I wrestle, pound, and smash my kids on a daily basis. I pound with bare knuckles and with boxing gloves. I bury my head into their sides and chests paralyzing them with the giggles. We play hard and soft, fast and slow, and always with love.
The strike of my fists, the squeeze of my hands, and our chest to chest contact creates more than laughter. The giggles generate natural love chemicals, opiods and oxytocin (Os), flooding our brains with joy. Over and over I do this to trigger the flow of the Os.
Yes it’s true…love is a drug.
Os are essential for long states of well-being and contentment. Pounding them now will hopefully ward off addiction issues in their adulthood.
How many times have you heard the all too familiar stories of childhood abuse and trauma from people addicted to opiates? Their bodies and brains were never naturally supercharged with these natural love chemicals.
There’s an idea in psychology known as baseline happiness. No matter what happens good or bad we tend to return to a baseline of happiness. That baseline is affected by our genetics, our actions and thoughts, and external events. I like to think of it as how stoked I am on a daily basis to be alive, my belief in my potential, and my ability to breathe deeply in gratitude. Wrestling with my kids now will help them feel secure in their adult lives. Their baseline stoke-factor will be high.
Ever had a partner or a friend who is consistently stressed, constantly unsatisfied, or waiting for life’s inevitable dramas to subside before they can relax?
There is never enough money in the bank. The laundry is never done. They focus on stressful times before the stressful time even arrives. A cloud of dissatisfaction hovers over them. Their flow of Os is always depleted; their baseline stoke factor is low.
The back braking hours spent romping with my kids will help them to savor events and relationships. They will be able to manage stress with more grace.
Margot Suderland, author of The Science of Parenting, writes, “… physical interactive play is very important for long-term emotional health. This form of play has natural anti-stress effects, and because it strongly releases opiods, it promotes powerful positive emotional states. Research also shows that if mammalian infants don’t get enough socially interactive play, they make up for lost time and play harder, often at the wrong times.”
I’ve seen examples of kids unable to handle physical play when I was a teacher at an elementary school with a high population of low-socioeconomic and often dysfunctional families. The kids’ abilities to give and go in physical play, discussions—life in general— was lacking. The world and its people, it seemed was always putting them down and out to get them. I witnessed kids as old as ten years old sucking their thumb after a fight. Kids normally stop sucking their thumb by age four. It’s fair to say that they did not have the physical play they needed from loved ones. Their baseline stoke factor was low.
Flooding the kids’ brains with Os will give them greater capacity to chill out, to believe that things will work out. They will look at the world as a place of potential rather than a threatening place.
So do you and your kids a favor if you aren’t doing it already—make time and a safe place to play rough with them. They need it and you’ll find that you do too.
After a stressful day, everyone needs the giggles.
Rough Play Tips: I play VERY hard with my kids. One doesn’t have to take it to such extremes, but if you do, here are some tips that come to mind.
Invest in gymnastic pads or double-pad a carpeted area. When you consider a single Occupational Therapy session can cost upwards of a hundred dollars, buying $400 worth of pads that will be used for years is a small investment in the health of your kids.
Clear floors of all hard objects and wear soft clothing without any buckles and zippers and make sure pockets are empty of pens and razor blades.
Since I have more than one kiddo I like to make the rule that they can’t hit each other. It’s them against me. Although it’s important for them to rough play on their own, this allows them to work as a team against me and keeps the play session going.
Boxing gloves are great but not necessary. In fact starting off with slow motion wrestling and letting it progress into a faster pace is a good idea. Here's a short video of us fighting in slow motion. So fun!
The biggest risk of injury is to fall on the kids with all of my body weight. They are getting big and have the ability to take me down; once they attach to my legs or jump on my back, I go to the ground controlled to avoid crashing onto them. It’s fun to start off on my feet and lay a licking on them before I drop to my knees and let them drag me to the ground. This give and go is part of how mammals play. Anyone who has been to the zoo or a dog park has witnessed this.
Go over rules: My two rules are not hitting in the face and no hitting my back! That said, I also go over the idea that when playing rough and fast, accidents are inevitable. When they hit me in the face I can model getting pissed off initially then quickly accept their mistake and move on.
Gauge the timing of the rough play. After dinner and desert is usually a good time, but if it’s the end of a long day they may be too sensitive. Immediately after school can be a good time too. Don’t be discouraged if it ends poorly. It could just be bad timing. Try again.
Don’t expect them to be able to turn the switch off from rough play to bedtime. I often transition from rough play to what I call active play such as catching and throwing, or swinging on the ropes. Then I transition to reading a few pages of a book, and then I start a bedtime routine. Stepping down activities in these increments helps it end on a good note and each step doesn’t have to be very long. I like to say something like, “Daddy had the best time! I want to end the day awesome. Here’s what we’re going to do…” Lay it out for them Let them know what ‘s coming. Although spontaneity kicks ass, predictability settles us.