It's a snow day at my setting - hence the above picture is perfect! And in response to the title of this blog - do you sometimes feel all you do is roam around moaning about children playing too roughly? If it's not 3 boys kicking each other while playing Power Rangers, it's one of the girls wrestling another child into 'jail' against the fence. Somewhere there's Wonder Woman and Superman teaming up to defeat a baddy, a zombie outbreak being dealt with and a multi-child pileup as a series of children bash into each other in an attempt to see who falls first.
It's exhausting to deal with. You stop one WWE WrestleMania event and turn around to see two children swinging each other around on the end of a rope. Just as you stop the skipping rope tornedo (wondering how on earth the children found the one skipping rope that isn't in knots) you see WrestleMania 2018 has kicked off again. Good job your setting has banned drinking hot drinks on the playground because you'd never get to drink it anyway.
What are you meant to do? You can't be everywhere and you're convinced some of these children are programmed to be rough. But why on earth would that be the case?
I'll get to that in a minute but one thing to consider is what else is on offer? This is especially relevant if your setting has 'playtimes' on a playground. Children will invent their own entertainment and they often fall back on imitating things they've seen on television, for example. So why wouldn't children pretend to be Ninja Turtles if there isn't much to do. I'd ignore the letters/numbers/mazes printed on the tarmac if I'm busy having fun wrestling my mate to the floor. Simply put it's much more FUN!
Your setting might choose to limit rough play because of supervision problems and that is understandable. Do you have enough big play equipment? Or is there always a queue to get on the climbing logs that understandably erupts into arguments? Can you offer playground toys, for example skipping ropes, balls, balance toys, stilts etc.? Perhaps portable parkour equipment is an idea? Or a Scrapstore PlayPod so that children can build with huge junk pieces? Or perhaps you could teach children 'old-school' playground games and get involved in helping them play these. I don't know about you but I think my children know 'What's the Time Mr Wolf' and 'Duck, Duck, Goose' and that's all.
But does this tackle the root of the problem. Well possibly not. Offering other activities might be what some children need if they turn to rough play because of boredom. But perhaps there are other reasons that some children are attracted towards rough play.
When thinking about rough play it's often hard to work out if it's play or not. And where is that line? Where does it stop being an amazing game of PJ Masks and become a problem? If it's excited shouting, running around and vigorous, physical contact isn't that just normal, energetic play? If things are getting broken and children are getting hurt then yes, that's something to worry about!
When reading around about this I found something interesting - some research that involved showing people videos of boys play fighting or fighting for real, shows that it is often hard for people to tell the difference. Young children were more likely to be able to guess correctly. Adult women who grew up without brothers mostly thought that all of the videos involved real fighting. Having said that, some research suggests that play fighting only turns to real fighting about 1% of the time.
In rough play the children are still playing so there will be signs of enjoyment, smiles and laughter, the children will happily continue the game and after the rough and tumble the children might continue to play together. You might also be able to work out the themes in the play as the children continue to build joint storyline. If it's getting out of hand and/or turning into fighting then you might obviously see frustration and tears, hear shouting and angry voices and potentially see signs of one child trying to get away from each other. Often this line is something that can be 'felt' more than it can be described so trust your instincts and trust your children.
If we want to be able to trust children to rough play together then we need to ensure that children have learn how to do so safely. Children can be taught that there should be rules to rough play - for example no one is allowed to punch or kick. If we intervene when we can see that children are no longer playing safely we need to very clearly help children to recognise what happened and to find ways to try and prevent this. We should teach the children to empathise with their playmates and to continuously check that each other is okay.
So why would we let children play roughly? Well some studies seem to suggest that 3 and 4 year old boys who play roughly with their fathers are rated as more popular and less aggressive than their peers. The research doesn't explicitly say why this is the case but perhaps the rough play helps boys to regulate themselves in terms of self-control during social and interpersonal interactions. Perhaps children also enjoy the close physical contact that rough play gives - especially if they don't get lots of physical contact at home? Rough play can help children to recognise emotions in other children, to read facial and body language and pick up other social cues. It can also help children deal with competition and their own aggression and support the development of resilience and risk taking.
Understandably adults in charge of children want to protect them and ensure their safety. But if children aren't allowed to take some risks with their play, then they miss out on an opportunity for developing self-control and other vital skills. Children already have adults controlling most of their lives, do we need to control all of their play too?
To be clear I am in no way suggesting that anyone encourages fighting. I think we could all see the drawbacks to an adult suggesting everyone go outside and have a last man standing scrap. What I am suggesting is that perhaps, given the right supervision, there is a place to allow children to be a bit rough at school. With the right rules, consistently applied by all adults, children will learn the self-control they need to defeat the evil Megatron without bruising anyone's shins!