Manly rough-and-tumble play has many developmental benefits for children, particularly boys. Research shows that physical engagement—like wrestling, roughhousing (when not carried to an extreme) and warm, playful interaction—helps boys learn to regulate and control their behavior, deal with a range of emotions, and adapt to a variety of situations.

James Herzog and other researchers found that a caring man’s playful and vigorous interactions force a boy to closely observe facial expressions and body language to detect his moods. That kind of play coaxes a boy to cope with challenges, and may stretch him emotionally, and over time he will likely develop confidence to handle similar tests in challenging environments.

Through this kind of play—starting early in life—kids learn some of their first lessons about loving authority. According to authors Jim and Charles Fay, roughhousing teaches kids that you love them, that you’re strong enough to control them, and that you won’t control them unless it’s necessary. Kids learn that you’re powerful, and kind and gentle at the same time.

As grandfathers, we aren’t as agile as we once were, and I’m not advocating that we test the limits of our physical bodies here. I don’t want to see a rise in grandfathers at the emergency room. But we can still play with our grandsons and help them grow in these ways.

It may feel more comfortable to roughhouse with our grandsons, but it’s good for girls too! And it probably comes natural to you, even if you never thought about all the advantages of roughhousing. You were just having fun: a romp on a living room carpet; a bucking bronco ride as you cart your granddaughter off to bed; an impromptu snowball fight; a tickle-fest. Are these common occurrences when you are around your grandchildren?


  • Initiate some warm, playful, physical engagement with your grandchild. Seek to press the limits of their strength and let them win at least once.
  • Build your grandchild’s confidence. Affirm him after playing a game or having some type of physical interaction.
  • Using your facial expressions to demonstrate a range of emotions to your grandchild.
  • Exercise with your family: bicycle, walk, shoot hoops, or go sliding on the ice.