I know that I enjoy rough and tumble play with my 4-year-old twins. In fact I far prefer it to making barbie dolls or dinosaurs talk and walk and sit in plastic chairs.  Play wrestling just feels good, and it’s not just for dads. I know many moms who enjoy it and who do it with young kids.

I watch my kids play with each other learning how rough they can be without hurting each other. My 8-year-old daughter told me that what she looks most forward to about starting school today is being chased around the playground at recess.

In Let the Children Play (Some More) found through Motherlode (thanks Lisa Belkin for constant inspiration and brilliant ideas for blogging), Stuart Brown writes about the importance of rough and tumble play and how it should not end with the last days of summer:

“Evidence from around the scientific compass — neuroscience, psychology, exercise physiology, sociology and developmental biology — has revealed the importance of play…My studies of young homicidal males and felony drunken drivers revealed that most had lacked normal, developmentally appropriate rough and tumble play as children and pre-adolescents.. The differences in playfulness when adulthood arrives (I have followed more than 6,000 detailed play histories) validates the importance of lifelong play. Play-deprived adults are often rigid, humorless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options. Playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape. It can help us integrate and reconcile difficult or contradictory circumstances. And, often, it can show us a way out of our problems. ..The benefits of play come not from “rest” for the brain, as if play is just a time-out from life. Play is an active process that reshapes our rigid views of the world…From an evolutionary perspective, the smarter the animal, the more they play. For humans, play reinvigorates us not because it is down time, but because it gets us in touch with our core selves and the joy of life.”

Jaak Panskepp, affective neuroscientist, and rat tickler (you can view his giggling rats on youtube), has studied play urges in humans and rats and suggested that some of the symtpoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity Disorder) in children represent the need to play more. And worse, that ADHD drugs reduce play urges and therefore may complicate the problem further (see Jaak Panksepp. (2004) Textbook of Biological Psychiatry, p. 647).

If play is so good for kids, perhaps it’s good for us too. Perhaps stress and depression can also be seen, in part, as representing unexpressed urges to play. I aim to try and play more this year, both with and without my kids.


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