Kids are inclined to roughhouse. And they should be encouraged to do so.
It’s good for them.
It’s a healthy way to build relationships, release pent-up aggression, and lower stress levels. It’s good exercise and teaches limits and resiliency.
According to research, it’s also good for the brain.
Roughhousing releases brain-derived neuroptrophic factor (BDNF), which improves cognition and alleviates anxiety and depression. Kids who roughhouse do better in school and are more readily able to build friendships.
This is why students, particularly boys, are drawn to it. It’s natural and shouldn’t be discouraged outside of school. In school, however, it should be against the rules.
1. It might be bullying.
What can look like innocent playfighting on the outside may actually be one student bullying another. In many cases, it can be difficult to determine the difference.
2. It might be a fight.
Again, and especially from a distance, it can be hard to judge what’s all in good fun and what is a real fight, which can escalate into an even more dangerous situation.
3. It can cause injury.
It’s not roughhousing necessarily that causes injury. It’s the accidental falls. Getting pushed off playground equipment. Tripping on cement. Tumbling into other students.
This is why few campuses allow it.
However, because roughhousing is so natural for kids, it’s a problem at almost every school. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear from a teacher complaining about it.
The solution is twofold.
First, it must be enforced. Students need to know exactly what it is and why it isn’t allowed and then promised an immediate consequence if it happens.
In the classroom, I recommend simply following your classroom management plan the moment one student puts their hands on another. This way it can’t escalates to full-fledged playfighting or something more.
On the playground, again, there must be a plan.
Here at SCM, we recommend The Smart Principal’s Recess Behavior Plan. The key is to have a school-wide set of rules that include roughhousing—and which should result in a higher level of consequence.
Second, and most important, BDNF is also released through exercise. The truth is, very few students get enough of it. It’s critical to their social, emotional, and academic development.
You must give your students opportunities to exercise throughout the school day. It can be a run around the field first thing in the morning. It can be movement breaks throughout the day. It can be soccer or street hockey leagues during recess, lunch, or after school.
All are beneficial. The more exercise, the better behaved and focused your students will be.
I also recommend after-school wrestling or jiu-jitsu clubs. They have so many wonderful benefits that can be life-changing for many students, especially those who aren’t getting enough roughhousing at home.
Because of safety and bullying concerns, you have no choice but to outlaw free-play roughhousing and playfighting from your school and classroom. But doing so also leaves a void that must be filled with exercise.
Otherwise, there will be fights. There will be bullying. There will be injuries, rowdiness, and trouble on the playground and in the hallways.
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