Five Dads on Roughhousing

  by Erik Wolgemuth

Having ventured into the world of princesses – as seen through the eyes of five fellow dadcrafters – it seems fitting to now turn our attention to the polar opposite…roughhousing. My kids vary in the quantity and frequency that they need a little roughhousing, but all enjoy it. And we’ve turned to five more dadcraftsmen to get their roughhousing wisdom.

From fellow dad, Luke (Milwaukee, WI):

Now, I am not the oldest guy around, but I have had enough experience around children where I can definitively say kids have a lot of energy. And when my two kids have that extra dose of “been-cooped-up-in-the-house-all-day-with-mom” energy, there is no other way for that energy to be exerted than to attempt to beat the living day lights out of me as they laugh and grunt and do their best Ultimate Warrior impersonation on my already tired body. But most of the time, I can’t help myself…and a full-blown three-way Royal Rumble ensues.

I love wrestling with my kids. Sometimes it ends in tears, sometimes it ends with laughter and sometimes it ends when my wife calls it off after seeing enough of my five-year-old daughter being thrown ten feet through the air onto our living room couch. But however it ends, we love it.

And not only do we love it, but I believe it’s important. It gives my kids a positive outlet for their aggression and teaches my son the right reasons to fight or not to fight. It’s also something special I have with them separate from their mother. It’s a time where I can give them all my focus and attention, and it gives my wife some time to herself. But most importantly it shows them that they have someone who is capable of protecting them. Our Father in Heaven is a loving and attentive God, but He is also a powerful God. When my kids wrestle with me, I let them win every once in awhile, but most of the time they know that dad is going to win. And every time I win (I dominate 99% of the time) it’s another reminder to them I am strong (at least in their little eyes). My kids will know their dad is not only capable of taking care of them emotionally, but he is capable and willing to take care of them physically, to keep them safe, to be their Ultimate Warrior.

From fellow dad, Jordan (Minneapolis, MN):

I believe that boys and girls need physical play.  It’s a great way to have intentional time with them, showing them how much I love them and want to spend time with them. Roughhousing can range from a few seconds of aggressive hugging to an hour of Pile-on-Dad. It’s funny that no matter how young kids are, they all want to participate.

Getting to know their limitations and how far you can push them is key. However, there is always the potential for someone to get hurt, which usually ends the play.  Tickling wars, “steam roller”, rodeo, animal roleplay are some of our favorites.

As a dad, the key thing I’ve found is to drop the adult in you, humble yourself and cut loose, become a kid at their level. Take advantage of the time that your children want to spend with you. I still remember roughhousing with my dad and don’t ever remember getting hurt, though I’m sure it happened. What I remember solely is the love he shared with me and my brother.

From fellow dad, Eric (Chicago, IL):

On a regular night we follow a familiar routine of dinner around 5:30 and then it’s ‘Dad Play Time’.  Mom is tired and would rather pick-up after dinner than entertain the kids, and I’m ready to do just that because I haven’t seen them all day.  We have invented a handful of games that involve the following elements: fast indoor running, tickling until you pee, full contact tackling, and getting tossed onto a couch full of pillows.  In our house, we have code names for some of these games such  as ‘Roar’, ‘Honeypot’, and ‘Ball Game’.  Cade, our two-year-old, had the vocab necessary to describe exactly what game he wanted at 12 months.  

The kids think the purpose of these games is to play with dad, but—while they aren’t incorrect—I am going for much much more.  I want to hug, kiss and tickle my kids during this time.  I want them to be very comfortable with and desire physical affection.  I want to them learn how to have an amazing amount of crazy fun with just our imagination and each other.  We also have to take turns, follow the rules and love each other.  

The gametime normally doesn’t end until someone cries from a small injury.  If nobody cries then I’m pretty sure it’s because we did not run fast enough, pile on daddy enough or get tossed on the couch enough times.  That’s how we know we had enough fun—we pushed the limits.  I don’t want to raise safe kids, I want raise kids that will push the limits with the ultimate goal of teaching them to push the limits of their faith and experiencing that God has more in store for them than they could ever imagine.

From fellow dad, Ben (Lansing, MI):

Summertime in Michigan provides no shortage of father-son activities.  From biking to swimming to playing ball to campfires with S’mores, we use every minute of extra daylight and warm temperatures to enjoy God’s creation, making memories in this great state we affectionately call “the Mitten.” But as summer draws to a close, the sun sets earlier, and the leaves begin to fall, I am reminded that winter will be here before I know it. So, what does a dad do with three boys under six when the temperature is just too bitter or gearing up in snow pants and boots seems just too daunting? Well, at our house, we wrestle!

Wrestling with little boys is a fantastic way to tire them out before bedtime and teach them healthy ways of controlling their God-given strength and aggression. To keep things fair for young kids, it seems best that it’s always boys versus dad—instead of pitting them against one another. And don’t forget to throw in a little WWE (or WWF, as I remember it) nonsense—such as ridiculous nicknames and outlandish introductions for some extra laughs. Setting a time limit—even as few as 5-10 minutes—should keep everyone having fun and the tears of frustration or exhaustion to a minimum. Be sure to have a little post-bout cool down with a favorite bedtime snack—including one for Dad!  Happy roughhousing!!

And a few of my own thoughts as well:

Roughhousing is a sweet opportunity as a dad. There’s a level of roughness in the play that means it’s just an activity and intensity that my kids can use with their dad. And because it’s something we uniquely share, there’s a special significance behind the suplex, half-nelson, and various forms of Tai Chi.

Sometimes we have ninja master battles. Or crazed, lumbering monster pursuits. Or wild animal melees most often seen from the safe vantage point of the Discovery Channel. Is it any surprise that the occasional tears are encountered? Tears don’t, however, have to be the end of things.

Earlobe jiggibility. End of nose squishiness. Cheeks appropriately mashable. Stomach zerberty.

These are my go-to examinations when roughhousing results in tears. Now granted, roughhousing injuries can be legitimate, but most of the time there’s no need for coagulation of blood, icy compresses, or butterflied bandages. Instead, I like to engage the services of Dr. Tickle and go to work on my roughhousing patients. And despite his lack of “traditional medical training” Dr. Tickle is remarkably effective at getting those roughhousers back in business. And I’ll take all the roughhousing I can get.


We’ve also tapped into the wisdom of 5 Dads on being married to a pregnant women, changing diapers, playing princesses, Father’s Day.

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Photo by Rachel Cuthbert.