Saturday 9 July 2011

Book review : The Art of Roughhousing : Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It

When I was offered a copy of this new parenting book, The Art of Roughhousing : Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It, I was intrigued to see what it would have to say. The title gives it away - this tome was originally published in America, so what would us Europeans make of it ? And what exactly is roughhousing anyway ? (Or "giving gentle noogies", come to that, as another activity suggests !)

Well, for roughhousing, the freedictionaryonline website comes up with the definition "To engage in rowdy, uproarious behavior or play". Wikipedia suggests : "In humans, play fighting (sometimes called roughhousing or horseplaying) is an activity in which two or more people act as though they are in combat, but without actually meaning to harm their partners, nor dealing sufficient bodily harm to make the game unenjoyable."

I'm not a great fan of the term (or activity) play-fighting, as it invariably ends up with someone accidentally getting hurt. But I have no problem at all with boisterous, rowdy, uproarious behaviour (with or without the kids !). Here at The Madhouse, we tend to call it "being loony" or "silly play" but rough-and-tumble play sounds like a good Britspeak translation to me. And I certainly don't have a problem with that.

In fact, I almost caused a road accident in France once, through no fault of my own I hasten to add ! I got the girls all dressed up in grotty old clothes, wellies and raincoats and took them out puddle-jumping. There were some really huge crater-like puddles in the nearby car park so they were sploshing about in water up to their knees and we were all giggling madly (knowing that in half an hour, they'd be in a nice warm bath and their clothes would be mid-wash cycle). A woman drove past literally open-mouthed and was so busy looking at the girls, then at me, with every fibre of her body screaming "Bad irresponsible mother", that she almost crashed into a wall ! When I gleefully related this incident to my French mum friends, they looked equally shocked and mumbled "If my son/daughter puts his toe in a puddle on purpose, he gets a smack". Oops, it's the French-English divide again !

All that to say that I came to this book with a totally open mind, keen to find new ways of having rough-and-tumble fun with the kids. And there are loads of great ideas in there - play acting games, like hiding in a fort made of sofa cushions and waiting to get attacked by the kids, physical play classics like aeroplanes and Superman and crane lifts, and a whole lot more besides. But I couldn't help thinking that some of these could go horribly wrong !

Now, don't get me wrong ! I'm not one for wrapping my kids up in cotton wool - they're constantly coming home from the park with grazed knees and elbows and we often joke that their legs are so covered in bruises that one day, we'll have the child protection agency at the door ! I take after my dad, who was a genius at rough-housing, even if I'd never heard of the word back then ! His wheelbarrow race-obstacle courses around the garden were legendary and every time he'd come up with a new "great idea" that would have my mum yelling "it'll end in tears", it just used to make us laugh even more !

But some of the ideas just seem - erm how can I put this ? - decidedly risky ! Riding a mattress down the stairs, for example ! Or doing the Human Cannonball, and basically flinging your child across the room into a pile of cushions ! Sounds great for bringing up a future generation of Jackass presenters ! The writers do add in a few safety precautions, like having a "spotter", to help control some of the more energetic acrobatic moves and throws, or - in the Vaquero lasso cowboy game - pointing out that "we recommend avoiding neck wraps, sticking to leg lassos only" (if you could see the illustration, showing someone with a rope noose wrapped three times around their leg, you would see why this is a bit worrying !).

Used to the American mentality we see on TV of consumers suing McDonald's for too-hot coffee or the local council for a broken bit of pavement they fell over, I'm amazed this book doesn't come with a full written warning on every page ! But it's not as purely nonsensical and downright dangerous as it sounds. It's a serious publication, written by a pair of practicing doctors, Anthony DeBenedet and Lawrence J Cohen, "the former an MD, the latter a child psychologist, and enthusiastic supporters of roughhousing and physical activity for both children and adults". Surely they must know what they're saying ?!

Their research and professional viewpoint is really interesting, as they point out the medical and developmental benefits of a bit of rough-and-tumble. The introduction says : "Roughhousing play brings a wealth of benefits to both adults and children – speeding a child’s development physically, emotionally and increasing their learning ability, and helping adults bond with their child, and is recommended by many child development authorities like Steve Biddulph. Spinning a child in a circle helps with inner-ear balancing development, whilst rowdy, but not dangerous, play sets limits and boundaries enabling children to become aware of physical dangers to themselves, and also makes them faster learners in class, and better at social situations later in life, as tried and tested research shows, and the authors demonstrate in this book."

The book comes as a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to today's generation of kids who spend their whole time inside on computer games and who never get to run about outside, falling over and getting bumps and scrapes and interacting with real live people. I have to say, I think it goes a little bit too far at times and, if people aren't careful, some of the activities suggested could end up with a few broken bones.

But I do like the idea behind the book. I've read it from cover to cover, totally enthralled, by turns thinking "that's a good idea, definitely one to try out with the kids" and "noooo, that's far too dangerous and the picture looks like something you'd see in a spoof Viz guide to bringing up kids" ! Either way, it makes good reading ! And if you are a totally hands-off parent, it will be a real eye-opener that may help you to find a happy medium and get a bit more boisterous and fun-loving with the kids.

At the moment, the book has been left in the toilet and everybody who spots it comes back from the loo, clutching it in their hands and giggling at one of the activities they've discovered ! It's a great coversation-starter if your dinner party talk is flagging ! I'll be passing it on to my dad, with a little note saying "See? Makes what we did when I was a kid look pathetic " !!

for more information :

star rating : 4/5

Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books (1 Jun 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1594744874
ISBN-13: 978-1594744877

RRP :  £9.99 (but only £6.49 on amazon)

Other reviews you may be interested in :


  1. I agree with you, today's kids don't seem to have the same opportunities for rough play as we did in previous generations and also agree about the need to temper rough play with some common sense! We once had a dreadful rush to accident and emergency because we were playing 'superman' with our 2 year old and she landed badly on the bed. She immediately held her arm and started crying and when we trotted off to hospital the doc said it was sprained. I've NEVER felt like such a bad mother in my life! The fact that until a minute before this she was hurt she was giggling and pleading with us to 'do it again' didn't make any difference. I swore from that moment that I wouldn't ever again be in the position of having to go to hospital because of rough play getting out of hand!

  2. Sounds like an interesting book. I liked your story about puddles. My girls are aged 3 & 1. If we're not moored near a park we sometimes put wellies on & just splash in the puddles on the Towpath. They love it almost as much as the swings!

  3. I think this is interesting. I agree that there is a tendency to 'overprotect' nad not allow children to take part in anything that may end in 'tears' if only for a short time and in fun.
    They need to let off steam and burn off excess energy.


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