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Roughhousing: 3 Signs the Fun Has Turned to Fight

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Growing up in a family of three girls, I didn’t understand why boys would always wrestle and fight. Now, having a son of my own, I watch, completely intrigued (and nervous) while my son wrestles other boys on the trampoline, or they attack each other with lightsabers. Sometimes, it ends in laughter and other times with tears, anger, and bloodshed. How’s a mom to know when the roughhousing is too rough?

 Here are 3 clear signs that the boy fun and roughhousing is crossing the line. The good news? Each has its own built-in teaching opportunity.

What to Look For

First, don’t step in too soon. Even though you might not be used to it, boys do need to get their energy out, and it’s often a really good thing to do this through physical activity with other boys. So just hang tight and watch for…

Sign #1: Facial expressions change.

Our kids might not turn green like the Hulk, but there’s definitely a point in roughhousing when facial expressions change from smiles to the angry “I-want-to-crush-you” look.

When stepping in at this point, try calmly saying, “Whoa, are we still just having fun?” A firm voice is often needed, but don’t let your fear or anger turn you into the Mama Hulk.

Later, talk to your son about the lesson every strong man needs to learn: self-control. I say “strong man” to get his attention, and to help him realize that being strong can look like this. Refer him to stories and examples like Karate Kid, where the characters learn to choose self-control instead of reacting in anger. Let’s teach our kids that power and self-discipline go hand in hand.

Sign #2: The intensity changes.

The speed and force changes in the fight. Suddenly, instead of playful puppies, you see raging wolves. Watch for the physical movements to become more hurtful.

When stepping in, try saying, “Whoa! Hold on. This looks too rough. We don’t want anyone to get hurt.” Talk about the power of the “pause button.” When things start to get too heated or turn ugly, you hit pause so you can regain self-control. “Pause” might look like walking away for a minute, taking deep breaths, or saying something like, “Let’s take a break.”

Later, try sharing this verse with your son from Proverbs 29:11: “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” Turn on the heat full blast in your car and tell him this is what it’s like when you let your anger flow out, unrestrained.

Sign #3: Someone seems bothered by it.

Watch for whether any of the kids are whimpering or are telling the others to stop. You can choose whether to give the offender a second to respond. If it’s too dangerous, just step in.

Try saying, “Whoa, boys! Is everyone OK?” Avoid taking sides here as they begin to place blame. Then, redirect: “Is this really how you want to treat each other?” or “It’s time to find something else to do.”

Later, with your son, hash it out further. “When do you think things turned ugly, and why?” Your son will know what you mean, even though he might not be able to pinpoint the exact moment. But usually, someone got too rough on accident and the other person retaliated. The point is to get him thinking about it so he can recognize it next time.

How do you teach physical self-control?


How do you know when a play-fight is getting too rough?

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