out. And unfortunately they are labeled as misbehaving children. And what they're doing is what they need to develop. It's like saying, if you get up and eat you're you're misbehaving. Yeah.

Denaye Barahona: If you had the power to make a switch in early childhood education and sort of this K through three level, how much time would you a lot for a big body play or movement based play and learning in classrooms?

Frances: Oh, wow. I would say, and you know, my recommendation to teachers now is the first 10 or 15 minutes of the day. You need to start off with some very vigorous movement and then 10 or 15 minutes every hour. Okay.

Denaye Barahona: So interspersing it. So sort of letting them have the movement and then coming together.

Frances: Right, right. And it can be done in so many ways. There are opportunities for transitions that can be really big without being noisy. They're opportunities for movement within classrooms. Um, I was in a first grade classroom a few months ago where the children needed to be quiet going to the cafeteria because children down the hall from them were testing. And the teacher said to them, when we go to lunch, we're going to have to be very quiet because the third graders are testing. So before we go to lunch, everybody just get up and jump and it was perfect. Yeah. And it's so simple. Yes. She just invited her first grade class to get up and jump. This course. Some of the children's heads were almost brushing the ceiling because they were very vigorous jumpers and some of them were kind of bouncing around one foot to the next and some children didn't really take advantage of that opportunity at all, but it was, it was ideal. And when they got done jumping, they lined up and they required as church mice going down the hall to lunch. It was, uh, it was great. I thought it was going to start crying.

Denaye Barahona: Oh, when you say that 10 minutes of every hour, it makes me think of myself and I need 10 minutes every hour to move. I find that, especially when I'm at my computer writing or doing work, that I'm always up and down. And it's really hard for me to sit still for more than 50 minutes without really needing a break. Right.

Frances: Right. And I find sometimes when I'm in that same situation, what triggers me is that I am physically unable to get any work done. I can't even concentrate in this because I've been sitting concentrating. So the only way to combat that is just to get up, you know, get up and go do something big. Even if it's just walking around the building, we're going outside and getting things out of my car or cleaning up, you know, sometimes I'll just clean out a cabinet and that feels really good. And then I get back to work. Right.

Denaye Barahona: So moving with our kids is an incredible option, too.

Frances: Yes. And even for, for parents or teachers who find that because of physical constraints, that interaction is difficult. You can still encourage a lot of really big movement. You know, I've had teachers who throw the ball for the children to chase and then bring back and then they throw it again and the children chase it and bring it back. So the teachers involved with the throwing, but not necessarily involved with the chasing, which might be too much for some adults. Um, you know, or just to say to the children, run to the fence and back as fast as you can. When I say go, they're encouraging it without necessarily modeling it or interacting with the children at the same time.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. But when it comes to allowing children to do that, interacting together and to do that rough play together, what are your suggestions for parents to make it safe? And to know, I mean, is there any way to know when it's getting too rough or too aggressive, there

Frances: There are absolutely ways to tell. And I would say the first provision of children playing roughly together. And I'm thinking about when my three and their nephew or my nephew, their cousin, John, would play on the trampoline in our backyard. And the things that they would do looked horrifying and they sounded horrifying and often thought that they were killing each other, but they weren't is that we had some ground rules about the play. When it started. For example, if somebody was on the middle of the trampoline, laying down, they had to jump around the sides. They couldn't even pretend to jump near the person who was laying down. And I think that's a common trampoline game to jump. And somebody lays in the middle and kind of bounces up and down as you jumped around them. And we had a fence around the trampoline to help them keep their balance on the edges.

Frances: And that was a ground rule. And if they didn't follow it, they didn't get to play on the trampoline. And that was, that was just a rule. I think for people who are trying to discern what's appropriate rough play, and what's fighting, there are just three kind of basic provisions that you look for. The first quick gauge is to look at the face, uh, researchers call it the play face. I just try to think of it as is the child smiling? Are they laughing? Is their face relaxed or is it stressed? And if they're relaxed, laughing, then you took off that box that it's appropriate rest play. The second one is to see if the child seems to be there willingly, or are they being coerced or made to participate? For example, if you have two children who are wrestling and they're taking terms, flipping each other back and forth, that would be rough play.

