Is it normal for my son and his friends to always be hitting and knocking each other down?

Is it normal for my son and his friends to always be hitting and knocking each other down?

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Yes, it's normal for children to play rough. "We've allowed our children to become so sedentary that I rejoice when I see children engaged in rough and tumble play," says Will Wilkoff, a Maine pediatrician for more than 30 years and the author of four books, including How to Say No to Your Toddler and Coping With a Picky Eater.

Play serves all kinds of purposes for kids, including working out social interactions, developing motor skills, exercising imagination, and, not least, burning off energy. And given our history as hunters, we may even be wired to roughhouse. (Consider the way coyote pups and lion cubs engage in rough play to hone their hunting skills.)

Boys especially seem to like physically interactive play. But it's beneficial – and fun – for girls to play this way too.

Of course, children should be supervised in a safe environment for such play, Wilkoff says. And if rough play becomes dangerous (for example, when a much older child tackles a smaller or younger child) or degenerates into meanness, it's time to intervene.

Rough play is different from fighting. Fighting involves inflicting pain – or threatening to inflict pain – on another child.

Although rough play rarely leads to fighting, it's a good idea to set some ground rules, like no hitting or pinching, stopping when the other child says to stop, and no grabbing around the neck or head. And sometimes kids who are rejected by others or lack social skills don't understand the dynamics of rough play, so it can be helpful to have a watchful adult nearby.

"Supervision around rough play can be nerve-racking if you didn't grow up in a house full of brothers," Wilkoff says. "But be comforted that children are naturally tough and resilient."

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