The primitive art of roughhousing. Strengthening the case for bringing children into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu…

Whether it’s the latest game app or iPhone, kids are going to want to keep up. But while the emergence of technology can educate kids faster than the prior generation and well-equip them for the future, sometimes in the search for modernization we fail to recognize a part of our more primal nature – “rough housing”.

As a child growing up with 6 older siblings we roughhoused and fought almost on a daily basis. Furniture and toys broke, skin rug burns were frequent and tears were shed often. Scoldings and frustration occurred if it got out of hand. Yet it almost seemed natural.

Was it?

Nowadays roughhousing is becoming more frowned upon, perhaps even seen as aggressive or violent. As a matter of fact a lawsuit may occur if your child roughed up another child. Yet many groups of mammals have been grappling and tussling with one another for thousands of years.

When you watch the nature channel you will see monkeys wrestling around with one another. You will see lions roughly handling their young and young cubs battling it out.

As a new parent and Jiu Jitsu Professor I wanted to explore this topic further to see if there was something to this.

In an article at Today’s Parent it was suggested that “a growing body of recent research suggests that we shouldn’t be so nervous about physical play. In an era of bubble-wrap parenting, roughhousing can seem aggressive, but social scientists say the benefits outweigh the risks. Intense physical play offers a variety of surprising advantages, from developing kids’ intelligence to making them more ethical—and even more likeable.”

The article further went on to state:

“The most vocal proponents of intense physical play are physician Anthony DeBenedet and psychologist Lawrence Cohen, authors of The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It. DeBenedet says rough play is good for the brain: It stimulates neuron growth within the cortex amygdala and cerebellum regions, areas responsible for emotional memory, language and logic. How well kids roughhouse is actually linked to how well they do in their early years of school—up to grade three, DeBenedet says. Intense physical play helps them develop not just cognitive intelligence, but emotional intelligence. While pinning a squirming pal down on the floor, they learn to read body language, facial expressions and other social cues, like when their friend has had enough. “It may be counterintuitive,” says DeBenedet, “but it really helps kids develop.”

The article also went on to say:

“As controversial as this may sound to the hardcore attachment-parenting set, when a parent’s sole focus is building a close, secure bond with his or her child, another critical developmental role can be neglected, argues researcher Daniel Paquette, a professor of psychoeducation at the University of Montreal. Parents also have to encourage risk-taking and other exploratory behaviour, he says. Parent-child roughhousing enables kids (both boys and girls) to explore aggression within the context of an emotional bond. They learn to pull back or push boundaries further, depending on the feedback they get. And by practising aggression in a safe environment as a kid, they learn to be comfortable with it and take more risks as an adult, whether it’s by standing up to a bullying colleague or asking for a raise.”

Paquette’s research found that “Animals deprived of roughhousing imagine threats where none exist.”

As it applies to Jiu Jitsu, look at different levels and how higher level practitioners role with beginners. There is often a push and pull, a sense of control, the ability to know our limits and understand how we can either hurt or help our teammates.

We all know Jiu Jitsu can help boost confidence, it can help kids make friends. Jiu Jitsu can help kids develop team skills. Yet so can many other activities for kids. But the unique psychological benefits of grappling such as in this article are at times overlooked or misunderstood.

In summary, if you want to explore your child’s emotional well-being, heres’ one more reason to sign your child up for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Author, Ken Primola, BJJ Black Belt
Developer of BJJ grip game