Want Happy Kids? Let Them Roughhouse with Dad

Whenever our kids climb, jump on, or otherwise maul my husband, I laugh and think, “Better you than me.” When he’s not home, my youngest often tries to roughhouse with me in the same manner, to which I tell him, “Sorry dude, that’s your dad’s job. Mommy doesn’t do that.”

Having grown up without a father, there are multitudes of things that have made me feel especially grateful that my kids not only have one in the house, but happen to have a pretty amazing one at that. While my mother often said she played the role of both mother and father, it was abundantly clear even from a young age that that was an impossible feat, even for a woman as incredible as my mother.

Last week, research conducted in 2011 (back before I had children and paid attention to such stories) appeared in my newsfeed and only verified what I long suspected. ABC News reported,

“Dads play roughhousing with their young children is crucially important in the early development of kids, according to a study by Australian researchers.

‘Rough and tumble play between fathers and their young children is part of their development, shaping their children’s brain so that their children develop the ability to manage emotions and thinking and physical action altogether,’ said [Richard] Fletcher, [the leader of the Fathers and Families Research Program at the University of Newcastle in Australia].

The researchers believe that the most important aspect of this play is that it gives children a sense of achievement when they ‘defeat’ a more powerful adult, building their self-confidence and concentration. However, fathers who resist their children can also teach them the life lesson that, in life, you don’t always win. The act of a stronger adult holding back that strength also helps to build trust between father and child.”

Over the last two generations, the preponderance of single mothers has grown significantly, with the share of children being raised in one-parent households tripling from the single digits to one quarter of all American children. The task of raising a child alone is gargantuan, and the alternative (a child not being brought into this world due to abortion) is infinitely worse than a single mother raising a child. It is a fine line to walk between applauding the monumental work that a single mother does without at the same time ignoring the importance and value of fathers in a household.

And yet, we must do so. Our society has turned fathers into buffoons; into large children to be raised alongside small ones. The media often portray dads as idiots who make rearing children more difficult, not more rich and rewarding. Men and women, despite our culture’s efforts to convince us otherwise, are made differently, and thus fulfill different roles in every area of their lives, but especially in childrearing. As any nuclear family with children of both genders can attest, the relationship between father and son and father and daughter (not to mention mother and daughter and mother and son) are unique and valuable not only to the individuals, but also to the functioning of the family as a whole.

Unfortunately, there are more children than ever living in households without their fathers present under their roofs, or in any way. In order to stem the tide of absentee fathers, it’s important that these men understand their importance, and that our culture reaffirms it, even when doing seemingly inconsequential things with their children like roughhousing. Children need adult males in their lives, involved day-to-day, not just making guest appearances on special occasions. The rough play fathers engage in is just as important as the tender mothering that women do.

We shouldn’t need scientific validation to value men’s contributions to children’s lives, but now that we have it, let’s stop pretending that children don’t need mothers and fathers, and that households without both are missing a critical component necessary for a child’s development. Loudly proclaiming this fact may not bring men back into their children’s lives, but it might reverse the trend of one-parent households, encourage men to be more involved with their children, and encourage single mothers without father figures for their children to seek them out.


  • anotherhappywarrior

    I watched my husband do this with our children and now with our grandchildren. I see joy on their faces when they are tackling one another. Recently, the 6-year-old told me, after “practicing my running and jumping skills” that he now needed to go beat up grandpa.

  • Monte Pelerin


  • Honordads

    Great article!

  • Nicolas Versteher

    Playing with my kids was when I realized that all the stuff put out by the feminists that men and women are the same was total bs. I wrestled with my daughter, but my son was a whole new dimension. I especially remember the day he made a running leap ONTO MY HEAD! Holy cow.

    • CruisingTroll

      Yup, boys can be rambunctious little monsters.

  • m a

    There’s also a trend in more single father households, and the same applies although less has been written about it. My daughter was just about to start high school when her mom decided to move out and just be a visitor (although very frequent). It affected her at a fundamental level. A bit different having Dad getting helping a girl get ready for the proms, dances etc. etc. You can’t be both parents, you can’t model a relationship when you’re just one person.

    • AmyH

      Yes both mothers and father bring unique and necessary things to child rearing. Kids suffer when they do not have both. Having a single mom, a single dad, “two moms” or “two dads” is not the same and is vastly inferior to a child having both their mother and their father in their household raising them.

      • Petras Vilson

        I watched a CBS documentary, a few years back, on a young family.. the father transitioned into a woman – a second Mother for the two young boys ( 5 and 7… I think)

        The narrative was: all is well, stable home, wife and kids accepting of newly transitioned “mother” until the very last 60 second interview with the kids.

        When prompted by the interviewer: “how do you like your new Mom ? ” The 7-year-old remarked: “ok I guess… but I do miss my Dad”.

  • Billiamo

    But what if the children . . . get injured??!!!!

  • When my granddaughter was three I would “trap” her in-between my legs and then let her wiggle free after about 30 seconds, all the while screaming and hollering at me to “let her go.” Abut two minutes later she would slide up to my legs and wait expectantly to be trapped again. We would play that for 30 minutes or so. We also set all time records for the number of pillows involved in pillow fights. I usually lost those since she had the help of her stuffed Micky Mouse on her side. Now I am playing the same games with the grandson. As much fun as it was with their parents, our kids, the second generation is even more fun as I can send them home afterwards. 🙂

    • Micha_Elyi

      I play Feynman’s Grip of Steel game with all my kleintjes.

  • CruisingTroll

    it might reverse the trend of one-parent households, encourage men to be more involved with their children, and encourage single mothers without father figures for their children to seek them out.

    Perhaps Ms. Mandel should be speaking DIRECTLY to the single mothers, rather than indicting men for not being involved. The majority of single mothers are so by THEIR choice. THEY have booted the father out. As for the children of single mothers without father figures, well, how about encouraging the mother to GET BACK TOGETHER with the father, rather than simply finding a “father figure.” While it’s not always possible, our society positively discourages it these days, which makes it more difficult.