During the worst of the pandemic, children had little to no physical interaction with their peers. Adults may be reluctant to let kids engage in physical play regardless, for fear of their child getting hurt or hurting others—which might worry us more! It’s hard to watch kids getting into it, or even just getting close, without wanting to pull them apart. Should we?
In fact, the experience of touch, both affectionate and rough, contributes significantly to children's healthy physical, social, and emotional development. High-fives, holding hands, and hugging give comfort and make a child feel like they matter in the world outside of home. Kids tickle each other, roll around, and even wrestle in ways that look dangerous to us but produce the loudest laughs and greatest joy! Playful release of aggression builds a child’s sense of their own power and strengthens their sense of their body in space; and exerting energy in a healthy way can actually make it easier for them to settle down when needed.
Kids may get hurt in the course of this physical play, giving rise to tears and anger—but for healthy development, kids need to experience it all! As they occasionally confront unfortunate consequences of physical interaction, kids learn social skills such as how to set their own boundaries as well as respect others’, how to ask for and offer consent, and how to repair relationships after conflict.
So there’s no need to wrestle with whether or not to let kids get physical! The benefits of touch outweigh the risk of bumps and bruises. And when this play is outside in nature, the benefits increase: Children get fresh air and open sky; no structures or walls get in the way or confine the play; and the forgiving earth offers gentle landings.