Frances: If one child has another child pinned to the ground and the child on the bottom is screaming. I would think that that's not appropriate rough play. And I would intervene immediately to help the child get up. The third one to look for is whether or not the child returns willingly to keep the play going. Um, if, if children are racing each other back and forth to the fence laughing and they keep going back and forth, back and forth willingly that's appropriate rough play. If one child is chasing another child and that child is screaming and trying to get behind me to hide, I would call that inappropriate. And I would intervene because they're not returning for more. They're actually trying to get away. So if the parent or caregiver early childhood teacher, whomever the adult is in those settings would just look for the demeanor of the children, which is what it boils down to. Are they happy, relaxed, smiling, they're willingly returning for more than I would stay close by, but not intervene. If I were to see any of the three opposite demeanors crying, stressed, frowning face, or being coerced being held there against my will or trying to get away, then I would absolutely intervene because those are all three signals that the play is no longer appropriate and has gotten off track.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. So if a child, if our child is playing rowdy, sometimes it's hard for us as parents to let that happen when we sort of say like, all right, well, it's okay if you run around. And, but if you push each other, then that's not okay. But instead of sort of creating these ambiguous boundaries around it, instead of trying to really follow our children, and if they're okay with it, then maybe it's okay. Is that, do you feel like that's a good guideline?

Frances: I think it is. And I think fundamentally what you're talking about is adults learning how to trust children. And a lot of understanding and supporting rough play has to do with trusting that children can navigate and, and collaborate and kind of problem solve and figure these things out. I know when, um, when I was a kid and my brother and I, and our next door neighbor, Danny were in the backyard just being rough 24 7, especially in the summer. One of our rules among ourselves was not cry because if we cried, we knew that our momma would come to the kitchen window and make us come inside and stop playing that way. So we knew to work out our differences, and if somebody accidentally got too rough, then we would sculpt them and say, well, that's too rough. I stopped. That hurts me. And the other person would stop because the motivation was to keep the play going.

Denaye Barahona: That's an amazing example of kids, problem solving on their own, which they're so capable of when we give them the opportunity

Frances: They just are. And within the context of rough play, the motivation to problem solve, I believe is greater than any other play style because they need to play this way and they want to so desperately. So if there's an issue that needs to be resolved in order to keep it going, they're just more willing to do what needs to be done to solve that problem, to keep going, which is also one of the benefits of the play style is it often encourages problem solving. So children get to practice that as a skill. So do you have any grandkids for instance? I, I don't, I have one pretend grandbaby, um, which people ask me, like, is he a fake baby? Is it your pretend baby? And that he's a real baby. He's just not related to me.

Denaye Barahona: Okay. I'm curious as your children grow and if they become parents, how they are going to view and treat rough place since they probably have some really fond memories of it.

Frances: Um, I think that they will be cognitively aware that it's a good thing for their children to do, but because it's their child, they're going to have some emotional bumps where they're not sure whether or not they should intervene or not, because that's just part of raising a child is they're part of your own being and the thought that something could happen to them on your watch is horrifying. And I get that and, and it was that way with me as well. So, and I'm honest with that about groups with whom I speak is there were oftentimes I would say, I need to go make these kids stop. And my husband would say, you know, they're fine.

Denaye Barahona: No natural. Yeah. Natural urge to protect is so strong.

Frances: It just is. And when you hear somebody give out a blood curdling scream, the impulse is I need to go make sure that everything's okay. I need to make sure that nothing's happening to my child. So, you know, I get that. And I think the way that I was able to make peace with it when my children were younger was just to be more present. I just needed to be there to watch them work through the problems. And then also, you know, part of evidence based practices is that you reflect on your own experience as well. And my childhood was so rich with jumping and running and leaping and rolling around on the ground that I wouldn't want to deny that my, from my own children. So, you know, we did, we did a lot of big body things with them in the morning before going to school, they would come down to my bedroom and take turns, lining up and I would bounce them in the middle of the bed and they'd roll off the other side and come back around and we would do bed bouncing until I couldn't take it anymore. And then they'd go get dressed and we would all go to school. So, okay.

Denaye Barahona: Well, it sounds like a lot of fun, and I'm hoping that a lot of parents will staying are taking this in and giving it some consideration and we'll hopefully be a little bit mindful of it when they're watching those kinds of play with their kids.

Frances: I hope so. It's so great for kids and not just because of all of the developmental benefits, it's fun and fun is a developmental benefit. All of its own, which means we just need to have a good time and enjoy ourselves as often as possible. So,

Denaye Barahona: Absolutely, thank you so much, Frances, is that it, can you point me towards a website or a direction for people who want to learn more about this topic? I'll put the link to your book in the show notes.

Frances: Um, if anyone wants to go to the big body play website, there is a um, a source there to contact me for further information, as well as, um, some additional resources that I keep there. And that website is just www.bigbodyplay.com.

Denaye Barahona: All right, well, thank you so much, Frances. Thank you.

Thank you so much for listening. I hope this episode has your interest peaked. If you want to learn more, you can go to the show notes at simplefamilies.com/episode115. There you'll find the link to Frances's book and to the website, big body play. If you have questions or comments, leave those for me in the show notes too, as always. I appreciate you. And when you have a moment, I would love if you would go to iTunes and leave a rating or review, this helps the show to reach more people, have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.